Friday, August 15, 2008

ma troisième rencontre avec la police

It's arrogant and selfish, but I'm beginning to think of the police as a sort of personal deus ex machina. Case in point: State Trooper O'Neill, who pulled over today when I was about twenty miles into my 28-mile walk from Rufus to the town of Arlington. While I wasn't prostrate with exhaustion or desperate for water, my knee was killing me and my brain had reached that now-familiar point at the end of a long day where it was crooning, "Around Mile 128, you might feel a slight sting. That's pride... fuckin' with you. Fuck pride! At Mile 129, your ass gets in a vehicle!" à la Marsellus Wallace in "Pulp Fiction."* I never raised my thumb, but what I'm trying to say is... I didn't have to.

I never asked Officer O'Neill how he knew to stop for me. Perhaps someone had called it in: "I've had enough of these fat half-Koreans on our roadways! Now here's another one! Look at that ass! Can't somebody do something?" Perhaps Officer O'Neill was simply driving by. I'm partial to the latter theory because Officer O'Neill repeatedly expressed concern about anybody hiking in this heat, which hovered close to or slightly above 100 degrees today (for you metrically minded readers, das ist Fahrenheit und nicht Celsius).

Officer O'Neill was perfectly friendly, though he did snap on some menacing purple gloves and ask me to (1) put anything in my pockets on the hood of his car, and (2) Assume the Position for a search. "This won't be that invasive," he said with a chuckle. As it turned out, it wasn't, but it did mark the first time that I'd been searched by the police. According to the trooper, this was a precaution because I was getting into the car with him.

Yes, he offered me a ride the rest of the way to Arlington, and yes, I accepted. The pain in my knee had won out, leaving me convinced that fifteen miles is, for the time being, about my upper limit when encumbered. Twenty is pushing it.

It turns out that Officer O'Neill had done a military stint in Osan, South Korea; he speaks a little Korean (no, I didn't quiz him). I told him that, before we parted ways, I had to have his photograph, and he graciously accepted. He drove me into Arlington and dropped me in a parking lot near a gas station, but not before giving me the skinny on the local restaurants and lodging options. The campground is, as it turns out, an RV park (or it's next to one), but Officer O'Neill, still concerned about the heat and its apparent effect on me ("You don't look so good," he'd said earlier), recommended that I check into the motel, which I've done. I took my picture, thanked the trooper for his time and help, and we parted ways.

I guess I was a spectacle both on the freeway and in town (how often do you see police cars dropping people off, with riders and drivers shaking hands?), because when I limped into the gas station food mart and got a 44-ounce cup of Dr. Pepper with ice, a gentleman in line asked, "Are you the guy on the freeway with the cop?"

No offense to all the law enforcement folks I've met, but this isn't exactly the rep I was hoping to form (though we might, through clever PR, spin this somehow as "Kevin Kim: interreligious bad boy"). So I told the guy my story, talked about how I was walking across the country, praised the police I've encountered (they've all been perfectly polite and competent), and hoped that it all made sense. At one point, the man asked me, "Were the cops giving you a hard time out there?"-- indicating what might be some sort of bias about the police. Advice on how not to form such a bias: don't get your dumb ass arrested.

So I'm three for three; three pleasant encounters, of which two ended as "courtesy rides" in a squad car. I'm bizarrely happy it happened; it would have been a shame to have left Oregon without a friendly police encounter. I'm beginning to think I need to factor the police into my walk somehow. Surely each fraternal order is a mix of different religions (I have similar thoughts about the military); there's potential for something big here.

Officer O'Neill has this blog's address, so he can correct me if he feels I've misstated matters.** I do have one wish of all the police I encounter: please alert the police along my path (very soon, the Rockies) that I'm not some crazy dude who's come to town to steal your virgins and eat your senior citizens' brains. I don't drink, I don't smoke, and I don't do drugs. (I do eat and swear a lot, though, but I'm not particularly sorry about either of those things. More on that later.) Also, I'm not violent by nature, despite the pocketknife.

My point is that it'd be nice for law enforcement to be aware I'm passing through without them freaking out about the large, sweaty backpacker. Not that anyone's freaked out yet, but I fear that my luck will one day run out.

So we have another happy ending here. You'd know if things had turned out badly: I'd be in jail, which means I wouldn't be blogging. Given how often I write, my silence should arouse suspicions.

Thank you, Officer O'Neill, for being today's deus ex machina.

*Yep, "Marsellus" is spelled with nothing but "s"es in the world of Quentin Tarantino.

**He will most likely say he picked me up at Mile 128, but I could've sworn I'd passed that mile marker before we met. I might've been between 128 and 129.



JW said...

Hi Kevin

The police are deus ex whaaaa?!

I don't doubt that you're probably aware of the basics when it comes to cops, but in case you need to be educated further, please view the video in the following link, and I don't mean to be condescending cuz apparently even the yale professor who posted it thought it was mucho beneficial to him.

Becky said...

This was a great story - especially the instructions on how NOT to form a bias against police. :o)

I think that whole thing could be generational. My parents are VERY biased against America's law enforcement, but I'm not sure why. They haven't had any run-ins with cops - at least, not awful ones. They've had your typical traffic pull-over, but that's it.

It's interesting...