Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Are You Doing in Texas?

About an hour after sunset, we were driving eastward on I-20 in Harrison County, Texas. The posted speed limit is 70 miles per hour during the day and 65 at night. I was driving about 64. The highway had been generously staffed by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies on a Saturday afternoon and evening, and who needed the hassle? I saw the rotating lights of a police car rushing up behind me and I thought, “Ha. He got somebody.” But he stayed behind me. What?! He’s pulling ME over? Yes, he is.
Dutifully, I found an exit ramp and a wide shoulder, stopped and awaited my fate. A state trooper creeped up to the passenger side of my car and freaked out my wife by tapping on her window.

He asked for “the license for the driver,” which I thought was an odd way to put it; but we quickly produced my license, plus the car registration and proof of insurance. The young trooper sized up the middle-aged couple he was detaining and quickly took on a friendly demeanor. He told me he pulled me over because I had changed lanes without using a turn signal.
Later, he admitted he was amused by “the look of shock” on my face. I told him as we laughed that I wasn’t shocked at why he pulled me over; I was shocked because this kind of thing had happened to me several times in Texas and I had never gotten a ticket.
I told him I understood what he was doing, but I just had to know what it is about a middle aged white guy in a black SUV that compels law enforcement officers of all levels in Texas to find a lame excuse to pull me over. He admitted I was driving “too carefully,” if you can believe that. I guess all the drug mules on the interstates and federal highways try really hard to follow the letter of the traffic laws. He also said he noticed out of state plates. This made no sense to me, since we were in a county contiguous to Louisiana, but okay.
We told the trooper we appreciated what he was doing as we wished him well and advised him to be careful. Then, he asked the question I’ve been asked by county cops, municipal officers, and now a state trooper: “What are you doing in Texas?” Here I must admit that part of my brain always wants to say, “It’s none of your business what I’m doing in Texas and as far as I know I can drive through any state in the U.S. without have to declare my intentions to law enforcement, a**hole.” But, obviously I wouldn’t do that. He was a very nice young guy just doing a job and I truly do wish him well. I want him to catch the bad guys. Still, part of me worries about the slippery slope of being asked that kind of question. I mean, I don’t think he was making small talk. As much as I travel in Texas, It’s a virtual certainty I will get pulled over again for some minor violation. When asked, I will state my business.
The answer, by the way, was “We were hauling supplies to our daughter at TCU.” We did the one-day turnaround to Ft. Worth with all the stuff that would not fit in her car last weekend.

We caught a real break, too. The long string of 100 degree days came to an end.
With an intermittent drizzle and a heavy cloud cover, the temperature did not rise above 85 degrees while we were unloading the suspicious SUV and moving various apartment furnishings into our daughter’s new digs.
She went with us to a great Tex-Mex restaurant where I enthusiastically overate. Later, I actually took a nap in her room while she and her mother did a little organizing. Then, after we had been there about five hours, she was ready for us to go.
The last words she said to me were “Go home, Dad.” This was after we had said our good-byes, but she shouted at me through her window when she spotted me taking photos.
That’s okay. We’ll be back in three weeks or so for the start of football season. We’ll have to drive over again on I-20. Maybe that time I won’t be so careful. I might drive 70!

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Todd Davis said...

I'm sorry Darrell... I probably would have said "None of your business jack@## - on that note, what's your name, rank and unit? Write me a ticket and I'll be in touch with my attorney and your Captain. Any other questions moron?"

No... I wouldn't have said that - but I definitely would be in touch with his Captain (or Lt. or whoever) for such a gross violation of our most basic rights. Journalists usually cringe at such things. We spend our careers defending the Constitution and all it stands for. Furthermore, Louisiana is not some far off country. And to further drive home the point - I would have told him about our recent trip to Portugal in which the Customs agent asked me two questions: 1) Why was I in Portugal and 2) Did I have a good time. In other words, I would have received less from Customs than I did this officer.

Can you tell how angry I am for you? I'm glad you handled it well. I'm not so sure I would have.

CRoy said...

You are a wise and patient man. I might not have had the restraint to keep from questioning his question. Especially if I was already getting a ticket. I guess they have the right to ask (?), since he may not know whether I'm engaging a criminal even though I know I'm not. Still, I might have been tempted to tell him I'm Lady Gaga just passing through on my way back from a big gig in Dallas for a much needed chill time at my Waskom villa.

Bruce Ligon said...

I live in Texas, but I had a very similar experience driving through Harrison County back in June. The trooper came around to the driver's side window. He told me the reason he had stopped me was because I had made a lane change without a signal. Honestly, I found that hard to believe. But I also knew that when I had passed his car a few moments before that I was going close to 80 mph. Of course, I kept my mouth shut. And before going back to his car he told me that he was just giving me a warning. I was relieved.