Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fish and Games, Part Two

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name

                                                  (TV series Cheers)

“Look Deb, it’s my friend!”

A south bound pickup passed us.

I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the vehicle make a u-turn onto the shoulder.  Eyes glued to the mirror, I waited for  him to turn on his bright reds.  He didn't  and what I saw instead gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling, and that will only make sense at the end of this blog entry.

First, let me explain why my wife and I were heading north on Highway One.  We had considered napping the afternoon away but opted instead for an “exercise” moment.  The plan was to walk a stretch of sand north of the San Simeon pier—the former Hearst Castle garbage dump.  Our secondary objective was to collect some sea glass in the process (hopefully derived from William Randolph Hearst’s expensive wine bottles) or gather the occasional piece of crockery discarded because some 1940’s kitchen worker got careless setting WRH’s massive table.

               Chip the glasses
               Break the plates
               That’s what William Randolph hates.

I kept thinking about the pickup, though.  How strange that almost exactly twenty-four hours ago, I had a deep and searching conversation with the person inside that truck.

I was alone at the time and approximately ten miles north, crossing the road on foot when I saw a green pickup bearing down on me.  After a shrieking turn, it pulled in front of my car, mouth to mouth so to speak, almost touching my front bumper.  This is a maneuver that makes forward escape impossible and rear retreat improbable.  Just try pulling off a u-turn when a person is standing outside his vehicle and pointing a gun at you.  Bad odds for staying alive, worse odds that you will make an escape.  So now you know why “Takedowns 101, Using Your Cruiser,” is a required and basic law enforcement class.

But I was hoping Mr. Law Enforcement hadn’t registered the heavy backpack I carried crossing the highway and saw me toss it quickly into the back of my Honda Element.

And I thought about that the gold emblem on the side panel of his truck. 

A blue uniform approached me on the street side of our vehicles.  This guy was the real deal, an Honest to God Game Warden, I told myself, nothing like the last guy who detained me on the beach, probably just a sheriff or CHP.  

Damn, I really needed to pay more attention to the patches on those sleeves!  Here was a man who walks up to groups of armed hunters and fisherman, writes tickets and makes arrests—and virtually without backup.  Sure he could use the inter-agency channel to contact a sheriff or the state police.  But there would be attitude and a long wait because these officers would resent been pulled from their usual beats to track you down in the middle of nowhere. 

It takes guts to be game warden, a man alone trying to control and regulate primal and deadly urges that exist within us all.  So I understood why he might be a little bit jumpy. 

I moved sideways, slowly, out from behind my car and faced him.

This was not my first rodeo and I knew what to do.  My arms were wide, hands hanging at least six inches from my thighs. But I had a terrifying thought.  This was the exact pose and posture I had seen over and over watching TV westerns as a kid, right before guns were drawn and people died.  I needed to relax, I told myself, just stay calm.

“So how are you doing?” he asked with a loud and chipper voice.
I responded, “Great!” trying to sound equally loud, chipper and Santa Claus jovial.
He walked around to the back of my car.  “I believe you were wearing a backpack when you crossed the highway a few minutes ago.”  Dark letters against blue background stood out from his neatly pressed shirt.  The last name was “Thayer.”
“Yes, Officer Thayer (or should I have said Warden Thayer?  Or does that only work with prison officials?).
“You’re welcome to search my backpack,” I said.
He saw it, I had it, and I knew the next step of the dance.
A thin smile from him.
“Of course, I know you don’t need my permission to do so because game wardens can search without warrant or cause.”  Why had I idiotically kept talking?  Was I hoping to impress him with knowledge that law abiding citizens usually lack?  “TMI!” the saner part of my brain screamed.

But I babbled on, managing to make matters worse, “Of course, only a poacher would know about that search and seizure stuff—or someone like myself who reads mystery stories with a game warden protagonist, like the C.J. Box novels for example.”  I looked at my hand, wanting to make a fist and smash it into my mouth. 

No response.  Clearly, I had just sunken deeper into a shit- pit of my own making.  Why couldn’t I just shut my damned pie hole?  
Still, maybe full disclosure would save me in the end.
“Well, officer, I’ve got to tell you upfront I've got a couple of abalone shells in my pack, but once you see them you’ll see that they’re old, nothing recently harvested.”
He stood there, perplexed by my motor-mouthing. 

I would have given all the cool rocks and all the fun I’ve ever had collecting them just to be back in San Simeon before my wife started to worry--or became 
angry--not sure which was worse.
“All right if I open the back window now and slowly remove my backpack?”  I tried not to add "Boss" at the end of this sentence, thinking of "Cool Hand Luke."
He nodded.
I did so but the pack slipped from my hand and landed on the grass behind my car with a whump.
“Hmmm, would you like me to unzip the big compartment?”
He nodded again.
“That coiled yellow thing there is the rope I use to rappel down the cliffs.  Underneath are the abalone shells I told you about.  Want me to pull out the rope so you can see them?”
I did and he leaned over slightly.

"Uh, oh," I thought.  
And, I said, “You probably saw a knife down there.”
“Actually," he said, "there are two knives down there.”
Damn it!  I always lose knives and had somehow put both my coast and valley knife in the same backpack. Two long blades suitable for scooping meat from large shell fish--or hurting someone.

“So what are you actually doing out here?”  This guy was asking all the tough questions.  And because he used the word “actually,” I knew he wasn’t buying any of my blather.  
“Well, I collect rocks and polish them.  I also polish abalone shells, that is when I find them dead and abandoned along the shore (I cringed mentally at this weird utterance.  Shells don't die and shells of any kind are never exactly left behind--except when abandoned by hermit crabs searching for an abode with more square footage). 

“And the crowbar?” 
Now this was bad, really bad.  A crowbar is the tool of choice when removing abalone from their rock habitats.  You sneak up on them with a crowbar and apply quick leverage before they frighten up and suction down.  Mess up on the approach and you better visit a fish market on the way home if your wife is expecting sea food.  

Even if I had a license and stamp to take abalone (which I didn’t), and understood the butt-loads of rules which explain how you can legally take them (which I don’t), it’s all irrelevant when your car is parked adjacent to a marine sanctuary.

Oh, man.  My wife and our dinner guests were already expecting me in San Simeon (yes, social life actually does occur north of "Cahmbria").  But now there was a good chance I would be spending the night trying to prevent county inmates from putting their wangers into my uncomfortable places.

“Believe it or not, Officer, the crowbar is only along because I forgot my hammer.  I pound stakes into the ground and attach a rope to them. Then I climb down cliffs, doing my best not to fall and break a bunch of bones.”

He flipped through a notepad.  Hopefully, the last guy who detained me hadn’t initiated a BOL (Be On Lookout).
"What's your name?"
"John... John Risherson."
I tried my best to enunciate, "Richardson," I said, pissed off once again at having a surname so hard to pronounce, expecially with a dry mouth and scared out of my wits.

Another long pause.  This guy was good and waited for me to spill the rest of my guts.

Finally he asked, “How about the other zippered compartment?” 
“Uh…well, this is going to be a little embarrassing,” and I started to yank out a cardboard six-pack with four Buds. “You can see I drank two.  Hope that’s not a problem.”

He appraised me for a moment.  “No, I don’t see a problem there.  You’re a big guy.”
I knew what he was saying but wanted him to squirm.
“Are you saying I’m fat?"
“No, no, no… It’s just that… Well there’s a ratio of body weight to…”
I let him hang there for a moment.
“No problem," I said, "I've taught health science and know all about that ratio.”
More silence fostered a hope that we had reached a level of détente.

Still I thought it best continue with my policy of full disclosure.
“There’s one more compartment.”
He gave me a puzzled look.
“The small zipper further back. You’ll find my wallet, a cell phone, and maybe some other stuff.”  Just band aids, I knew, but I wanted him to work for it.

What happened next had horrifying implications.  It bothers me still because I wonder whether I had inadvertently--or intentionally--created the situation.

He squatted down, bent over my bag, and unzipped the last small compartment himself.  I had a  very disturbing thought: IF I had continued my Karate training, IF I was a complete psycho (like the guy in Los Angeles), and IF I didn’t admire and revere law enforcement officers, I could easily have delivered a kick to this man’s temple, rendering him unconscious or worse.  

Was it my openness that disarmed him, or did he just make a mistake?  Either way, I was ashamed to have created the situation and entertained the thought that followed.

And I do admire Officer Thayer—he’s friendly but thorough.  
Pain in the ass thorough.
“What about your pockets?”
This was actually a very good question since my cargo pants have enough space to harbor fifteen pounds of rock.  Sometimes full pocket loads cause everything to slip down, exposing my overly white ass.  I try to keep my belt tight, my junk hidden, but on occasion wardrobe failures have occurred.

Anyway, I produced a wallet and some keys.
“Anything else in your pockets?”
“There might be…”
I reached down into my left pocket and fumbled several times trying to grasp a small rock.  I finally got a tenuous grip on it, but must have pulled it out way too fast.  I saw his right hand tighten on the gun, actually pulling it loose from the holster.  

Pretty sure of two things at that point: first, he had a .40 caliber Glock, the same lethal canon my New Mexico daughter-in-law tries to hide in her purse and, second, I might need to change my pants when (and if) I ever got home.

But I stood there holding a fingernail sized “moonstone,” nothing I ever thought I might die for but happy because recent e events hadn’t gone western.

Officer/warden Thayer regarded the unimpressive pebble in my hand.
He said, “Is there anything you want to ask me?”
What a question?
Let’s see.  How close are you to arresting me?  How close were you to shooting me?  How come you never asked me what happened to the two missing beer bottles?

His question was so worrisome that it set off endgame alarms.  I figured we were on the verge of a “get in the truck” moment.  

But I was in for the penny AND the pound with this truth shit and decided to ramble on. 
“No, I don’t have any questions, Officer.  But I do want to thank you for doing your job, risking your life to stop poachers.  I’m also glad to have met you and hope to God you'll take care of yourself in the future, Officer Thayer.”
I stuck out my hand, half expecting a handcuff.
Instead there was a powerful and sincere grip. 

He pulled out onto Highway 1 and headed south.  I threw my pack into my Honda Element and got in.  A seatbelt clicked, and I was on my way to San Simeon.  Two miles down the road I saw Officer Thayer again, his truck pointed north, facing me.  I flashed my headlights twice--in both relief and appreciation.  I didn't expected him to understand, no doubt thinking I was just another smart-ass.

But here I was now in the same car, this time with my wife and about to turn into the San Simeon parking lot.  And was it that gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling after I looked in my rearview mirror?

His headlights flashed once, then twice.

He likes me.  He really likes me!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nocturnal Rambles

Easy surf, wet sand
Mirror the moon gracefully,
Fades as east brings dawn.