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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs

Midnight in Desperation, by Bo Keely

'Let me see your hands!'

I thrust them out the Ford window, and in as speedily.

It was on a dark desert highway lined by moonlit Ironwood and Palo Verde trees. I call this Desperation, California because it's the center of authority for the southwest desert.

A giant face loomed at the window. He must see my new chocolate shirt from Kmart spotted by tonight's dinner, sweat rolling from my chin with the heater on and windows up to train for tomorrow's hike, eyes red from a face wash in chlorinated water, and a shut mouth intuiting he wouldn't understand at all.

'The reason I stopped you is for swerving. Have you been drinking or taken any controlled substances?'

'No,' I replied truthfully.

'Now I'm going to give you one simple test.'

'Close your eyes. Tilt your head back. When I say 'Mark' I want you to estimate when 30 seconds is gone.' He looked at the watch and said, 'Mark.'

I woke up at sunrise this morning and arrived at the library when the doors opened at 8am. There was eight hours of research and writing without a break except thirty minutes for lunch. At 4:30 I hiked three hours in the 120-degree desert with ten-pound ankle weights taking 5 minute breaks each half-hour sans water. Then I drove to fast food Shangri-La where in the ensuing hour I drank a half-gallon of Gatorade, half-gallon of milk, quart of ice tea, quart of water and two milkshakes. I read for three hours in Carl Jr.'s 'Walking the Jungle: Adventurer's Guide to the Amazon' where in '88 and again in '99 I nearly lost my life. It is a balanced daily routine, and then I drove into the desert. As I rewound this day to myself, I silently counted 'One alligator_ thirty alligators'. Then I opened my eyes and said, 'Now'.

'Real close,' shrugged the polite officer raising his head from the watch. He towered 6'5'', 250-lbs. and fit. He looked like a Nazi but was not. He was a Riverside County police officer in a beige uniform.

'You may still have taken a controlled substance,' he repeated, as if I wouldn't know it.

'Absolutely not'

'I'm going to take your pulse.' He put a finger to my radial pulse and waited a full minute for the rate to diminish. The beat would not, I knew, screaming with sugar.

Have you ever taken a controlled substance? 'No', I told him.

'Have you ever been in jail,' 'Yes_' I answered selectively knowing my slate was clean. '_For jaywalking from a Hollywood bank robbery twenty years ago, and for Excedrin in San Bernardino thirty years ago.'

'How old are you!' he asked incredulously. I said, 'It's '06_ that makes me 57.' He scratched his chin at the DOB on the driver's license which made me feel young.

'Do you mind if I search your car?' he asked needing consent.

'I want you to do your job but I don't want you to search my car. There's nothing illegal in there. If a search means it'll go easier on me, then no. But if my refusal means that my car will be towed, then yes. But if the car won't be towed then I'd rather spend the night in jail than let you search it.'

He looked stunned and asked, 'Why?'

'I'm an advocate of privacy.'

'I still want to search your car.'

He just crossed the line. I verbally cold cocked him. 'School starts Monday and I go to work. In the first week I'll see 500 students, the entire school. That's because I Sub every class. They'll ask, 'What did you do this summer?, and I'll tell them.'

I continued, 'How many times did I sway from side-to-side within my lane?' 'Three,' he replied. 'Was I speeding?' 'No.' 'Did I touch either line?' 'No.' 'Over what range would you say I swayed three times?' 'Five miles,' he answered.

I stood on the cracking asphalt of Desperation, Ca. looking about for an intelligence to review the incident as a rookie cop relegated to the graveyard shift who just stopped the only car on this dark stretch of highway to practice his procedure, and out stepped a driver with feet planted firmly on both sides of the bell curve. An officer's job is difficult enough without having a guy like that around, and vice versa.

'I think you are tired. Find a spot and pull over to sleep.'

This trifle bares a valuable lesson. The three steps from class to cop are: 1) He is one of the worst students in class. 2) He vows on becoming a policeman that he'll do this one thing right. 3) He thinks everyone hates him. (There are exceptions.)

'Good Night.' said the officer cordially. Our lights separated at midnight.

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