At police headquarters. Fresh out of roll-call. The long 12-hour shift started as it usually does: way too many vehicles on the road. The sun was preparing to take a siesta. And I was now traversing through the busiest part of town, among the blitzkrieg of evening rush-hour.
Even in a fully-marked police cruiser, I was watching others getting cut-off, tailgated. But the speeds were un-exceeded thanks to the congestion of the working class. Business as usual. What would the night bring? I wondered.
It was then I saw the jalopy of a pick-up truck. The antiquated design only allowed one bench seat, which meant it had room for only three occupants, to include the driver. Therefore, much to my surprise, an array of human heads crammed into this…thing, drew my attention.
Clearly a construction-type crew, the jalopy and its occupants motored, chugged, and creaked among many cars. Grayish and sooty concrete powder was stuck to all four sides, atop the cab, and encased the sidewalls of all four bald tires. A tiny, concrete-encrusted cement mixer caboose was in-tow, attached to a trailer-hitch. Its chains tickled the asphalt. The tag? No idea what it said; it was plastered with concrete residue.
My curiosity was piqued. The safety-has-gone-awry condition of the pick-up screamed of Please pull me over! Please pull me over! I need to be crushed at the scrap metal yard, immediately! This was a concert of moving violations and safety hazards.
How could I not oblige? It was my duty.
The probable cause reasons for the traffic stop were too numerous. I wondered if I even had enough traffic citations in my ticket book. Nevertheless, I cut through the mélange of vehicles, positioned my cruiser behind the concrete jungle-gym, and activated my overhead red/blue light-bar. Whoop-whoop, here we go.
Like cops are supposed to, every movement consumed my concentration as I ensured the jalopy stopped. In the process of coasting until ceasing all mobility, I saw the driver’s image in his side-view mirror. An unwashed mirror, but I could see enough imagery. A concrete-laden, wrinkled face stared back at me. I thought I observed a smirk. All the other heads seemed to weave and bob in the packed pick-up compartment. They were literally sitting on each other's laps. I recall snickering, thinking this was the construction crew version of 29 clowns exiting a Volkswagon Beetle. A wonderful circus act.
Deeming it safe to get out of my car, I walked up to the driver’s side and asked for the perfunctory, requisite items: driver’s license, proof of registration, proof of insurance. The reply was “Si.” No movement to find and hand over the aforementioned documents was exercised. He just sat, smiled, and bobbed his head as if I was about to hand him the winning Powerball ticket.
I repeated myself. “Sir, I need to see your license, insurance, and vehicle registration.” Again, he nodded in the affirmative. Yet, nothing followed. All smiles. Given that the only verbiage he uttered thus far was “Si” I figured he was not too skilled in English. Culturally-speaking, I figured they were of Mexican descent. I went with the little Spanish I remembered from college courses. It did no good. I sucked at it. Stupido!
I asked him where he was from. "Meh-hee-co" was the reply. His first name? "Paco. Me yamo es Paco" he said while smiling, all the while bobbing his head.
Paco the Driver was roughly 50-ish, diminutive, and, from what I could see from the areas of his body which were not covered in concrete powder, he was quite tan. Like a slab of caramel. All the other caramel faces staring back at me were, like Paco, smiling and equally curious of me as I were of them. For different reasons though, I'm sure. It was as if they all --the entire construction crew-- found themselves on TV. Self-assumed celebrities. From concrete slingers to superstars. Yay!
Their heads bobbed gleefully. They chuckled at each other. Amused. They kept glancing at me. I was getting annoyed; too much to maintain and control.
I called for a back-up officer. Officer safety dictated doing so, given the heap of bodies legally detained.
Back-up arrived. Officer Z. Brown, a relatively new policeman and former mathematics teacher, walked up and said “Whatcha got, Steve O.?” I summarized the scene. Brown digested all the details, then said incredulously, “Wait, they all fit in there?” He smiled, he guffawed. So did I.
I took another gander at the scene which had fallen in my lap. The crew of amigos was smiling at us. I swore I must’ve had a cluster of Chiquita bananas atop my head. Or my badge upside-down. Or a tear in my trousers. Or, God forbid, an empty holster. A comedy was in the making, and I formed the opinion that I was the butt of all jokes. Like I said: increasingly annoyed.
I felt my pen calling, to bleed all over paper. Ticket kind of paper. The kind that turns smiles upside-down.
However, the task at-hand was disassembling the sizeable crew in the concrete-blanketed jalopy. One-by-one, I had them step out and line up behind their work truck, parked in front of my police cruiser. They were strategically seated side-by-side on the curb. Mind you, tons of motorists tangled in traffic were crawling on by, in view of this spectacle.
It is often said that being a police officer is like being in the front row at the greatest show on earth. Yeah, cue the circus music. Buy me popcorn. Hey, that cotton candy looks yummy. I wanna see an elephant ride a pogo stick. C'mon! Bring it!
Mind you, my squad car's in-car audio/video recording system captured the entire proceeding. History has its pitfalls.
All lined up, the eight (or was it 18) amigos seemed utterly amused by the entire episode. I was not delighted.
In the natural order of police work and traffic stops, I address Paco the Driver. He had control of the vehicle. He was dressed in a reddish plaid shirt, dusty denims, gunked-up construction boots. His skin was so scorched. The Sun Maid Raisins commercial came to mind. Avid exposure to the sun, I presumed. Seemingly content with being detained. No problema, his expression indicated.
The usual questions ensued. What made you squeeze in so many people? Why is your license plate covered? Where is your insurance paperwork? Your vehicle registration? What kind of work do you do? (Seemingly obvious, yes, but you never know what inconsistencies come out until you ask). Where are you going? (Didn't really matter anymore, I had every intention to tow this bitch!)
Time for a lovely segue'.
The $6 million dollar questions: Do you have any weapons? Guns, knives, bombs, grenades, contraband like pictures of Donald Trump brushing his hair while on the toilet?
Then, it happened. Just like that, paydirt!
"Si, amigo." Si? Holy cripes, he is telling me freely that he has weapons in the jalopy! No need to dance or mince words. I cut right to the chase. "You have any guns?" I asked. "Si, lossa guns!" he replied as he pointed to the concrete jungle. Since Paco the Driver knew very little English, smiled way too much, and was so chill in offering-up his guns, I asked again: "You have guns?" He smiled and said, "Si. Guns. En un caro." He just declared, again, that he had guns...in the car. Smiling. At me! This is funny to you, Paco?
I knew it!
As per police protocol, especially given the volatile context of this particular traffic stop, more back-up was requested. After the police code for "guns" was broadcast via police frequency, in came the cavalry. In my head, I heard the thump-thump of battle drums. Police cars laced through the traffic. Like a string of railroad trains, one after the other, cruisers were lined-up in succession. Blue uniforms were now dotting the shoulder of the congested roadway, some behind and some flanking the Eight Amigos. The busiest corridor and intersection in our jurisdiction was abuzz with more than honking car horns.
Our game plan was rather simple: find the guns. Well, it seemed a simple-enough goal at the time.
I asked Paco the Driver once again, "Do you have guns?" His reply was accompanied by yet another smile, "Si, si. Guns." As before, he pointed to the cinder block on wheels. Why is he so nonchalant about this? I wondered. I invited consent. "Do you mind if I check?"
Paco the Driver obliged, smiling the whole time. "Si, si, no problema." Good eye contact, too.
Away I go; I commenced searching his dilapidated pick-up truck. It looked like a hoarder's campsite: plenty of tools, construction-type belts with tool holsters (not the kind of holster I was expecting), work boots, Burger King wrappers, nuts, bolts, screws, aged spark plugs, smashed Budweiser cans and empty Corona bottles, crushed milk cartons, bashed-in coffee cups, a box of Ring-Dings, dusty pants, heavily-worn baseball caps, concrete-pouring contracts, tons of trowels, concrete-powdered 2X4s, and the usual accoutrements for concrete slab workers.
Dusting-off my freshly-pressed blue uniform, I walked back to the band of plaid-shirted concrete pourers. A fine cluster of hard-working Mexican men, I'm sure. I addressed Paco the Driver, "Where are your guns?" He points to the pick-up truck. He is smiling like the Cheetos brand Chester Cheetah character.
Ding-ding, another round. One more consent-search of Paco the Driver's truck was in order. Most searches' yield rather immediate results in terms of contraband. But, no, not Paco. This was getting stale. So was my patient professionalism.
I checked the vehicle again, thoroughly. No guns! What the heck? I walked back, glared at Paco the Driver. He reciprocated with a smile. I wondered if Paco knew English quite well, was feigning No habla ingles, and got-off on toying with the policia. Either way, I knew he would not be the victor. Damn skippy!
I had another 11 hours in my shift, long enough to effect the arrest, impound the truck, transport to jail, place the guns into evidence, and then write it all up. Yup, I had it all planned-out, if only I could locate the friggin’ guns.
Off to the side, out of earshot (pardon the pun), I conferred with some of my squad-mates on-scene. They, too, were getting impatient and frustrated by Paco the Driver's stage play. It was decided to have a fresh pair of eyes (and hands) go search the pick-up truck. Officer Brown volunteered.
While we maintained the Amigos Eight, casually sitting on the curb, Officer Brown worked up a sweat searching for the guns. His efforts were exactly like mine: nothing, nada, zilch. Zero guns. His mood was getting stale, too.
Kinda boiling deep down, I asked Paco the Driver where the guns were concealed. As he had done all along, he smiled and pointed, saying "En un caro." In the car. Right, the invisible guns are in the car. Now I am simmering a crock full of annoyance and embarrassment. Been through ample vehicle searches. Nothing there. Paco the Driver jovially granted consent to legally search his car. Still nothing. More than one cop searched the car. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing!
Against better judgment (safety factors), it was decided to escort Paco the Driver back to the pick-up truck, and have him direct us to where the dang guns were hidden. He smiled the whole way. Pleasant fellow, so accomodating. Hmmm, I hope he doesn’t fall in front of that approaching city bus. I really wanna put this all behind me, I thought.
While several cops monitored the other seven plaid-shirted Amigos on the curb, me and Officer Brown escorted Paco the Driver back to his jalopy, hawking his every move. At the open driver's door, Paco the Driver motioned with his head, slightly raised his arm, and pointed to the center console. After every nook and cranny was checked and rechecked --coming up empty each time-- my jaw clenched at Paco's peaceful, easy feeling...emphasizing guns which were not there.
I will admit: I wanted Paco to get swallowed by a sinkhole, right then and there, one just large enough to consume Paco, and leave the rest of us topside. Needless to say, my luck was batting .000. Earth did not cooperate.
I raised my voice (ahem, buses can be quite loud) and barked, "Where are the guns?" Then, for the very first time, Paco's smile evaporated. He sensed my impatience, my frustration, my annoyance. Maybe he sensed that I had a parachute-less plane nearby, holding a reservation for one: his. I dunno.
While he shrugged his shoulders, Paco the Driver glanced at Officer Brown. With a forlorn expression and in his best broken-English, Paco the Driver said "Sawdy?" He said it in the tone of a question, not a statement. He was empathic? Wait...what?
He seemed to slouch where he stood. Hundreds of rush-hour cars still eaked on by. It was surreal. More bizarre by the minute.
I exhaled, deeply. I postured. I fixed my stare on Paco's. I asked calmly, "Do...you...have...any...guns?"
"Si," he smiled again, bobbed his head, and motioned his arm towards the only seat in the vehicle. Gee, now we're back on good terms? I thought. Acutely, I watched his stare, the laser-like line of focus of his eyes: The center console. I rechecked that area of the truck's compartment.
And, there it was...Wrigley's Juicy Fruit GUM. That bright, banana-yellow pack just…laying there. Several slices in the pack made it "Gums"!
Gee. How. Quaint.
Had I asked Paco the Driver if he had any rockets, would I have gotten a handful of Raisinettes?