A Night in the Desert with Cops and Bodies All Around

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.

But that, as they say, is another story.

Flashback from Spring’13: Thoughts on School Administration and The Gifted & Talented Drop Outs

As promised, here is the first ‘Flashback’, a missive originally published in May of 2013.  It was probably inspired by something I’d read on Facebook, and didn’t want to waste a good rant on the comment section of someone else’s post.


Of the many things that happened when I went to school in Lubbock, Texas, there are two specific events that summarize my experience dealing with the administrators of Lubbock Independent School District’s Coronado, the high school I attended in the late eighties.

Let me start with the result, I didn’t listen to the adults’ advice to me and each event further undermined the trust in any and all “administrators” I may have, otherwise been able to keep up had they left me alone. That said, let me tell you what happened.

Of course, if you attended public school in the last thirty years you too have been subjected to any variant of alphabet-titled standardized tests. Of all the standardized tests, the one that we had to take every year was the CAT tests; during high school, we were also subjected to more advanced standardized test in addition to the PSAT, SAT, and ACT tests for college placement.

During the spring of my sophomore year, I along with about 15 others were called out of class to the office. Personally, I thought I’d been busted skipping (a new skill I was still in the process of perfecting), but as the group assembled in the office and was then shuffled into the main principal’s office, none of them were part of my normal social circle and skipped with me.

There were a few in the group who knew each other from having attended the same elementary or junior high schools, but overall, it seemed very interesting to the adults there that we were all pretty much isolated from one another. The guidance councilors and the principal were joined by a couple of others from ‘main office’ to explain to us that out of the 650 people in our high school, not only had we scored the highest on the battery of tests of everyone, the such-in-such test had placed all of our IQs as above 124 with more than a third of us having placed above 145. (They treated those results as abnormal and de-emphasized them as inaccurate and thus refused to name the people.)

Of course, they weren’t there to congratulate us or tell us that we’d graduated early or anything; after telling us we were the smartest people in the school and acknowledging that they knew we were ‘bored’ with their curricula, they proceeded to yell at us for “not living up to our potential” and were not doing enough to support the school. You see, what set all of us apart from the “smart kids” in the Advanced Placement and Gifted & Talented programs was that we were all, either already in ‘basic’ classes or failing our normal classes.

“You are bored in the classes you are in now, we know that,” they said…. “…the curricula designed for these classes are not meant for you. But here’s the deal, we can’t just put you in the advanced classes without you having earned it first. It just wouldn’t be fair to the kids that have worked hard to keep up the grades to earn their spots to be bumped. In order for you to be placed in the classes that are designed to teach to your level of ‘genius’, you are all going to have to DO BETTER IN THE CLASS YOU ARE FAILING NOW.”

And the air was let out of the room as 16 supposed ‘geniuses’ leaning forward on the edge of their chairs all sighed at once and returned to their usual slumped-position.

WTF were they thinking? The deal they offered us was ‘NO DEAL’… “…do better in your classes, get tutoring so you can bring up your grades… after your GPAs come up enough, then we’ll consider transferring you to the classes that you’ll really excel in.” This was the process that everyone had to follow to get into the ‘limited availability’ of the AP and GT classes; so why bother calling us in to tell us that? To ‘motivate’ us?

So obviously, the smartest people in the room didn’t fall for the dumb administrator’s attempt at ‘reasoning’ for us to do better in their school. Despite a long, drawn-out explanation of how the state grants more funding for the advanced programs based on higher participation rates verses the general population of students (yes, they used prison jargon for the student body, I’m not being hyperbolic) and due to our under-performance in our basic/regular academic classes verses our test scores, WE specifically were costing the school district a certain amount of money they could be getting if we’d just “live up to our potential” and ‘do better’.

We all remained still and silent until we were dismissed back to our basic and regular classes in which we’d been sleeping, or reading, or working on whatever on our own that was more entertaining to us than whatever blah-blah-blah the teacher was reading out their ‘teacher-edition’ books to the class.

I can only speak for myself, but as far I know and kept up with the others after that, NONE of us ever ‘applied ourselves’ anymore to get access to the ‘smart kid’ classes. In some cases, I’m pretty sure the incident caused some of us to put a little more effort into ‘not trying.’

Which leads to the next incident I experienced with the school’s “guidance councilor” and the following spring during my junior year.

This time, I went to the office on my own. In some moment of teenage angst, etc. I decided to seek guidance from the office and check on that deal from the year before. Its funny, I have a pretty good memory for my past, and some say I have an extraordinary memory for details once I do start remembering something, but for some reason, I can’t remember what had gone on in my life that I actually thought going to the office and talking to someone would help. I must have had some real trouble, but whatever it was, the “guidance” received was not only inadequate, the incident is a moment seared in my memory as one of the more traumatic episodes of “WTF is going on here?” I’d experienced up to that point.

Of course, when a student wants to see an administrator in the office, they aren’t available or resent the idea that the student expects them ‘on-demand’, so even though he was in his office during lunch time, he made me wait about 20 minutes. Then his secretary asked me about my classes in the afternoon so she could just send for me during one my elective classes. So two hours later during English, I was called back down to see him.

I told him that I was pretty unhappy and wanted to ‘do better’ but was so bored in class, like we’d been told the year before. Do you think he remembered the year before? Yeah, right. Of course he didn’t, and after he gave me a sideways look when I mentioned it and asked what I was talking about, he told me that if it had happened, he certainly wasn’t present when it may or may not have. (He was.)

So…. he calls me a liar.

Then when I start parroting the SAME language they’d used about me being bored in the normal classes and self-applying some of the other things they’d said the year before, and while I was talking–before I was finished, he started pulling out forms and paperwork. Then he said, since I turn 18 during the summer, all I can do is sign the forms that would effectively DROP ME OUT OF SCHOOL.

I can remember him yammering on about this and that (too late to ‘do better’ and some people aren’t meant for education) for about 5 minutes, but I just sat there and felt like my life was being flushed down the toilet. I may have been bored in school, but I’d been propagandized about what ‘losers’ who dropped out of high school were doomed to become.

I think I took the forms and left, but I didn’t sign them, and I never went back to the office (for any reason other than getting caught skipping class). I didn’t even tell my mom about it; except I did loudly balk at the news’ announcement about how high the drop-out rate was in Lubbock at the time.

I’ve always wondered if there is a group of kids pulled into the principal’s office every year and told to ‘do better’, and I’ve always wondered what percentage of the drop-out rate of LISD were actually kids like me; kids who were pressured to sign the forms by stupid guidance councilors who just wanted to go home at the end of the day.


NOTE: The featured image for this post was NOT the slogan when I was a student in LISD, but when I was looking for a suitable image, I loved the irony of it given the subject.
Thanks for reading!