One of My Favorite Stories has Changed

Harken back with me, to 1985, the year I turned 21. In our mighty nation, it is an obligation to celebrate this momentous birthday with alcohol. There was a catch, however. My Most Significant Birthday Anniversary fell on a Sunday, and in 1985 in New Mexico, Sundays were no-booze days.

However, as a physics major I was able to count, and I realized that to have a boozy party on Sunday, I would need to buy the supplies the day before. It was a bullet-proof plan.

Except that Saturday night at New Mexico Tech is a time of madness, and friends came by and word of booze leaked out and so forth… and we drank it all. My roommate and I awoke Sunday morning, having promised a party that night, and having no alcohol.

I put out some feelers to see if I could scrounge the booze, but no dice. That left only one choice: Arizona. I can tell you now that it is 156 miles by Alfa Romeo odometer from my dorm room in Socorro to the closest booze store in Springerville, Arizona.

But highway 60 is a joy to drive, up through Magdalena, past the VLA, though Datil and Quemado, and over the continental divide at Pie Town. It was cold, but I had the top down and my friend Jane in the passenger seat, the heater was roaring, and the Alfa was feeling frisky that day.

I was driving just a tad over the posted speed limit. By “tad” I mean roughly 60% over the speed limit when the cop topped the hill right in front of me. Busted. I pulled over, and waited while the officer drove to a place where he could turn around safely, and returned to have a conversation with me.

There are tactics he used, which I have since learned are Standard Lies Cops Tell to Get Their Way. He said I’d have to follow him back to the station if I didn’t let him search my vehicle. I could have responded with “Am I under arrest?” but I was a dumb kid and I didn’t have anything to hide.* So I helped him search my car. It turns out I did have something to hide, but the guy just chuckled at the brick of bottle rockets in the glove box.

Without the heater it was pretty chilly at that altitude in early spring, and my co-pilot and I were stomping our feet and blowing into our hands. The cop laughed at that as well. “I remember when I was young and stupid,” he said, looking at the top-down sports car. He never actually finished searching the car.

Eventually he wrote me a ticket, and we continued on to Springerville at a much more sedate pace. We found the liquor store, and bought one of everything. Home we went, to a birthday party that had not a single female guest. So it goes.

It’s a good story. I especially like the “young and stupid” bit. The search was likely because highway 60 had become a major drug conduit from El Paso to Los Angeles. But the cop and I had even shared a chuckle, despite my flaying of the speed limit. And for many years after, I have enjoyed telling that story.

But you could change one thing about that whole encounter, and everything would have been different. You could add pigment to my skin. If I were black, or even brown, there would have been no chuckles. I would have been lying face-down in the prickly weeds on the side of the road, backup troopers watching over me, while my car was systematically dismantled. Before I could re-assemble it, the Alfa would have been towed, the impound fee more than the car was worth. The bottle rockets would have put me in jail overnight.

Fun story, right?


* “I don’t have anything to hide” sounds great until you’ve established the assumption that resisting search is implicitly an admission that you have something to hide.


3 thoughts on “One of My Favorite Stories has Changed

  1. In the interest of full disclosure, the “calendar” would have us believe that my birthday was on a Monday. But you’re not going to celebrate Monday at 12:01 am without getting the party rolling on Sunday.

  2. r.e. your p.s.: I think we all have a responsibility to refuse vehicle searches, refuse device searches at the border, use encryption, etc., even where it risks inconveniencing ourselves, or worse, particularly(!) if you have nothing to hide. The alternative is for the refusal to cooperate being coequal with guilty, even if “guilty” means you’re doing something perfect legal — like peacefully protesting — that the current and future fascists consider grounds for rendition to blacksites. It’s like the guys in Cryptonomocron that ran around blowing up things at random, so that the good guys could act on the info they got from cracking Enigma … it’s a signal-to-noise problem.

    • You will get no argument from me on that score. Had email been made secure from the get-go, we would not even be having this discussion. OF COURSE my message to you is private. But now we’re arguing that something that has never been private (though most people assumed it was) should be private.

      It was not until I saw a video produced by the ACLU about how to act at a traffic stop that I recognized the manipulation the state trooper had used on me. And in light of the abuses in Portland lately, the key question, the only question one should ask in those circumstances is, “Am I under arrest?”

      The goon squad in Portland is detaining people without arresting them, and denying them the one simple right of someone not under arrest. The right to walk away.

      “Am I under arrest?” becomes the cornerstone of your defense against rampaging police. And if we’re being bodily dragged off the street, we need to shout “If I am not under arrest, I choose not to go with you!” It has to be loud, because if it is not recorded, it didn’t happen.

      And that’s where we are today.

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