I know how to act around the guys with guns that are protected by badges just like I know how to act around a potentially dangerous dog.
Don’t make sudden movements, don’t turn your back, DON’T KEEP YOUR HANDS IN YOUR POCKETS. Simple stuff really. But the key is that you cannot LOOK like you are aware of how to act around them, that is a challenge to them. Sure sure, after the last few years in the US, this all probably goes without saying; but back in the mid-90s, there was no internet to teach people how not to act and most people thought of the cops as the good guys.
One lesson I’ve learned to live by: I abide cops and the law the same way I abide a vicious guard dog–I avoid them and do no business with those who use them and hide behind them.
This is a true story. One time, I was kind of stuck in the middle of the Nevada desert in the middle of the night. No car would stop for except for the county Highway Patrol. They stopped short of me, keeping their bright in my face instead of pulling up next to me or beyond me to stop as a potential ride would. Although blinded, I somehow saw a glimmer of the red and blue above the lights, so I unconsciously put my arms out away from my body.
As the patrolmen then began getting out of their cars and maintaining bright flashlights in my eyes, I heard them say, “Oh look, he must have been through this before.” And then to me, “You obviously have something to hide, or else you wouldn’t be trying to make it look like you don’t.”
“No sir, I just know how to act around the men with the guns in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.”
Well, they ran my ID and sweated me for a while, but I was nothing if not a savvy hitchhiker, I’d done my research and knew little tricks of legalities like how far from pavement one can stand and legally stick his thumb out for a free, long-distance trip. So they didn’t have anything to use to take me in on and I hadn’t challenged their immediate authority over me.
Instead, they handed me a pen and an index card that asked for all my vital stats: weight, height, eye color etc, as well as a description of my clothing and my belongings. I asked them what it was for, and they just looked at each other and said, “Meh, don’t worry about it, YOU’LL be able to find a ride out of here.”
And they left me at that.
No cars stopped for me after that, they all flew past in excess of 90 mph. Eventually I had walked far enough to reach the next town. It was around sunrise, so I stopped off at the local diner. The waitress was very nice and asked me all about my story and how I came to be there.
I told her what she would understand of how I came to be there (the real details are really too much for most people to handle), ending with my experience with the cops from the night before. I summed up the index card with what I thought it might have been; I supposed that if they found me again, they’d have some excuse to arrest me as a vagrant.
She kind of squinted and grimaced out the window saying, “He didn’t tell you what that was for? Well, he’s my husband, and I’m going tell him he should have told you what that was.”
“Was it bad?”
Well, no. Its’jes’that, they find so many dead bodies out here that’s their way of keeping up the people they had contact with beforehand.”
“How many bodies?”
“A lot. Do you realize how close to California and Death Valley we are here? Most of them are murder victims. But a lot are guys like you, accidentally hitchhiked out here or got dumped by an angry girlfriend or wife in the middle of a car trip.”
“What? That happens?”
“Oh yeah, that happens more than you’d know. A couple on their way from the East Coast, think they are going to a better life in California, been fighting since Ohio… either he says ‘Stop the car and let me out,’ or she somehow kicks him out.”
“…And it’s never the guys who dump the girls, because they come back or someone will pick up a girl. But women keep going to live their life in California, meanwhile the guy wonders out here for a few days and either dies from exposure or someone shoots them from their car as they drive by.”
“What? No way, you have to be messing around with me.”
“No, I’m not. That’s kind of ‘unofficial’ sport around here, but don’t tell my husband I told you that.”
“Wow. I guess I’m glad I made it here as soon as I did.”
She then bought some bags I had weaved and other trinkets I’d learned to travel with for barter moments like that. Eventually I did make it Las Vegas and then my troubles really began.