It was an interesting afternoon of writing indeed.
It had rained for most of the day and the electricity for our Ontario neighborhood had been shut off since the early morning. After numerous frustrating calls to the SCE, they continued to move the estimated time for restoration of service later and later, unable to locate the cause of the outage. Usually, I write using my laptop. When necessary, I can use it on battery power. But a battery can only last so long.
I made arrangements for my wife to be cared for and decided to head to peaceful Red Hill Community Park in Rancho Cucamonga, which included a beautiful man-made lake. Here is where I decided I could get in my writing for the day. My SUV has an outlet and I could sit inside and write for hours without the worry of losing power. As a special treat, I decided to get a cup of coffee and an apple fritter from the local coffee house before heading up to the park.
As I arrived, the rain came down harder. The pounding could be heard on the roof of my vehicle. Although the sky was growing dark, it took nothing away from the beauty of the rolling green hills and the lake with ducks paddling across. Occasionally, they’d stop to playfully dive below the surface.
I set up a Playlist on my iPod and connected it to play through the vehicle stereo. I moved my seat away from the steering wheel to be able to write more comfortably. I set my laptop on my right leg and fired it up. Well, at least I started it up, Windows being as slow as it is.
God, Windows is so slow!
But perhaps it was best my writing was delayed. To my right, I could see a plain white sedan with two spotlight lamps on either side easing down the parking lot. It had to be going about five miles per hour. I knew right away it was an unmarked law enforcement vehicle.
The unmarked vehicle stopped at a red sports car parked backward in its stall. Two men exited the white vehicle and approached the red one. Even with my poor eyesight, I could see “Sheriff” written on their backs. I guess their sidearms were also a dead giveaway.
I could see one deputy checking the identification of a young African American man, who had exited the sport into the pouring rain. By now I was now observing them instead of my laptop. They were engaged in conversation that went on for quite a few minutes. Then, the two deputies returned to their vehicle and made their way down the lot in my direction. I returned my attention to my laptop as I waited for it to complete its start-up.
Damn Windows is slow!
Then, in the rear view mirror, I could see the white unmarked vehicle had stopped. It was in position to prevent me from leaving, if I chose to. Their doors opened and the two men walked toward me. One stood back at the rear of my SUV, while the other approached me on the driver’s side. Having spent four years in the US Air Force as a Security Policeman, I understood the tactics. The one in back was cover, while the one approaching me would be investigating.
The deputy who approached me was of medium height and build. He was Hispanic and soft spoken. He reached my door and I rolled down my window. I noticed his hand was resting on his sidearm.
“Hi,” he greeted me. His face matched his demeanor. He wore a pleasant, yet cold smile. Under the circumstances, it was the best I could hope for. “We’re just checking out the area. A lot of time we catch people out here smoking dope or doing other things.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“So, what you doing?” I could tell he was sizing me up. He was looking for nervousness or guilt. The only crime I was guilty of was drinking a $4 cup of coffee in this economy.
“I’m writing,” I answered. “I’m a writer.”
“You’re a writer? Really?”
“Yeah. And a Realtor, too. Didn’t you see my license plate?”
I was referring to the chrome license plate frame I had made when I started building some momentum in writing. It was sort of a treat and motivation to keep going. It also was a nice conversation tool for business. Engraved on it were the words “Author” on the top portion of the frame and “Chicken Soup for the Soul” on the bottom.
“You’re kidding,” he said as he walked back to the rear of the SUV. I couldn’t help wonder how you could check out a vehicle and not notice such a frame. When he returned, he said, “Oh, you can buy those anywhere.”
“Yeah and I hope you buy a couple the next time you’re at a book store.” He looked confused. “Wait a minute,” I asked him, “are you talking about the book or the frame?”
“The frame,” he answered, as if my question was absurd.
“Are you kidding me?”
By then my laptop had loaded up. I picked it up showing him the screen with the photo I placed on my desktop. “Here’s a picture of me at a book signing at Borders.”
“You’re kidding?” He was surprised. I was waiting for him to tell me, “Anyone can take a picture at next to books at Borders.”
I was ready to give him my snappy comeback…
“What guy would stand next to a picture of Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause unless he actually had a story in it? Let alone a crook!”
But he didn’t bite. He finally understood.
“Yeah,” I answer, “That’s me.”
“Oh my God!” He looked back at his partner. His expression was classic. On that day, I’m sure I became the subject of a story he would tell to every cop, friend or family member with whom he’d come in contact. Each time, he’d embellish it more and more.
“I’m working on a novel,” I told the deputy. “Our electricity went out and I came here to do some writing since I can plug in to the SUV’s outlet. This used to my favorite place.”
“Used to be?” he curiously asked.
“Well about four years ago, we remodeled the house and made the backyard really nice. Now the backyard is my favorite place to write. When it’s not raining, of course.”
From that moment on, the conversation went into my writing, the real estate market, then back to my writing. Soon his partner approached, understanding all was well. He began to listen to our conversation. Smoothly, I interjected a “Hi” to him as I continued talking. Eventually, they grew so comfortable, they both asked for a business card.
But the writing was the main topic of discussion. I love talking about it. Perhaps too much. I went on so long that they were getting soaked standing out in the rain. In fact, so was my left arm and leg, even though I didn’t really notice it until later.
“Well,” the “lead” deputy said, “you’re getting soaked.” Actually, they were the one’s getting soaked but I didn’t say anything. I also think I had bored them out of their skulls going on and on about my writing! I’m sure it was way more than they’d bargained for.
“We’ll let you get back to your work,” the deputy said as his silent partner nodded.
“Now when this novel is completed,” I said as I shook hands with each of them, “I’m going to make it a point to have a book signing at the Borders in Chino. I’ve been there about five times and they’ve been so nice to me. I expect to see you both. You can buy a book and I’ll sign it for you.”
“Sure,” they said almost in unison. As hey walked away, the “cover” deputy smiled. It was the only time he did. It was kind of nice.
Was this racial profiling or was it a coincidence the men they stopped both happened to be black? Who knows? But they didn’t stop every person in that park on that day and two black men could not have been more different. The other guy was a thin, tall and young. And let’s just say… I’m not.
They also couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that I was a writer. A good friend told me I need to carry that picture of me at Borders at all times. Maybe he’s right.
I’ve been stopped by cops since I was a kid. My mother always taught me “how to be stopped by the police”. I was resistant in beginning because I had this notion that I had my rights and that life is fair. It wasn’t long before I learned that life isn’t fair. I guess she just wanted me to make it home alive.
Every time I see a black kid on TV getting into some altercation with a police officer that started because he decided to argue the merits of the stop, I figure a few mothers should have been as proactive as mine. Whether you’re right or wrong, an argument with a cop on the street is one you can’t win. Ever!
Whoops! She did it again! Taught me another lesson while I wasn’t looking!
I really think that’s what threw the two deputies off. I was so calm. They just didn’t know how well I was “trained”. It must have seemed like I enjoyed the moment. And, in a way, I did. Now, if I was in the middle of getting an idea down and I was being interrupted, then it probably would have been a different story. Just ask my wife about that.
But it was a pretty productive afternoon. I got in my 1,000 words for my novel and this blog post.
Not bad, eh?
This blog post was originally written in December of 2008. It was still the infancy of my professional writing career. I was also still married and in real estate.