Secondary Title: Deja Harrasment, All Over Again
There I was, enjoying a glorious day along the almost north coast. My treasures (15 to 20 small rocks and shells) were arrayed on the boulder to my left. Peacefully enjoying the warm sun, most of my clothes on, and sipping a beer.
And the moment was good. I had happily squandered the afternoon tracking a retreating tide, occasionally getting up to check newly exposed sections of shoreline for collectibles.
The beer was good and purchased for a ridiculously low price at Trader Joe’s the day before. Four hours on the beach and I was still on my second brew, all part of my new regime to live healthy, eat organic, and consume moderately.
I leaned back against a warm rock, the beer casually wedged between my knees, and heard a disconcerting sound. The unmistakable squawk of radio response, female in this case, coming from somewhere up on the cliff. Oh dear! Someone had just 10-20’d into dispatch but forgotten to turn down the response volume. Even a lowly interpretive ranger like myself, not likely to encounter any real crimes, had been cautioned during inservice to report misdeeds discretely.
Whoever had allowed the noise from above, I decided, was definitely not “A” team law enforcement. I settled back and waited calmly for what was about to happen. In my backpack I had maps, printouts of all applicable rules and regulations, and a secret weapon.
During the time it took Johnny Law to find my rope and descend, I nearly dozed. Truly an extraordinarily afternoon at the beach, one not to ruined by bureaucratic stupidity.
My thoughts were soon interrupted a clumsy crunch, crunch, crunch. I turned and immediately recognized the source of this noise. I was facing the man who had subjected me to my first “interview,” an experience that inspired a blog entry several years ago. And, yes, this was the very same dumb-ass who allowed me to stand above him while he knelt down and pawed through my backpack.
I considered a lecture on the inherent danger of his shakedown techniques, how anybody with an ounce of military/prison training (maybe just someone who’d read a Jack Reacher novel) could kick his brains out, drive off in his government SUV, ditch it at some public location, and proceed merrily on to further mayhem.
But something told me he might not be receptive to healthy criticism. So what did I do? I began to say things that were much, much worse.
“Not again!" and lifted my hands in frustration, "I’m telling you, this is a waste of your time.”
“Listen,” he said walking forward and responding quickly, and I could hear the tension of his voice ramp up: “I came down here from above, maybe you heard my radio (duh!), and find you with rocks.” I'm initially processing the "I came down here from above" statement. Who the Hell did he think he was, Zeus? Were it not for MY rope, he could have never gotten his fat ass down here. And had I just heard him say "and find you with rocks" likely I was playing with my balls or something?
I interrupted him, the tension now ramping up in my voice. “Stop talking, it is absolutely legal for me to collect my 45 plus one pounds of rocks here.”
"You’re wrong, it's actually 15 plus one. I’m a state park’s ranger. I know and study the laws. This is a protected marine sanctuary and part of my jurisdiction.”
Okay, so this ape can read, I thought, it's at least 25 lbs but I didn't want to push this particular point since my command of numbers and fear of people with carrying guns run at inverse proportions.
“Nonetheless," I said (even though this is the kind of word that only to be used when trying to further piss someone off), "What little you see on this boulder is certainly less than 15 lbs, right? And as for this being a protected marine sanctuary, I've made some calls and discovered that the term refers OBVIOUSLY only to marine LIFE and, OF COURSE, rocks and uninhabited shells don’t fall into that category, DO THEY?”
Okay I'm a little out of hand here and I know it's stupid to talk patronizingly to a law enforcement officer. But after 10 or more shakedowns I was feeling a little cranky.
“Are you saying you know the law better than me?”
When he said that I realized the situation had become tenuous; his tone hinted at reprisal.
“No, officer, and I’m sorry if we got off to a wrong start. I was undoubtedly disrespectful." And even as I said this, I remembered my secret weapon. If you will allow me to pull out my phone, I could play you a recording of an official saying, “Mr. Richardson, you are fully within your rights to collect rocks along that area of the coast…”
“Who was it, my supervisor?”
(I’m running a bluff here, the recording probably erased after Verizon’s 21 day limit)
“Well, no, I don't think so. And I can't remember the name but the voice was female. Probably two or three levels above your supervisor, state level actually."
This significance of this penetrates him and he pauses moment.
But just like the last time we met, he did not give up easily, and pointed to the hammer nestled among my treasures.
“You are also in state park jurisdiction and not allowed to collect anything with tools.”
“Well you know, I've read that section of state code about tools and can quote it by section and subcategory. I can even pull out a copy of it from my backpack and we can look over it (here I am not bluffing). But that would be a waste of your time and mine, don't you think? Pretty sure that passage refers to mechanically operated devices, jackhammers, and other things like pneumatically driven sluices, you know?”
“A tool is a tool.”
Oh you got that right, Officer Olenko!
And for the first time in my recount of these shakedown narratives, I've used a real name. I’m angry and tired of this shit.
“You might be right about that Officer Olenko,” I said realizing the full extent of his immunity to reason, “and I admit those rock chips you see to be the result of using my hammer. You see, thee was this rock with small geodes.” Here, I held out my hands to indicate an oval object 10 inches in diameter.
“Yeah, I know what geodes are.”
“Of course you do. But the rock was heavy, and I’m getting older. Not sure I could haul it up the cliff put it in my car, you know? So I broke it into smaller pieces hoping to take just the geodes.”
At about this moment he too embarked on a more conciliatory tone.
“Okay, I get that. And I want you to know that I didn't just come down here to hassle a guy who’s trying to collect a few rocks, relax and enjoy a beer.”
(Could’ve fooled me)
“I appreciate that officer and, again, I apologize for my initially rude response to your contact. It’s just that I've been interviewed (and I say this word with some delicacy) by the highway patrol, sheriffs, game wardens and, of course, state park rangers—hey, you don’t remember me?”
“Well, yes, your car did look familiar.” My bulllshit radar went overload, but I continued, “And I was also detained by some mysterious people who were pretending to be game wardens.”
“Yeah, two guys well trained, professional. I wrote down their names and mentioned them later when interviewed (again spoken with delicacy) by yet another game warden. You know what he said? 'Never heard of them--and I'm the only warden in this region.'”
Silence from Officer Olenko.
I continued, “So I guess these guys were Home Land Security or DEA?”
“I can’t talk about that, of course” he said pompously, “and, of course, you know this is a corridor for drug smuggling, with all those panga boats carrying marijuana up from
"Uh, huh. I've heard about that but, honestly, I haven’t seen a panga boat all day. Wish I had.”
Again he didn't respond, apparently unable to detect my facetiousness. I waited a beat and explained, “You know, maritime law? Yah, find an abandoned boat, claim it and after a certain time it’s yours. But I guess that law doesn't work with drug smuggling, eh?”
Again a pause--guess he also couldn't to detect my dead-on Canadian accent.
Finally I got a response, “Well, I don’t know anything about that, and I just want to say again that it was not my intent to come down here and hassle someone who’s just trying to relax. But I have to make sure nobody is poaching abalones or defacing the place. It’s a beautiful area and I've enjoyed fishing here.”
An opening, I sense--and also a potential ending.
“Really? I fish, too. So it’s legal to fish on this section of the beach then, with a license of course. Have you ever caught a ling cod?”
The rest of our conversation was fish talk. Eventually he left.