I was driving through Minatare, Nebraska, population 816, on my way back to Scottsbluff to file a story. A Nebraska State Patrol car passed me and turned around. He flicked on his lights and sirens.
“Fucking hell,” I said. “What now?”
I slowed down and started to pull out of the way. I didn’t think he was coming for me. I hadn’t done anything wrong. He stayed on my tail until I came to a complete stop. I shifted my car into neutral, put on my emergency brake and four-way flashers, then turned off the engine.
I was pissed. I was trying to get back to the Star-Herald to file my story about the new expansion at Box Butte General Hospital. I had calculated there would be about 35 minutes for me to write the story and sort the photographs, and still make deadline. This guy was now eating into my writing time.
I sat and waited for him to come up to my window, which I had already unrolled.
“Afternoon,” he said. I shifted my head slightly upward, indicating the universal “hey,” sign. I don’t talk to cops unless I need to.
“Where are you coming from,” he asked.
“That way,” I said. I pointed behind me with my right hand over my shoulder indicating I was traveling from the east on Highway 26.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“That way,” I said. I pointed in front of me with my left hand toward Scottsbluff.
The cop sighed, but said nothing. He glanced into the car. He saw my camera and laptop on the passenger seat. I was wearing a Star-Herald polo shirt and my Star-Herald jacket.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?” he said.
“Nope,” I said. I didn’t, but even if I do, I am not admitting to anything. If you say yes, you now have to answer. Your answer might not be what the cop was looking for and now you’ve admitted to something else. No is always the right answer.
“Well, I remembered your license plate number,” he said. I thought that was an odd thing to say. Why does he know my plate number? I don’t even know my plate number. “We received several calls in from someone passing a lot of cars on the highway from Alliance.”
Oh, for fucks sake, I thought to myself. Damned rural people butting into other people’s business again.
“If you mean me passing a line of more than a dozen cars following behind a Pepsi truck doing 50 mph in a 65 mph, then yes, that was me, I said. My hands moved freely as I pointed back toward the way I had just came. “I legally and safely passed all those jackwagons.”
As I said the words “Pepsi truck,” the truck passed by us, followed by several other cars. I felt a wry grin come over my face. I didn’t even try to hide it. I didn’t care. I didn’t do anything wrong. The cop should have never pulled me over.
The cop looked at the line of vehicles headed west on the highway, then he looked back at me. He stared at the Star-Herald logo on my left breast.
“Did you know you were speeding?” he said.
“No.” I said.
“You were doing 70 in a 50,” he said. “The speed limits drop at the edge of town.”
Fine. You win today copper. I gave him my license and insurance. He returned to his car. I wasn’t going to make deadline. I know the copy desk would understand, but I don’t like turning in work this late in the day. I preferred to have my stories filed by lunchtime so that if I needed to do anything extra, I had the afternoon to sort it out. I never needed to, but that’s how I liked to work.
The cop returned, walking slowly toward my car. He handed my license and insurance back to me. He gave me a warning for speeding.
I turned the engine on, shut off my four-ways, put my left blinker back on, shifted into first gear and sped off toward Scottsbluff.
My story was 20 minutes late.
I’ve had several incidents with the police over the years. I don’t remember how many speeding tickets and warnings I’ve actually received. I’m slightly belligerent every time.
I often wonder about this particular stop often. I wonder how different it would have been had my skin been slightly darker.