Getting Busted as a Family

Lake Tahoe    April 2005

My dad and some business fellows were on their annual ski trip and this year that meant Tahoe.  How convenient for me to hitch a free ride on this one, just a four-hour drive from San Francisco.  My lovely little sister Meghan even flew in from DC to step up to the expense account trough.  We had the good fortune to stay in a 1940’s A-frame house on the ski slope at the base of Squaw Valley.  Austere but functional, fit for a man’s man’s ski trip, and still owned by the guy who established the whole resort.

One night, five of us went out to dinner:  My dad, an old family friend named Bob, a business associate and his son, and me.  Meghan stayed behind.  I was at the wheel, which was attached to my battered, underpowered Honda, also known as The Mud Falcon. We finished dinner and much wine and scotch, then started the 10-mile drive back to the house.   We intended to raid the hot tub at the fancy-pants hotel next door, and then rack out for another hard day of spring skiing.  There was much drinking and overeating, but I was as dry as a Baptist convention.  I was the Sober Sister.

Driving back on the dark two-lane road along the lake, the guys were carrying on and being colorful.  Headlights pulled up behind us, kind of big, square, up high, too close.  Yeah whatever redneck, you cannot pass me on this twisty road for another five miles and this sewing-machine engine will not go much faster with a carload of overfed men in it, so relax.  Crank up some Billy Ray Cyrus and take ‘er easy.  The truck behind me continued a little too close for several miles, but I do not think my riders noticed it.

Suddenly everything lit up:  sirens, red and blue police lights, floodlights, flickering high-beams, and not just from one truck, but from the one that pulled up next to it in the other lane, and also the other two trucks behind it.  We were being pulled over by at least four police cars.  Sweet.  Must be a slow night.

I have to say, my passengers lost their cool.  My Dad especially – he must have thought I had been drinking and maybe had warrants out on me in Nevada, maybe for something that he never wanted to ask about.  They were turning to look back at the high-beams, and all directing me at the same time to “Pull over…how much did you drink?…what did you do?…put the beers down!”…and assorted expletives.  My dad and Bob were not at all pleased that I was laughing.   I tried to keep it in but….I had not done anything wrong.  In 20 years of driving, I had never had a ticket or an accident, I had no outstanding debts to society, I was uncomfortably sober and I could not have been speeding, at least not in this car in this dimension.  What, four, now five cop cars for a something trivial like a broken taillight?

I was laughing at the unnecessary overkill of it all, more still when the loudspeaker behind us began barking slow, deliberate commands:  “Driver! Turn off the car!  Remove the keys from the ignition and slowly drop the keys out the window onto the pavement…All passengers, put both hands on the ceiling!”

We complied.  Ten hands on the ceiling.

“Driver, slowly step out of the car…hands behind your head…turn completely around…now walk slowly backwards towards the sound of my voice!”  The colored lights were flashing, there was no other traffic and my ride and my passengers were lit up like King Kong in the searchlights.

This was all so absurd and harmless that I knew it would be a good story, especially once they saw my ridiculous driver’s license photo, or the polished bullhorns on my car.  My amusement dwindled when I had backed up enough to see the ten cops. Each one had either a shotgun or a pistol aimed straight at me or the others, and the one kneeling up on the embankment had an M-16 aiming at the car.  Oops.  What the hell?

Next I was being forced to kneel, then handcuffed and stuffed into the back of the cop SUV, where I watched the rest go down.  No questions, accusations or reading of rights yet. “Front passenger, step out of the car with your hands on your head…”  It was unsettling to watch my dad get his bracelets and then pushed into the back of another SUV.  Separated, maybe so we could not keep our stories straight.  About what?  I watched as three more very uneasy guys got cuffed and stuffed into different cars at gunpoint.

Meanwhile, I sat in the back and listened to the cop radio traffic.  Unconfirmed reports about an armed robbery at a 7-11 by a bunch of Russian guys in a Honda, with a possible female hostage.  Five suspects using a Honda for a get-away car?  A hostage? I wanted to say “Oh, her!  Oh, yeah, officer, we dropped her off at her house.  Said she had school tomorrow.”  Nope.  I kept my mouth shut and watched as one cop popped the truck while the other looked like he was going to unload the M-16 into it just because he never gets to do that.  I started laughing again, watching as they uncovered the dark secret in my trunk: a three foot long stuffed alligator named Gumbo.

The police talked amongst themselves and to dispatch, then slowly let us all out, checked IDs  and apologized profusely.  There was no need for that – they did a strong professional job and it was too bad they had not immediately caught the Russkies and freed the hostage.  The police felt mighty awkward maybe because Bob was pretty distraught, or because of our prominent local address, but mostly I think because of the IDs we produced.  Between us were a volunteer fireman card,  a retired US Navy captain ID, and another passenger in handcuffs who wore a fleece with a presidential seal and “White House Staff” lettering, along with a matching all-access card to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They let us go on the open containers, which we poured out.

I learned later that this procedure is called a felony stop, and that these cops did it right.   My poor Moms, she has never learned of  this episode. Probably a good thing that skinny Meghan was not with us that night.  It would have been a fine sibling bonding experience, but with the three beefy guys in the back seat, we may have had to assign her to ride in the trunk, and that would have maybe thickened the plot a little too much.

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One Response to “Getting Busted as a Family”

  1. tward Says:

    The only thing that would have made it better is if you could have tricked Al Sharpton to fly out to rant against the injustice, cameras blazing, by sending his office a description of the events along with a blurry (shaded) enough scan of your driver’s license.

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