You are safe, Childress.
In the spring of 2017, I traveled from Colorado down to Wichita Falls, Texas, to do some work. Sometimes I’ll fly the friendly skies; this time I thought the windshield of my nice new truck, the Texas plains and an audio book sounded good.
Books became a staple in my life before smart phones existed. I was a custodian at a school district, and I worked a little and slacked a little. My slackness manifested as I cleaned or vacuumed a library and noticed a book with an interesting title. I would wonder no more about the content of that book as I took a seat in the library, alone, in the evening. Yes, I was a slacker, but a slacker with purpose. Now when I go to a library or book store, I notice a book on almost every shelf that I have enjoyed.
I went to Wichita Falls to visit a client. After an overnight and some simple consulting work reviewing financials — what is driving the low numbers, praise the good numbers — I was back on the road, taking 287 north. After a couple of hours I was coming into Childress, Texas, and in every small town you learn that you’d better slow down or you’ll be helping the community’s financial situation. Just ten miles up the road from Childress is Estelline, world-renowned for the speed trap of the Camaro cop sitting under the old patio. Every time I go by, it seems that cop is waiting.
I tapped the brake coming down Main Street in Childress, knowing the speed drops to 30mph. I noticed a couple of cop cars in the area in a speed-trap position, but I never worry much because I am very fond of my money and do not like to give it away to the officers’ Christmas funds: I roll at the speed limit that the elders of the community deem correct. I suppose the hour was near three o’clock, as the school zone lights were flashing. I looked down at my speedometer and I was at about 25mph with a block to get to 20mph ….I’m good. I noticed a cop in the center turn lane facing me, not moving, and figured he was not going to get me — but then a poor guy in a beautiful old rusty pickup truck comes barreling down on my rear, locking up the brakes just enough that his front bumper dips and rear bumper goes in the air. I suppose the guy was rolling by the cop’s center-lane rest position as the patrol unit’s radar popped off. Sure enough, we passed the unmarked car and that cop made a U-turn. My rearview mirror was too high for a straight-line view of the cop, but I figured he was behind the old truck. But then the cop dropped behind me…sweet boo, straight-arrow law-abiding guy, what did I do?
I found a weathered garage on Main Street off the next corner and parked as I dusted myself off to show my goodness.There was a tap on my passenger front window. As I started to roll down the window, in the first couple of inches a Cowboy-Hatted Cop told me that he smelled marijuana and he was going to search the truck. I know a TV cop can search the vehicle if he smells marijuana, so I said nothing about my innocence; I knew it would not matter.
Cowboy Cop said, “Step out slowly and give me your driver’s license,” as the window powered down to halfway. I thought to myself, “Smell marijuana?” As I stepped out of the truck, the cop asked if I had any marijuana. I said, “No, sir, that would be illegal in Texas and I do not partake.” (Understand that I do, indeed, have my vices and plenty of sins to confirm my need for the Cross of Jesus — just ask my family, friends and associates — but I do not partake of this.)
Because I watch TV and most TV cops ask, “Do you know why I stopped you?," and Cowboy Cop did not offer this test question, I asked it: "Why did you stop me?"
Cowboy Cop replied, “I could not read your Colorado plate; it is obstructed and in Texas you cannot obstruct your plate." He asked if I had large amounts of money in the vehicle. I said, “Yes, sir, about a hundred dollars cash." He replied, “I'm talking about large amounts of money." Heck, that is a large amount of money in my neighborhood.
As he walked me to his patrol unit, four more cops lined up behind us for the capture. I took a look back at my law-breaker license plate and I could read Colorado just fine. Then I saw the little frame around the plate, celebrating the dealer I got it from. Obstruction?
Anything to stop a Colorado vehicle. The money question was interesting. Why? Because I was headed back to Colorado from the Dallas area where I'd supposedly sold all the marijuana and now I had all the money…I had been profiled. I’m a large man with long hair, a beard, and I was driving a new truck from Colorado, no doubt filled with a bunch of marijuana money, through Childress.
Cowboy Cop put me in the custody of Regular Older Guy Cop and proceeded to tear through my truck, with the added back-up cops. Regular Older Guy Cop made some small talk and asked what I was doing in town. I told him about work and that I was just a regular all-American, Jesus-loving, law-abiding old Boy Scout, a taxpaying wonderful guy. They searched and searched: under the seat, under the hood, under the dash, in the glove box, in the suitcase, in the briefcase, in my snack case, in my audio book case, two times just in case.
The front was “cleared"; now it was time to search the back of the truck, which was covered by a tinted shell. Cowboy Cop asked me to open it. There it was: a two-by-three storage tote, big enough to hide all the money. They tore at that tote and opened it to find all my tools, oil, jumper cables, tow rope and such. I told Regular Older Guy Cop, ”Always be prepared” — the old Boy Scout oath. With all my doors opened, the back of the truck open, the tote open, the suitcase open, the briefcase open, the glove box open and most things scattered about, the Cowboy Cop gave me my ID and keys and said, “Thank you for your time, you are free to go.”
I smiled, closed up the truck and got the heck out of Dodge.
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In the truck, I laughed as I looked in my rearview mirror, knowing I would never see Childress, Texas, again as long as I lived. As I laughed, I felt a new freedom — but if I felt this new freedom, then I must have lost something to feel freedom anew. This was the frightening thing: What did they take? I was profiled with the intention of making a quota that somebody had set, as a plan to increase the safety of Childress, Texas, by clearing all Colorado plates, good, bad or ugly, from the Texas highways. You’re safe, Childress: I’ll never be back.
I’m sure there are a lot a good folks in Childress who I’ll never meet and they won’t really know me or see me for who I really am. Maybe I got Good Cop on a questionable Cowboy Cop day. Hell, what is one questionable, perhaps not ethical, profiling stop worth in a thirty-year career? It cost me an abundance of faith in the law enforcement system. I will never say a man lies outright, because that would be judgmental. Perhaps Cowboy Cop bent the truth about smelling marijuana to speed up the capture of me, the law breaker. His truth and my truth are much different, but I know not his nose. He could have asked permission to search?
Who is the bad guy, who is the good guy here? It has been several months, and from time to time, l still reflect on this event in my life. It cost me, Childress.
Westword occasionally publishes essays on issues of concern to Coloradans. Submit yours to firstname.lastname@example.org.