Deputy Sheriff said to me
Tell me what you come here for, boy.
You better get your bags and flee.
You’re in trouble boy,
And now you’re heading into more.
- Simon and Garfunkel – Keep the Customer Satisfied
Except I wasn’t told to flee. All of the rest? Oh yes.
It all started a long long time ago in a Tennessee county far far away…
I had just spent a month on a business trip to a town in the south where we were taking data. We packed up the last of our equipment and instruments and closed the door on the truck. I slammed the enormous lock home and spun the dial the requisite three complete turns.
Our wheezing and sweaty boss said “You can stay at a hotel overnight and take off in the morning if you like.”
To myself and technician “Annoying Man™” the very thought of spending one more depressing evening in a hotel had the same appeal as having your fingernails pulled out one by one. We quickly assured the boss that we felt “100% better, energized, and ready to hit the road. Sir.”
So we drove out of there as if the gates of Hell itself had been breached and the the demon hordes were pouring out in pursuit of our very souls.
Thus started what should have been an twelve hour trip back to Michigan. Annoying Man™ took the first shift.
We got through Nashville, Tennessee, and were making good time. Just before the border to Kentucky, Annoying Man™ saw a weigh station and then he had a thought that should never have been thought: “Hey, I’m going to pull in and see how much we weigh on the scales.”
I immediately said “Nah, Annoying Man™, let’s just go on. I want to go home and see my wife.”
“Nah,” said Annoying Man™, dismissing my , “It’ll only take a second.”
More ridiculous words have not been uttered since Custer’s pronouncement “Indians? I don’t see any indians.”
“Oh, all right Annoying Man™, go ahead,” I sighed resignedly.
And pull in and stop on the scales we did. The truck stopped on the scales and the scales settled in with a sigh.
Our weight flashed in at 11,300lbs.
“Ok, you can go…” said The Voice. The Voice was behind some very dark glass which was rendered even more impenetrable by the waning sun – dusk was settling in with that ponderous and implacable chill that is so common in mid-October.
Annoying Man™ accelerated gently and we had moved about eight feet when The Voice said quickly “Wait. Pull around back.”
I knew that tone of voice. There is a particular timbre to a voice that will brook no argument. It is the sound of a voice that does not feel pity, fear, or remorse. That was the sound of my doom approaching. The spectre in the shadows. The whisper of dark wings in the night.
So we pulled around back.
I said to Annoying Man™: “You ******* idiot! You complete ******* moron, what the **** did you think you were ******* doing? I told you NOT to ******* pull in, and WHAT did you do? YOU HAD TO GO AND ******* PULL INTO THE ************* WEIGH STATION TO GET OUR ******* ******* WEIGHT ON A VEHICLE THAT DIDN’T ******* HAVE TO ******** BE WEIGHED, YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER ******** MORON!”
Yes, I did say that, and worse, much worse. It was not my finest hour and it CERTAINLY wasn’t the pinnacle of Annoying Man’s™ intellectual career, either. I was exhausted, hungry, homesick, and irritable. Imagine that please… I was irritable.
Out walked Buford T. Justice. I swear to you it was HIM, only a bit taller.
We slid out of the small rental truck and got down. I had lived this nightmare before and was dreading what was coming.
“Hello, boys” growled Sheriff Buford T. Justice.
“Hi Sheriff!” said Annoying Man™. I said nothing, feeling that once again discretion was the better part of valor and that if I opened my mouth I was likely to be in a world of trouble.
“What you boys carryin’?” asked Sheriff Buford T. Justice in his delightfully southern drawl.
“Data collection instruments for [redacted], Sheriff.”
The Sheriff sighed as if this were the last thing he needed to hear at the end of his strenuous day when he was responsible for so very much. “Boys, I’m going to need to look through your VEE-hicle.”
I should note here that Annoying Man™ was in his early sixties and I was approximately 28 at the time. The good Sheriff could not have been more than 45. But, being the (relative) south, I guess lots of people are “boys” and “hon” and “son” and so on and so forth. Anyway, for the duration we were “Boys.”
Sheriff Buford T. Justice asked if I would kindly open the driver’s side door and I complied. He stopped just before looking inside the VEE-hicle and said “Boys, I need to know if you are carryin’ and kind of contraband – moonshine, cigarettes, marijuana, drugs – anything like that.”
“No Sir, Sheriff,” we said, “Nothing like that – just equipment.”
The good Sheriff sighed his world-weary sigh again, as if he couldn’t believe two stupider fools had been placed on this earth by God himself.
“Boys… ” he continued, “If I have to get dogs down here and they smell anything on this truck it and everything in it will become the property of the State of Tennessee, and you two will be spending time in our jail until we can get this straightened out.”
Seriously. I swear this is what Sheriff Buford T. Justice said. Somewhere, I heard a banjo strike up some chords in imitation of ‘Deliverance’. Perhaps it was my fertile imagination, which was in overdrive. I had heard things about the jails in these parts. Things that involved images of a big mentally-challenged sweaty 360lb guy named Bubba who cries himself to sleep every night and needs a “teddy bear” who happens to be whoever his current cellmate is.
We denied any wrongdoing again and again we were given the Sheriff’s world-weary sigh which now sounded even wearier.
He rooted around on the floor of the driver’s side and came up with something between his thumb and forefinger and said with a sigh “Boysssss… this here is a marijuana seed.”
Now. I could see very well that it was NOT a marijuana seed but in this sort of situation to tell the good Sheriff that it was NOT in fact a seed from the Cannabis sativa plant would be to invite a certain and swift demise. Since I was not a total fool, I elected to remain silent.
“I need you to open the back of the truck,” drawled Sheriff Buford T. Justice.
I led him around to the back and pointed out the [redacted]-issue combination lock on the truck, very clearly stressing that this was government equipment. He did not respond or reply other than to say “Open it up.”
I dialed the lock open and lifted the door. We were greeted to stacks and stacks of large grey crates commonly used in our line of work. All of them were labeled with big scientific words commonly associated with high-end research instruments – NOT labeled with things like “moonshine”, “contraband”, “cigarettes”, “marijuana”, etc.
He pointed at Annoying Man’s™ suitcase and said “Whose suitcase is this?” Annoying Man™ claimed his property.
The Sheriff then pointed to my suitcase and said “Open ‘er up.” I walked over and laid my suitcase out for his inspection.
Now, to this day I am not sure if he was just begging for me to cold-cock him from behind or if the good Sheriff Buford T. Justice actually was a mental cull, but he had his back to me as he rifled through my stuff. I noted that within myself there was a certain darkness that was a terrible storm growing out of control and it was telling me “Just hit the ******, and lay him out flat.”
I realized that I was at a dangerous crossroads and walked about ten steps away and took many deep breaths. From behind me I heard the Sheriff say “What’s this?”
I turned around to see that he had opened up my bottle of Tylenol PM™ and was holding some in his hand. I said in a rather caustic voice (my fluffy-puppy voice seemed to have fled for the day) “Just what it says on the bottle. SIR.”
Then, and I SHIT YOU NOT… he tried to unscrew the bottom off of my shaving cream. For cryin’ out loud. Did I really look so stupid as to use such an old hiding place? I must have looked that stupid, and I don’t suppose it was too much of a stretch considering that Annoying Man™ had driven an over-GVW VEE-hicle onto Sheriff Buford T. Justice’s personal scales.
The Sheriff’s beady little rat eyes (he had finally taken off his Dirty Harry glasses now that it was completely dark) bored into my soul, or at least he thought they did. He didn’t actually get to bore that deep because if he had he would have seen that I was kind of red-lining it right about then and that black malevolence dwelt there.
At some point he broke eye contact and he said “Well, I guess you boys are clean, but we ain’t done yet. Come on inside, we have things to go over.”
We went inside where Sheriff Buford T. Justice proceeded to write Annoying Man™ roughly $550 worth of tickets because we didn’t have CDL’s, we didn’t have medical checkup papers, and because we didn’t have logbooks. And oh yes, we could not forget the fact that we were over GVW by about 800lbs.
“Now, boys, I want you to do the following,” he said, looking at me, “I want you to drive because Annoying Man™ here is done for the day. I want you to drive about ten miles down the road and stop off for the night. I’ll be checking on you. I want you to go into the gas station there and buy some logbooks and then stay in the hotel for the night.”
“Yes, SIR.” I said. And we walked out of there, with me never once looking back. Apparently Annoying Man™ didn’t either because he did not turn into a pillar of salt.
I started the truck and Annoying Man™ said “Lemur… I admit I might have made a mistake there… I feel really bad about…”
I then had many many things to say to Annoying Man™ – awful things that cannot bear repeating – as I drove down the road, leaving Sheriff Buford T. Justice at our backs, but certainly not out of our minds.
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