Thursday, January 20, 2011

Consent To Search

Somewhere in Riverside County, California, a sheriff's deputy is wondering why his instincts led him to a pair of buckled shoes and a haversack.

He pulled me over on Interstate 10 near the Morongo Casino this morning as I was driving to my parents' home in Upland, a run I've made at least a dozen times without trouble. I saw the lights on the unmarked squad car in my rear-view mirror and groaned as I pulled over. It has been at least 9 years since my last speeding ticket.

"Hi there," the deputy said after I rolled down the passenger side window. I expected his next statement to be, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Instead, he said, "You were kinda weaving around back there. I know the wind's blowing hard, but I'm able to keep my car on the road."

Obviously this lawman never drove a Kia Rio. When crosswinds kick up, the low-profile, lightweight car becomes a frigate caught in a storm requiring both hands on the wheel and braking to control. Santa Ana winds can force the car into another freeway lane without a series of hard steering corrections. I didn't argue about it.

"Where are you headed to today?"

"Upland, California from Arizona."

"Can I see your license and registration?"

I pulled the Arizona credentials out of my wallet. "My registration is in the glove compartment. Can I open it?" It's always better to ask before acting, I've heard. The last thing a patrol officer wants is a sudden move.

"Do you have any weapons?"


"Can you step out for me? Watch out for this traffic."

I got out carefully and stepped into the safe area in front of his patrol car but off to the side of mine. He's been trained well; I know he wants me out of the "kill zone," an area where too many officers have been injured in the line of duty. I also know I fit the profile: white, male, traveling alone, looking a little nervous, dressed in shorts on a chilly morning, driving with questionable items in the back seat like a gold-trimmed tricorn hat.

He studied my license. "Where are you coming from?"


"I'm gonna let you off with a warning," he determined, to my relief. "You ever been arrested?"


"I'm gonna check you for warrants."

He radioed my information in. But his detective instinct wasn't satisfied just yet. "You carrying any weapons on you?" he asked again.


"Mind if I search you?"

"Go ahead."

He gave me a pat-down. This is the part where some of my friends would start to grumble about intrusive investigations, but I know where this is going. He thinks I'm either doing drugs or running them. The only drug in my body right now is too much hot chocolate from the Flying J back in Ehrenberg. He's looking for inconsistent answers, and I know from all the stories I've written on drug busts that inconsistency is a dead giveaway. I don't mind his hands on my tush. I'm just glad to get off with a warning.

"How long are you gonna be in Upland?"

"Two to three days."

"What are you doing there?"

"Staying with my parents."

"You do that a lot?"


"Can I take a look inside your car?"


I hand the deputy my keys and he goes through my back seat. Then he turns to the trunk. As I stand by the side of the road, smiling and clutching my t-shirted chest in the cold, he unzips a blue canvas bag I'm hauling. Inside of that bag is my Colonial haversack and two pairs of shoes, one with pewter buckles.

Beat cops have a saying: "There's no such thing as a routine traffic stop." I don't know what he's thinking, but maybe he's wondering whether he's dealing with a road tripper or a time traveler. I know he's seen the tricorn. If he unzips the beige garment sack, he'll see a satin-blue 18th Century coat and breeches, a puffy shirt, and a flowered weskit along with a lace jabot and long white stockings, all to be worn for an 18th Century ball in Pasadena this weekend. But his search ends and he asks no further questions.

My records check comes back clean. The deputy nearly forgets to hand me back my license as he releases me without another caution to drive safely. I get back in the car, put all my papers back in their place, belt up and slowly roll back onto the road with the lawman following me out. I say a prayer for him as I watch him pull past me.

A few miles down the road, I see him make another traffic stop. Better luck next time.

No comments: