It was the year 2002, and I was in my ’87 GMC pickup truck coming back from a movie that had just released: Star Wars Episode I. With me were my six best friends in the whole world: Keith, Bob, Kenny, Renee, Tina, and Bonnie. We were all stuffed into the tiny cab of my truck because Keith’s van had broken down a week before and obviously we needed to see this movie now, today. That it turned out to be a bad movie was the discussion being held between various noises of discomfort, especially from Renee.
Despite my young age of twenty-one and the clearly bad decision to let seven people exist in this infinitesimal space, I drove carefully. It wasn’t just a ticket I wanted to avoid. Even more so, I was determined not to hear from my father how young and stupid I was…again. A rash of speeding tickets and dumb wrecks were my M.O. after all, and this would just be another bullet in his ever-growing arsenal against me when I tried to argue with him that I was, in fact, an adult.
In fact, I absolutely was being careful. I didn’t drive fast. Hell, I wasn’t even going over the speed limit. I didn’t try switching lanes just because I got behind someone driving slower than me. I stayed in the right lane, the slow lane thank you very much, and minded the road more than the radio or even my friends. I was driving. Driving in the boring manner they demanded in all the manuals.
Keith’s house was just on the outskirts of the city, maybe two miles from the center of town. Camdenton is not a big place and doesn’t want to be. I sweat the hardest while creeping past the town square stoplights. Surely there, everyone would see that I was breaking the law, and the cops would stop us right in the middle and arrest all of us for our grand idiocy. But nobody looked at us funny, nobody noticed the seven kids riding in the cab of a tiny truck, nobody cared. We were home free!
And we were, save for two small details which, each in singular, would never have mattered. Together though, they spelled doom for my hopes of avoiding the police. Detail number one was a police officer posted up in his car in an area they had all but given up on for several months. It was a long stretch of land right next to the road that someone cleared to make a parking lot, but it never got made. I don’t know why, but we often used it, in large groups, to chill and play hacky sack. Often in the middle of the night. It was long enough to have two entrance/exit points, and the police car sat at the entrance closest to us.
The second detail was Keith getting elbowed in the nuts by the continuously ungrateful Renee. To this day she’d swear it was an accident, but let’s be fair, Keith had been badmouthing her for not enjoying the discomfort for twenty miles. It was totally on purpose. And Keith is not a small boy. At 6’4”, 387 pounds, when his nut-sack screamed its pain, he moved. And when he moved, he tilted the truck. Not a lot, not like he nearly pitched the truck on its side, but enough that you could see the tilt from outside. And this happened just as we were passing the stretch of land which should have been a parking lot.
As soon as Keith cried out in pain, red and blue lights flashed on. When the siren song came, I knew my hopes of proving my adulthood were over. I passed the police car, which quickly swerved onto the road behind me. I pulled into the second entrance to the non-parking lot and stopped, sweating from my forehead to my ass crack. I kept my hands on the wheel, which were shaking because I knew this cop would be some wannabe big shot trying to make a name for himself and pull out his gun just because this is clearly a very dangerous situation with kids who mean to destroy the whole of society. Keith told me to calm down and I heard him, but he sounded far away so I stared straight out my windshield and did not reply with anything but a shiver going down my spine. Everybody else, smartly, shut the hell up.
The police car door opened on the driver’s side, and I couldn’t help but look in my rearview mirror as a black clad officer began the short walk to my door. His hand was on his hip, and he even wore mirrored sunglasses. I hate the ones who wear mirrored sunglasses to this day, and it’s partially this fella’s fault. My back spasmed again but it didn’t rock the truck like Keith. Everything felt frozen, save for this figure moving in on me from behind like some donut-eating predator. I was scared.
Finally, he reached my window and tapped on it with his night stick. Why did he pull that out? I rolled the window down. He was tall enough he had to stoop to look into the truck. He saw me in the driver seat, and just beyond me, a mess of limbs and bodies on the passenger side. I wonder if he thought they were dead when his eyes first fell on them. Keith broke the silence, because of course he did,
“Good afternoon, Officer.”
I swear the cop snorted before demanding my license and proof of insurance. Getting my license out proved easy enough, but my insurance card was in my glovebox, and required Renee stretching in unnatural ways to make room and open it. Handing both to the officer he again leered at the sheer number of people in my truck. He told us all to get out. I complied immediately. The other six had to untangle from the eldritch mass they’d created in order to fit into the cab. One by one, they stepped out, each body seemingly bigger than the last: Renee, Tina, Bonnie, Kenny, Bob, and finally the culprit of this stop, Keith.
As they were untangling and coming out, the officer’s partner opened the passenger side of the cop car, stepped out, and hung on the door as he watched this procession. The longer it went on, the bigger his smile got until he saw Keith step out and he actually laughed.
My very important main officer had gone back to his car to check my credentials. He stepped back out and looked me over.
“You got any drugs, paraphernalia, or weapons in that truck?”
I had three knives on me. Why? Because I was an actual badass. A martial artist. And mostly because nobody could tell me I couldn’t. I told the officer the location of my three knives and of the hunting knife which I kept in the truck. As far as drugs, I told him no, I was very much against drugs, which was the truth. He didn’t ask about my friends, so I felt he didn’t need to know that they regularly puffed on the mary jane.
While my very important officer was in my truck checking for the hunting knife, Kenny pulled a hacky sack out of his pants pocket and started playing by himself. After a few seconds, Bob motioned for him to kick it over, which he did. Soon, despite my interjections that this was not a moment to play, all six of my friends were playing hacky sack while my truck was searched. Clearly, my very important officer was looking for more than the knife, which simply slid under the driver’s seat, and he’d been in there now for nearly three minutes.
I looked at my very important officer’s partner to see if he was going to make my friends stop their nonsense, but he was still hanging on the door, casual as could be, laughing to himself. I refused to stop being an adult and awaited my arrest with the seriousness of a man preparing to be hanged on the gallows. My friends, meanwhile, laughed and played hacky sack. Someone, I couldn’t tell who because I was being serious as an adult and not watching, accidentally kicked the hacky sack towards the casual officer. He let out of loud “whoof!” and ducked.
My very important officer decided he was no longer interested in what was in my truck. He shot up and pulled his gun at the same time, comedically unsure where to aim his weapon. Everybody ducked, and the hacky sack finally landed somewhere behind the casual officer, crackling in the leaves.
“Johnson, put that goddamn thing away,” the casual officer yelled in a suddenly very adult, very cold voice. Johnson, my very important officer, realized his overreaction, and sheepishly put his gun in its holster.
The no-longer casual officer got into the car and yelled inaudibly, at least to us, at Johnson for nearly five minutes. Then, he got out of the car alone.
“Okay kids. Get back into that truck.”
His voice was still very adult, but less cold. We did as we were told. Once we were in, he walked up to the passenger side, looked in, and laughed.
“Alright, get out, then do it again.”
That cop made my friends and I jump in and out of that truck two more times after that, then played a full game of hacky sack with us. He wasn’t good at it, but we didn’t care. Once the game was done, he watched us pile into the truck one last time and walked up to the driver’s side. I rolled the window down and he leaned in. With a gentler, but firm tone, he said,
“Don’t ever do this again son. It’s not safe and, had someone hit you, someone would’ve died. Now, have a good night.”
My insides fluttered. My father was right after all, I’m not an adult. Despite all my caution and following the rules, I’d still managed to put people in possible danger. I nodded back at the causal officer and hung my head for a moment.
The officer handed me the hacky sack with a gentle laugh. He knew I’d gotten the lesson, so he walked back to the cop car. I tossed the ball to Kenny, and all seven of us laughed/sighed as I started the truck and drove us the last four hundred yards to Keith’s driveway.
We never did return to that not-a-parking lot. It doesn’t feel like some ominous force or even this memory kept us away. I was already working at Wal Mart by that time, and soon Keith and Bob would both join the work force. We were growing up, and adults simply don’t have time in the middle of the night to go out and play hacky sack where, maybe, we aren’t supposed to be. It’s unfortunate, an unspoken truth as we pass from teenager to adult.