The state trooper walked so slowly up to my driver’s side window, it had to have been deliberate. Either that, or he was trying to mimic what he’d seen in all those Looney Tunes cartoons he’d watched as a boy.
The only sounds were those of July cicadas, one other passing car, and the trooper’s boots munching on gravel as if it were potato chips. The gravel had a clean look, and must have just recently been laid over the red clay by road workers along the shoulder of that country highway’s blacktop ribbon.
“What brings you to Georgia?” he asked, after an illuminating discussion about how fast I’d been going. Having noted my Florida plates, followed by my New York driver’s license, this was naturally his next question. He didn’t sound much like Mel Blanc. Kind of looked like him though.
I imagine I must have sounded confusing in my long-winded answering of that simple question, as I tried to explain how my uncle had passed away, and that my father had left me my uncle’s car, and how I’d flown to Florida to pick it up, and now I was driving it back to New York, and I had decided to stop and visit my grandfather on the way.
Behind his aviator sunglasses, I could see his eyes narrowed like the space between two bricks that haven’t been mortared yet. “Who’s yer grandpa?” It was plain that if he knew who my grandfather was, I’d be in the clear. So I told him who my grandfather was, and the name of the road he lived on.
The trooper took the rim of his hat stiffly between thumb and forefinger, adjusting it while I held my breath. He ten-mile stared down the road for one of those long slow southern summer afternoon moments, back in the direction of Moultrie. You had to watch closely to see him shake his head no.
“Welp’, he said, ‘that’s a shame. Sit tight, I’ll be right back.”
That money has long since been paid to the state of Georgia, but it’s still funny to think back on how – all the while I was pulled over and waiting for him to look me up, write the ticket, and have a conversation – a fat black film canister containing no less than nineteen joints of marijuana lay beneath the driver’s seat, its existence (and, more important, its whereabouts) entirely unbeknownst to me until two days later when I would stop at a Virginia gas station to write something down, drop my pen down the crack between the seat and the center console, and make the discovery while attempting to retrieve my pen.
In hindsight I suppose this makes him the Coyote, and me the Road Runner.
But you know how it is, sitting on piles of undiscovered treasure, or sometimes potential hornet’s nests, that – for long stretches of time – you never even know are there. You just carry on, keep going, through the days of your life and down the highway, sometimes way over the speed limit.
Some days you forget to check your rear-view mirror, some days you look back a little more often, and still other days you catch yourself staring. But always you hope, against hope itself, that one day you might learn to use your head for something besides a hat rack.
Of course, let’s not be so eager to smile about it that we forget this crucial point: I wouldn’t have been out four hundred dollars, had Georgia law enforcement been acquainted with my grandfather. That trooper would’ve smiled, tipped his hat, clapped his hand twice against the roof of the car, and said “Well sir, you have yourself a nice day.”