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When I Fight Authority
Something catches my eye. I see through my side mirror a guard and his dog walk past the rear of the van. The dog stops, then starts going crazy and sniffing at the van. They slowly walk up the driver side. The guard with his extremely dark glasses stops and stares at me.
“I have a dog in the van. That’s probably what he’s reacting to. It’s happened before.”
On Interstate 10 east of El Paso there’s a Border Patrol stop. It’s not really on the border, in fact it’s quite a few miles east of El Paso, but it’s a mandatory stop that’s run by the U.S. Border Patrol. Since I’ve never crossed the border between El Paso and Juarez I would hope there’s a Border Patrol stop there as well. Maybe this one is to get the people they missed at the first one?
I’m not sure if they move it around or if it’s always in the same place I just know I always have to go through it.
Today the line is long. Exhausted, I watch heavily armed agents wandering among the cars with their drug-sniffing dogs.
These agents and their dogs go through a remarkable amount of training. These dogs cannot only sniff out narcotics and humans they can also sniff out other dogs.
Every time I come through here the dogs sniff my van and start whining. The guards look at me and I calmly explain that I have another dog inside. Usually they just nod and walk off.
This guy says nothing. He continues staring at me. Finally he moves slowly past the van and I see him speak briefly into his shoulder radio. I’m screwed.
I’m on my way to Austin for a gig. I’m frazzled and I haven’t slept much. Even though it’s hotter than hell I have my window open and the air conditioning on full blast attempting to stay awake.
On tour I always carry my wallet on the seat next to me when I’m driving. Early on I learned that if I keep it in my pocket all day while I’m driving, my butt starts to hurt come late afternoon.
As I pull up to the front of the line, an agent checks my license plate. He asks for my driver’s license. I reach over to the passenger seat…
My wallet’s not there!
I start digging through the stuff on the passenger seat, mumbling, “It was just here.” He quietly watches me.
Why do these guys all wear glasses that are so dark you can’t see their eyes? Yeah I know, to intimidate you. Well right now it’s working.
Finally I see my wallet lying on the floor between the two seats. I get my license out and my hands are literally shaking when I hand it to him.
“Where you headed?”
He hands my drivers license back.
“Would you mind pulling over there and waiting in your car?”
I feel so fucked right now.
I’m not smuggling anything. There are no drugs in the van. Hell I haven’t smoked pot in thirty years.
Why am I so fucking nervous?
It’s the threat that authority represents. I’m at their mercy. I’m a control freak and I don’t like being at anyone’s mercy! I watch movies. I know they can plant stuff on me if they don’t find anything. All these scenarios flash through my exhausted brain.
I park the van where I’m told. Armed uniforms surround the van before I come to a full stop.
The A Team
An agent with those goddamned dark glasses says, “Please get out of the van… slowly.” He’s intimidating as hell. Just like he’s supposed to be.
“I have a dog in the back. He’s old and probably a sleep. Can I grab his leash so I can let him out?”
I grab the leash. Slowly. I get out and walk around the van to the passenger side sliding door and open it. Slowly. The uniforms silently follow me. Three of them have their hands on the guns in their holsters. This is not putting me at ease.
Moses looks up as I hook the leash on him. Not that I really need to. He’s eleven years old and even if he does make a break for it he won’t be moving quickly.
“Step over here, sir.”
They guide me to a spot some twenty feet from the van. The four of them form a circle around me. Three of them stand silently, staring at me. They still have their hands on their guns.
I want to refer to them as the A Team but I’m smart enough to know that humor is not called for at this moment.
We stop and Moses immediately lies down in the dirt and goes back to sleep. He never was much good in hot weather.
“We’re going to search the van – do we have your permission?”
“There’s nothing in it.”
“Do we have your permission, sir?”
I don’t like the way Dark Glasses is calling me “sir.” Granted, I’m older than all four of them but there’s something in his intonation that sounds vaguely respectful but still intimidating. It’s a neat trick and it makes me feel uneasy. I wonder if they learn that in Border Patrol School?
“Sure.” Like I’m gonna say no with all these guns around me.
Dark Glasses nods to an agent who is standing by the van. The agent opens all the doors.
I have visions of them throwing all my stuff on to the dirt and going through it. Then leaving it there for me to put back.
“This is your last chance to co-operate.”
“Tell us what’s in the van?”
“Nothing is in the van except my travel stuff and a prescription for my asthma. Your dog smelled my dog and that’s why it went crazy. It’s happened before.”
Dark Glasses is not buying any of this. I’m pretty sure I’m sweating at this point which is not helping my case any.
“Listen, man, I’m really tired. I’ve been driving for three straight days and I haven’t slept well these last couple nights. There is nothing in the van.”
People are driving slowly by gawking out their windows as they come through the checkpoint. Here I am, surrounded by armed Border Patrol agents and my van has all of its doors open. I’m dressed in faded Levis, flip-flops and a t-shirt. Moses is sound a sleep in the dirt, not a care in the world.
I’m sure these people are thinking they’re witnessing a big-time bust of a notorious drug lord. Or it’s just an old stoned hippie on his way home from Mexico who decided to bring some shit back with him.
Suddenly, I’m no longer nervous. What the hell? There’s nothing in the van and if they say there is then I am going to ask for my one phone call and get hold of my sister. She’s a retired federal prosecutor and a no-bullshit kind of person. If I tell her I’ve been framed she’ll raise hell on my behalf … I hope.
I wait for them to start tearing into the van. Dark Glasses continues to study me. The other agents say nothing, but they’re at the ready, hands still on their guns. For some reason I want to burst out laughing. I think better of it and don’t.
Finally Dark Glasses gives a signal and one of the dogs is let off the leash. It leaps into the van through the back and starts sniffing.
My first thought is, “He’d better not pee in there!”
The dog moves slowly and methodically through the mess that is the interior of the van. He stops for a moment on Moses’ bed and sniffs around. Then he leaps to the front seat, sniffs, jumps out the passenger door and back to the handler. This takes less than thirty seconds but feels much longer.
The handler signals to Dark Glasses.
“There’s nothing in the van.”
He says this like he’s surprised. Like I’ve ruined his day.
“I told you.”
I watch as the A Team peels off and heads back to wherever they came from without a word.
I tell Mo to get up and pull on his leash. He rises slowly, shakes the dust off and we walk back to the van.
Dark Glasses walks next to me.
“I’m sorry we had to do this sir. We can’t be too careful.”
“It’s cool. You’re just doing your job.”
“Really?” He seems surprised by my tone.
“Yeah. No problem.” I just want to get the fuck out of here.
Moses climbs into the van, sniffs his bed for a moment, then curls up and closes his eyes.
I walk around the van closing all of the doors. Dark Glasses is still following me.
“Well, you have a nice day, sir.”
“Yeah, you too.”
I get in the van, start it up and as badly as I would love to say I peeled out in a cloud of dust, I slowly merge into traffic and head for Austin.
I’ve always had problems at government-run checkpoints. Hell, I even get hassled at the produce checkpoint at the California-Oregon border. I don’t like having a bunch of heavily armed people escorting me anywhere. The TSA people never bother me at airports because as lame as some of them might be, they aren’t armed.
The rest of the drive to Austin is uneventful, thank God.
Another day in the life…
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*** If you live outside the U.S. please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can get you a quote on what it would cost to send you a book. Most of the time postage costs more than the book!Thank you.