IMPORTANT NEW NOTES FROM JUSTIN:
US Tour Day 157: Redefining 'The Man'
Got pulled over by 'the man' on my way into Columbia last night. I knew I was going to be stopped—I†could just feel it. My intuition had warned me to slow down, but I didn't listen. The cop car was out in the median of the two lane interstate. He had his headlights on, which served as a warning. I saw him, so I was able to slow down from 95 to about 75. But, that was still too fast for the law in a 70 miles per hour zone.
The South Carolina State Trooper got out of his car and went to my passenger window, knocking on it with his flashlight. I rolled it down and he asked to see my license. I never make any sudden moves or get out of the car when I'm pulled over. I know very well who he is, but he has no idea who I am. Why would I want to startle him or get him on the defense? So, before I did anything I asked, "It's in my trunk—may I get out and get it for you?"
His voice was kind and extremely Southern sounding. "Sure. You may want to grab your jacket. It's really cold out here." Wow, that was sure considerate of him. I knew this was going to be a very different getting–pulled–over experience.
I got out and started foraging around in the trunk to find my wallet. "So, where are you headed?" I told him Columbus. "Do you mean Columbia?" I wasn't sure. "Or, do you mean Columbus, Georgia?"
I thought the emails had said Columbus, but I could've been wrong. I tried to remember, but it wasn't working. My brain wasn't feeling like itself. The blood in my veins and the thoughts in my mind were racing a million miles an hour from the caffeine and ephedrine pill I'd popped a few hours before to stay awake. I felt floaty and high and very fast. I noticed I wanted to talk even more than usual. Luckily, he was happy to talk.
"So, is this an X1/9, right? What year is it?" I was completely surprised that he knew what an X1/9 was! Like many Americans—including Southerners—I guess I was guilty of judging Southerners (and this one in particular) by their accent. We are taught to correlate thickness of accent with a lack of intelligence or social grace or cool factor. Of course, this is ridiculous and stupid. Plus, I happen to like the Southern accent more than any other. I've always wanted to be cooed to sleep by the soothing sounds of a lazy Georgian lullaby from the lips of a smooth–faced belle.
This officer sounded pretty damned Southern, but everything about our police interaction showed him to be the exact opposite of what I would have expected in the world of my old assumptions.
"I like your car. I really like small cars. Hey, ya ever seen one of those little Saab sports cars, the Sonnet? I really like those." I nodded and told him about the many flavors of little Saabs I'd seen in Sweden. His eyes and smile widened. "Yeah, those are so cool. Small cars are great." How rare is the American who actually professes an affinity for tiny cars.
"How's this car been holding up for you? Given you any trouble?" I fumbled with my words, torn between nervousness about an impending citation and jittery from the legal speed. The driver's side window doesn't roll down any more, but that's the only thing that's gone wrong, actually. He gave a nod that said wow, I'm impressed.
"Hey, anyone ever tell you you look like the guy from Depeche Mode? What was his name again?" He snapped his fingers as if the percussive sound of his middle finger colliding with his palm might lure the name out from the hiding places in his memory. I was surprised I couldn't remember any of the names of the members of a band I used to love so much. The snapping stopped. He shrugged and smiled, "Ah, well, doesn't matter." He gave off a sense of calm. He seemed like the sort of person I'd want to spend a few hours chatting with under different circumstances—circumstances that didn't involve ephedra or standing on the side of an interstate, freezing.
This guy was getting cooler and cooler. All my stereotypes of Southern cops were now officially demolished—powdered into dust.
"I clocked you doing 79 but I'm just going to give you a warning." He started scribbling in his warning book. I felt tingles of relief. I was wondering how the legal portion of our conversation would resolve itself. This was a blessing. There was no way I could afford a speeding ticket.
"So, what are you doing out here in South Carolina anyways, Justin? You're a long way from home!"
I told him I was writing and staying with readers all across the USA. I told him about my photography sales and about my recent acoustic performances.
"Oh! You play music! What sort?" I told him it was something like Rufus Wainright or Tori Amos or Elliot Smith. "Oh, that sounds great! Say, you ever heard of Hootie and the Blowfish?" Of course I had. "Yeah, I pulled them over not far from here. They went on to get really famous shortly after that. I pulled over the guitar player from Sevendust once, too. They're doing great these days."
Were this man's speeding tickets blessed in some way? Maybe on this chilly night on this interstate lined with weepy trees and hiding deer I was in the presence of South Carolina's own Midas?
I smiled. "Sounds like you might have the magic touch, don't you think? I'd like to shake your hand!"
"I'd like to check out your web site, what's the URL?" I told him it was just my name, which he had in his warning book. "Yeah, I'll have it, then. I keep these warnings for about a month." Why? What do you do with them?
"Well, I keep them around just for my records and eventuall I turn them in to the station. They go through them and observe the patterns in the people I've been stopping. They want to make sure that we're not doing any racial profiling, for example. If they look through here and see that I've only stopped caucasian males, for example, they'll talk with me to find out why that is. It's funny, though, because when some car is coming at me at 80 miles per hour at night, there's no way I could ever see if the driver is Mexican or white or a man or a woman or anything."
"Well, you have a good night, Justin. And, good luck on the rest of your trip." Hopefully I won't need any luck! I thanked him more than a few times—as he had taught me more than a few things in our short time together on the side of that icy interstate. I waved goodbye, and we both sped off into the night on our pursuits of knowledge and justice.
PREVIOUS ENTRY - NEXT ENTRY