Lessons of the Heart

“Mujer Americana, Quédate lejos de mí, mujer americana, déjame ser…” my radio sang to me. I’d never heard the Guess Who’s American Woman done by a mariachi band before. It kind of changed everything about the song. I took another hit off my bong, taking care not to spill the stinky water onto my lap. It’s kinda difficult to steer while holding a lighter to a bowl, my head was swaying back and forth as I worked the steering wheel. That was when I noticed the red and blue glow from behind me and heard the chirp of a siren. Just a quick pulse of it to get my attention.

“Aw, man.” I flipped on my turn signal to show the cop I was going to be cooperative and stuffed the bong between the seats of my Triumph Spitfire. I took my jacket, tossed onto the passenger seat and draped it over the bong as I pulled over. I stopped and rolled down my window and waited.

And waited.

After what seemed a long time, I climbed out of my car and took a couple of hesitant steps towards the police car parked a car length or so behind me. There was no reaction so I took a couple more steps and then a couple more. I stood in the reflected light of his headlights and the alternating red and blue from his light bar a second, then finally just walked up to the cop’s drivers door. Peering into the car, the cop was illuminated by the lights from his dashboard and computer. His head was leaning back on the headrest and he wasn’t moving. I tapped on the window. “Hey, uh, officer?”

He didn’t move or reply so I called out to him again. There was still no reaction so I reached for his door handle and gave it a tug. The door swung open and I looked at the cop. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t move. His eyes were open and I waved my hand in front of him. Still no reaction. I put my fingers on the side of his neck to feel for a pulse and he had one. It felt pretty strong, actually. I stepped back a pace and looked at him with my head cocked. “Officer? Are you okay, man?”

I leaned back in towards him when he yelled “BOOGA BOOGA” and waved his arms. I screamed and tripped over backwards, landing on my ass in the street. “Woo hoo” he chortled. “You should see the look on your face!” He laughed heartily. Prick.

“That’s not funny!” I rasped, still shaken. “You coulda given me a heart attack.”

He kept chuckling as he handed me a pair of handcuffs. “Put these on.”

“What?” I screeched.

He laughed even harder and swung his legs out of the car as he unsnapped his seat belt. He kept his butt on the car seat and looked at me, his gut shaking a little. He was still laughing. “Okay, that’s enough I guess.” he said. He put the handcuffs back where they came from and stood up. He towered over me, but then again,  I was sitting on the road and he was standing. He held out his hand. I looked at him and then it for a second, then reached up. He pulled me to my feet and then stepped back and leaned on his car. “I get it.” he said quietly. You’re all alone on the road, it’s a long boring drive along this stretch. You’ve got the road to yourself and you’re trying to make it more fun. But what you’re doing isn’t the way, friend. It’s just not the way.”

I looked at him, toeing the roadway. It’s not like I had much to say, so I nodded. “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to go look in my trunk for my big flashlight. I figure it’s gonna take me a minute to find it. I won’t be able to see you while I’m looking, so I’m going to trust that you won’t do something stupid. Instead, I’m thinking you’ll be smart.” With that he turned and went behind his car. The trunk lid popped up and I scampered to my car, reached in and grabbed the bong and my baggy of pot and tossed them as far as I could off the side of the road. His trunk lid shut with a thunk and I heard him walking the gravel on the roadside. He had one of those headlight sized flashlights with the battery making up the base. He turned it on and made daylight in my car. He didn’t root around or anything, just took a long slow look, playing the light around the little cockpit of the Spitfire. The light turned off.

The cop nodded to himself and then looked aver at me. “You know what you are, right?”


“And then some. I want you to understand that trouble mostly comes when you don’t think it will. I could be rich if I had a nickel every time someone said to me that they didn’t think anything would go wrong. You look like a nice enough kid and I don’t like to see bad things happen to good kids. I especially don’t like it when one good kid makes things bad for another good kid.”

“I’ll remember that.” I told him. He told me to drive safely and then sauntered back to his car. I was still standing where he left me when he pulled out around me and drove on down the road. I watched him until his lights disappeared before I got back into my car.

I kind of wish he was here these decades later so I could tell him that he was witness to the last time I ever did anything like that. The opportunity presented itself, but I’d remember the near heart failure that cop gave me in the middle of a dark southern California night. The opportunities came, but I let them go.