Why you should care

A momentary blip of confusion and the next thing you know, you’re handcuffed and being treated like just another perp.

It was just after midnight. We left Vegas an hour and a half earlier, zeroing in on Baker, California, a shithole town, the shittiest of shitholes.

We were still hours away from our home in Northern California, and I was tired. I was nervous about my girlfriend, Amy, driving. She was a fine driver, but she had an outstanding warrant in Colorado. It put me on edge, but she insisted.

The flashing red lights caught me off guard. I saw them in the rearview mirror. My heart sank. Shit! All I could think about was the cops dragging her off to jail and extraditing her to Colorado. What would I do then? I had less than $50 to my name. Vegas hadn’t been nice to us.

“You guys coming back from Vegas?” one of the officers said. He ripped through our trunk, dumping out the contents of our old duffel bags. “I bet you had a good time. What kind of drugs you score?”

“Why are they pulling us over? Were you speeding?” I said, panicked. “You need to be careful. That’s why I didn’t want you to drive.”

“I was going five miles over; that’s not speeding.”

“That’s speeding here,” I said, as though I was some sort of expert on internal Baker police regulations.

“You have to go 10 miles over the limit at least,” she insisted.

The officer approached her window, bent down. “License and registration,” he said, with the excitement of a McDonald’s graveyard-shift cashier, meaning none. I dug out the registration from the glove compartment, fumbling nervously. The officer glanced at me.

“I’m going to need your license too,” he said pointing at me, his voice suddenly lit up. Confused, I dug out my license and handed it over. He inspected it closely. “Thanks,” he said and walked off.

Amy and I stared at each other for a moment, befuddled. “What are we going to do?” I said. “They’re going to arrest you, aren’t they!?” The officer came back with his partner, but stood in front of my window.

“Step out of the car,” the original one said, pausing. “JASON!” He said that word like he’d been waiting 20 years to say it. But who was Jason?

“What’s going on?” I said.

“DO IT!” the other shouted.

Aside from a handful of speeding tickets, I had a squeaky clean record. I never even got sent to detention as a kid, except for one time in fifth grade, and I cried because I was so humiliated for disobeying the teacher. With cops, it was worse. Ever since I turned 16 and got my license, I’ve always had an irrational fear of them. Whenever one is behind me, I immediately lower my speed, whether I’m speeding or not, and I triple-check my seatbelt to make sure it’s securely fastened. But maybe I was right to be scared all along. Here I was being mistaken for “Jason,” who had clearly done something horrendous.

The next thing I knew, the officer handcuffed my arms behind my back and was plopping me aggressively down on the curb. He stood, eyes glued to my license, looking for something. The other officer handcuffed Amy and forced her to the curb next to me. This was a first for us, handcuffed, side by side on the side of the freeway. A special bonding moment every couple should go through at some point in their relationship.

“You guys coming back from Vegas?” one of the officers said. He ripped through our trunk, dumping out the contents of our old duffel bags. “I bet you had a good time. What kind of drugs you score?”

The only thing the officer found was dirty clothes and fast-food wrappers, which was embarrassing despite already being handcuffed. He searched every inch of the car, uncovering all of our gluttonous secrets. The other cop took my license back to the cop car and punched it into his cop computer. Several minutes later, he ambled over with shoulders slumped. He whispered into the other cop’s ear. Excitement fled his eyes.

He handed the license back to me. “I guess you’re not Jason.” He looked down at the road.

No apology offered, or an explanation: Who was Jason?! Best I could guess, “Jason” was some escaped convict running around with an old gray Saturn and calling himself Aaron. Apparently, he matched my physical description too, which was odd since I have a very distinctive birthmark on my face. Or maybe they thought that was part of his genius disguise. This must have been the most excitement they’d had in Baker in years. And here I’d shattered their fun.

The cop removed the handcuffs. It took longer to get them off than it did to put them on. Just reminding me that he was the cop.

“You’re free to go,” he told me.

I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I nearly gone to jail for a crime I didn’t commit, but they forgot to run Amy’s record … Or not.

You are coming with us,” he said pointing to Amy. “Apparently you have an outstanding warrant in Colorado, missy.”

Fuck.

Their excitement returned. She was no Jason, but she was wanted by the law, and they had her. Her big crime was unpaid fines dating back a few years earlier. “What are you going to do with her?” I asked.

“Well it’s up to Colorado now.” They didn’t high-five each other, but I’m pretty sure they considered it. They shoved her into the back of the cop car and sped off. I followed the three of them to the Baker police station. This was my greatest fear come to life. What if Amy got sent to jail in Colorado? What would I do? I would rather they send “Jason” to jail and Amy was home safe.

I waited for almost two hours. These were the days before smartphones, so the only thing I could occupy my brain with was overwhelming anxiety and nightmare scenarios. Was she OK? What were they doing to her? Were they abusing her? Did they already send her to Colorado? Should I go inside?

Eventually, Amy came out. She ran to the car. “Let’s get out of here, now.”

Apparently, they’d handcuffed her to a chair in the middle of the room all by herself while they laughed and talked loudly in the other room. Amy cried the whole time. They didn’t tell her shit, other than they tried to call Colorado a few times, but no one answered, so they gave up.

I drove us south to Barstow. We found a Motel 6 and checked in. I really wanted a steak, but I was too tired to get one. Maybe we’d have a big breakfast in the morning.

All I knew was that I’d never go back to Baker in my life. And I haven’t.

OZYTrue Story

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