How to Freak Out a Hitchhiker
From the upcoming The (Almost) Totally Useless How-to Book You Can’t Do Without by Timothy G.M. Reynolds
In the summer of 1987 there was a group of us who used to make the 45-minute drive from St. Marys, Ontario to the beach/resort town of Grand Bend up on the Canadian shore of Lake Huron every couple of weeks, just to get a break from work and families.
Back then there were actually two beaches we could choose between to hang out at – Grand Bend itself and the one at Ipperwash Provincial Park, south, along the shore. Grand Bend is a small town with attractions for tourists and a mediocre beach where townies like us and boaters from all over the Great Lakes could drift in and hang out. The people there were some of the best looking to be found on a freshwater lake in North America.
Ipperwash, on the other hand, is an outstanding beach with powder-soft sand that you can walk out two hundred feet and still have the water only chest high. But because there was no town or strip for driving up and down, showing off machine and muscle, the beach at Ipperwash was populated by civilization’s less-attractive members. There was a lot of terry cloth and Speedos and far too much flesh crammed into or popping out of both. Let’s just say you didn’t go to Grand Bend to swim and you didn’t go to Ipperwash to watch beautiful people at play.
Since then there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the area and the land rights of the Chippewa of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, mostly revolving around a protest and a killing of a protester by police in 1995, but since this tale happened in 1987, the only controversy for us was whether to choose cruising the strip at The Bend or working on our tan at Cellulite Central.
Being one of two car owners in our little group, and being the only one in St. Marys, I often picked up other members of the group on my way through Stratford and surrounding towns on our way to The Bend. On this particular Saturday I was asked to pick up ‘Steve’ who was joining us for the day. Steve was a quiet college student home for the summer. His name wasn’t really Steve, but then, it might be, because I don’t actually remember that detail, especially since I’d never met him before and haven’t seen him since that day. But the rest of the day is imprinted in my mind in vivid technicolor, at the part before the police left.
I swung north/east on Highway 7 and found Steve waiting on the designated corner by the Stratford Town Hall. He knew what I was driving and I knew roughly what he looked like from our mutual friend, Barb. Steve knew Barb from the Pentacostal Assembly and I knew Barb from the St. Marys Community Players theatre group, which means that Steve was a straight-laced churchie and I was a dancin’, drinkin’, carousin’ theatre freak. Oddly enough, we found our common ground in the brilliance of Monty Python’s humour, and that’s pretty much what got me into trouble that day
The detour through Stratford meant that the rest of the trip to Exeter to meet Barb and Lisa on the way to The Bend was down 80 kph country back-roads. I’m pretty sure it was while Steve and I were belting out the chorus of The Lumberjack Song that I first noticed the sound of sirens. A quick glance in the mirror confirmed the accompanying flashing lights and my brain changed gears.
My first thought was “Oh shit. A ticket.” But it was my second thought, once calmly but urgently voiced, that freaked out Steve. “Open the glove compartment, take out the gun and hide it under the seat. Now.”
To his credit, Steve did as I asked, without question, but with a look of fear I’ve never seen on a person since that day. I’m pretty sure that Barb or any other woman I’ve ever known would have started asking questions at that point, pretty much ensuring that the gun would still be in the glove compartment when I reached in for my registration and insurance papers.
Of course, when Steve actually grabbed the .45 and realized that it just was a very realistic-looking black plastic squirt gun, he relaxed a little. As I pulled over I kept talking, “When I reach into the glove compartment for my registration and insurance that gun will be all he sees. I don’t want to get shot today.”
Understanding completely (but still a little freaked at being an accessory or a witness) Steve quickly stashed the squirt gun under his seat as I came to a stop. By this time we were both nervously laughing at the absurdity of the situation (and not yet done thinking about life as a lumberjack)… and that’s when I rolled down my window and greeted the OPP officer with a big shit-eating grin. I wanted to show him I understood what I’d done wrong and wasn’t going to give him any trouble. “Okay, what was I doing?”
“You were speeding, sir.”
“I know I was speeding. How fast was I going?!” Oh. Shit.
Rule 1: Never admit that you didn’t know how fast you were going. You always know how fast you were driving and you are perfectly comfortable with that speed under those conditions. Period. If you don’t know, you’re being reckless, and maybe even dangerous. Those are two words you NEVER want associated with your driving by the authorities.
Rule 2: Never laugh in the presence of a County Mountie, unless he cracks a joke and you are expected to laugh. This kindly officer did no such thing.
Rule 3: Sarcasm or tone/attitude of any kind has no place in an encounter with a law enforcement officer. Not even if he starts it. Shut your mouth and wait until he goes away. Then mouth-off to your passenger, or your dashboard.
He looked in the back seat. “What’s in the cooler, sir?”
“What cooler?” I didn’t own a cooler.
“The cooler in the back seat, sir. Please open it up.”
I guess you’re not supposed to look surprised when you discover something for the first time in the back seat of your own car because then they thing you’re drunk, high, driving a stolen vehicle or all three at the same time. But Steve reached behind my seat and pulled out a nylon soft-sided Molson Canadian cooler bag. I couldn’t remember where the hell that had come from – I hate Canadian. I drank Blue, or maybe Coors Lite. Molson Export if it was available.
“This is just my swim suit and towel, sir.”
“Open it, please, son.”
“Of course.” Steve did as he was asked, and all I could think was whether or not Officer Bob could see the muzzle of the squirt gun poking out from under Steve’s seat.
Thank God, he couldn’t. He believed our explanation for who we were and where we were going and after accepting the license and registration I’d taken from the innocuous glove compartment, he wrote me a ticket for speeding, told me to slow down, pay more attention, and have a nice day.
Of course I have to get serious for a moment and ask what the outcome of the situation would have been if Steve and I weren’t two middle-class white boys in a totally uncool, four-door, grey Ford Escort but instead had been two First Nations lads in a pick-up truck from Ipperwash or two black brothers from Michigan in Dad’s Camero. Makes you wonder.
So, that’s how to freak out a passenger who isn’t really a hitchhiker, but not really much more than a total stranger. “Open the glove compartment, take out the gun and put it under your seat.”
Believe it or not, there’s actually a second chapter to the whole gun-in-the-glove-compartment thing. A couple years later Barb was going to school in North Bay and driving four hours to London area to spend weekends with her boyfriend (now her husband, Jim). Back in the late 80s a young woman was brutally murdered while driving back to school in London, Ontario after visiting her family in Toronto for a long weekend. They never caught her killer(s) but the authorities suspect that the unsub(s) saw her at a roadside restaurant, punctured her tire, waited until she pulled over with the flat and abducted her from there. That scared the shit out of me and I was worried about Barb, so I gave her a gun for her glove compartment. It was only a cap gun, but it was a mock-nickel-plated .32 that looked pretty damned real when pointed from inside a locked car by a scared young woman.
Barb never needed the gun so it stayed in her glove compartment – until a fourteen-year-old kid opened her parked car, took all her change, her insurance and registration… and the gun. The car had been unlocked because it was the middle of winter and the locks had been freezing on her. Besides, there was nothing in it to steal. Sort of.
Barb knew what had happened immediately upon returning to her car so she drove over to the local police station to explain that her registration & insurance had been stolen, along with a couple of bucks in change. The officer filling out the paperwork was bored and uninterested as he filled out the report. No one else in the station was really paying much attention. Then he asked “Was there anything else taken from your vehicle, Miss?”
“No. Just the gun.” And that’s when Barb got their full attention.
It took a little explaining, but when Barb mentioned the unsolved murder and why she had a replica cap gun in her glove compartment the cops found it hard to argue with her logic. They weren’t particularly happy with her, but now they knew that the fourteen-year-old who’d held up the twelve-year-old with the silver revolver half-an-hour before was only carrying a cap gun, not the real thing.
Some day I’ll tell you about the thief who broke into my Mom’s house and stole my real gun, but that story has nothing to do with hitchhikers, cops nor even Monty Python.
Have a good week.
Ciao for now.
(Next Week: How to Know When to Laugh the Day of a Funeral)
All words and images here are Copyright Tim Reynolds.