Day 229

Day 229

Hey Team!

I’ve been working on a new book proposal and I thought I’d share the opening anecdote with you. If you’d like to get updates for how things are progressing and some more fun excerpts as I write them, then you can click right here.

Okey dokey, here we go!

***

It’s Day 229 and money has been pretty tight for awhile now. Since Day 1, give or take. I can’t afford a bus, much less a train or plane, and I need to be in St. Louis in three days if I’m ever going to cross making moonshine off my list. The upside is that I had plenty of time to get more creative with my travel plans—which is how I came to be in the driver seat of Ben’s Honda Civic somewhere between Pennsylvania and Indiana, 14 hours after we had met in Boston via a Craigslist ad.

Although we had just met, now that I was on month eight of this adventure, I had interacting with strangers down cold—thanks in no small part to the mass of ridiculous stories I had gathered. Stories had turned out to be surprisingly valuable on this trip, which is good because they were about the only thing I had room for anyway. If they had any actual mass they’d never fit in the small backpack I had been living out of this whole time. There was barely any room left for the two t-shirts once the laptop, video camera, external hard drive, GPS, point and shoot camera, microphone and other assorted electronics were shoved in. I was basically a walking Circuit City with a spare pair of underwear. (I’d use a more contemporary electronics store reference, but I was also bankrupt, so—Circuit City it is.)

During the previous 14 hours, Ben and I built up enough trust and casual friendship for him to let me drive his car for a stretch while he folded up his six foot four frame into a kind of boney orb in the passenger seat where he was napping. It was coming up on 2am and I-80 was deserted. We were making great time. I know this because the speedometer said 85mph when the lights started flashing behind us. Before the highway patrol car had caught up I was already in the far right lane, signaling for the shoulder. “Shoot!” I shouted, quickly finding the worst way to wake up a stranger whose car you’re driving. Once his heart rate came down and he realized we weren’t about to die, Ben immediately started rifling through the glove box for the registration while I dug for my wallet and driver’s license.

I have a couple hard and fast rules when it comes to getting pulled over. One of them is that I always get out of the car. There are a dozen reasons why this is a bad idea that I would never recommend, but I feel like it puts you on the same level as the officer and you get to be a person instead of just a floating head that they look down on and hand a ticket to. Of course this tactic almost always gets you yelled at.

Or a gun drawn on you.

It’s not a move for the faint of heart.

This time, because I was in someone else’s car, I decided to stay put. As soon as the officer stepped up to the window I stuck out my license and Ben’s registration and started my pitch.

“I’m so sorry officer, that was completely stupid. I wasn’t even looking at the speedometer until I saw you and realized how fast I was go—”

“Stop right there,” he interrupted. “Here’s the situation. I’m going to give you a ticket. You were going way too fast and there’s no way out of this one.” If the look on his face and the tone of his voice didn’t say he was in no mood for jokes, then his crew cut screamed it. “Do you know how fast you were going?”

“I looked down as I passed you and it said 85.”

“You were going 83.”

“Oh! Great! That’s better than I thought.”

“This is a 65 mile per hour zone.”

Definitely not in the mood for jokes.

He looked down at my license and clicked his tongue. “You’re from California.”

“Yes, sir.”

Officer Milne explained that, because of some rules I’m still not clear on, California and five other states are part of a group that has to pay their fines immediately in the state of Ohio.

“You have three options.” He counted off on his fingers, “You can come with me and we’ll get you a money order that you can make out to the State of Ohio. If you have a Visa or MasterCard I can process the payment in my car. Or you can go to jail.”

“Jail?!” I turned to check Ben’s reaction, but his deer in the headlights look wasn’t going to be any help.

“Only if you refuse to pay the fine.”

“How much is the fine?” I asked.

“For speeding, it will be $130 dollars.”

“I don’t even own that much money!”

“Funny. I hear that a lot.”

“Is there any way you could just let me off with a warning. It was stupid. I wasn’t paying attention but I can honestly say—”

“I’m not going to argue with you on this! You were going way too fast. Those are your options. What do you want to do?” Although I wouldn’t have called it arguing, more like…pleading, he was clearly dead set on doing things his way.

“I told you, I don’t have 130 dollars. It doesn’t sound like I have an option.”

“All right. Get out of the car.” He motioned to the flashing lights behind me. “Step to the back of the cruiser and keep your hands where I can see them.”

As he instructs me to place my hands on the trunk of his car so he can search me, my heart racing, I turn to make one final plea. “Officer, I don’t—”

“I said, turn around!”

Now my back is to the officer and my hands are outspread on the trunk but I still can’t will myself to shut up, so I make up for it by talking faster, “I have a debit card with me but I don’t think I have enough left on it to cover this. I’d hate to find out I was wrong after going to jail though. If you want to try to run it before we go through all this—”

“That’s what I thought,” he smirked. “Give it here.” With one hand on his holster, he sticks out the other, palm up, and manages to not yell at me as I turn to face him and hand over my debit card. When I pull out the card he sees that there are two others behind it and says, “Looks like you’ve got more than just a debit card. Same as it ever was. Go back to your vehicle and wait inside.”

I sat back down next to Ben in a bit of a daze, not sure what to do next. I had zero faith that the card wouldn’t be declined and that I wasn’t just delaying the inevitable. Ben, for his part, was beyond generous. He offered to pay the fine to keep me out of jail or wait in Cleveland for a day while I serve out my time, but by now I had come to terms with the adventure of the whole situation and turned down both offers. I had—

“BRETT! CLOSE YOUR DOOR!” The officer boomed from his car’s PA.

I had been through a lot in the last eight months because of the list. I’d risked my life more than once, but you never really know that’s happening until it’s over. I’d been in the back of cop cars, but usually for good reasons. I’d trespassed in a foreign country, been trapped in a Podunk town in Arkansas, been conned and learned to con, taken part in a Civil War reenactment and driven a race car. I was seeing my own country and living a life worth living. And just last week I crossed the 26th item off my list. I was finally over halfway done. Halfway to going home and reclaimed the life I had left behind last July.

But I’d never been on the verge of going to jail. This was a new experience. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was why I was out here in the first place. Experiences.

If I was ever going to have to go to jail, I’d be hard pressed to think of better terms. It would be a short trip and it’s not like anyone is ever going to fault me for not having the cash to pay for a speeding ticket in some future job interview. Plus, it would be almost impossible to make it to St. Louis in time after a night in the clink unless I pulled off some kind of miracle. Disasters always make the best stories. Yeah, this is the right move. I should go to jail. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked myself for the thousandth time in 229 days.

Just as I had made up my mind that going to jail was the choice for me the officer came back.

“That one didn’t work. Give me the other two.”

“Okay, but I know I don’t have 130 dollars on those. We can skip to the end now if you want.”

He took the cards without saying another word and five minutes later he was back in my window proffering them both.

“Wow. You really don’t have any money do you?”

“No sir.” I thought I had already mentioned that but decided not to make a joke of it this time.

“Wait here.” He went back to his car without yelling at me. I figured that was a good sign.

Moments later he was back again. This time with my license and the registration in his hand. “I’m not sure why—” he stopped. “I really—” he stuttered. “I…I think I feel bad for you. I don’t know why but—” He paused.

“Just make sure this doesn’t happen again. If you were going 85 it would have been a reckless endangerment charge. Keep it to the speed limit and consider yourself lucky that you ran into the one guy who decided to give you a break.”

“Thank you so much, officer.” I reached out and shook his hand. Oh well, there would be plenty more experiences to be had out there. After all, I was only halfway done. I hadn’t even fired Donald Trump yet. Or been reintroduced to my future wife.

***

That’s it for now! Again, if you want to get updates and sample bits, just sign up right here.

Until next time,

Brett.

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