So...You Want Me To Put It...
On The Dash?
August 27, 2015
A Saturday afternoon, twenty years ago, found me heading home from catching a flick at one of Hickory City’s prestigious movie theatres. Cruising along Hwy 127, in my ‘82 Chevy El Camino, I had just crossed the bridge into the little town of Bethlehem when I noticed I’d picked up a black and white tail. Initially, I paid it no mind. That is until a second patrol car fell in line behind the first. Were they following me or was this just a coincidence? Probably just a coincidence, I wasn’t speeding and my plate and stickers were all up to par so there’d be no reason to... A sudden blast of lights and sirens indicated that my “coincidence theory” was probably ill-conceived.
Pulling into a fish restaurant’s parking lot, I put it in park, killed the engine and was reaching across to the glove box to get my license and registration when a loud voice boomed behind me. Officer Friendly instructed me to “Keep your hands where I can see them and please exit the vehicle now!” What the hell? Did he like run up here when we stopped? At least he was being polite but it was early on in the confrontation.
Once outside the vehicle he asked for my license. Umm it’s in the truck… where I just was. He asked why I didn’t have my license on me and didn’t like my explanation that it was my “drivers” license so I kept them in the truck…you know…where I do driving. This earned me a rough and thorough “spread ‘em/ pat down” from Officer Friendly.
During this time a third squad car arrived at the scene of…whatever this was. So I was surrounded by six armed law officers when Officer Friendly asked, quite accusingly, if I would be “objectionable to a vehicular search.” I told him to be my guest, with a smile. You see at that time I basically lived in that El Camino and though the front seat and floorboard were clean and clear the area behind the seats was a different story. The eclectic assortment of debris back there was literally two feet deep. Officer Friendly realized this with a grimace.
In a desire to be helpful I told him there was a garbage bag under the passenger seat for all the paper trash they might find. Don’t want him to get a ticket for littering now, do we? With a scowl and the assistance of two other officers (one held the trash bag) the excavation began. It was like watching a bizarre archeological dig. With each layer removed I was seeing neat stuff I’d forgotten was even in there. It was also kind of cool having uniformed officers clean out my truck.
Several flannel shirts, empty fast-food bags and miscellaneous bric-a-brac later Officer Friendly finally hit pay dirt. Very excited he called the others over to view the last three items lying on the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. They gathered around eagerly and then shared my look of confusion. Officer Friendly proceeded to remove the objects one by one as though he were disarming a bomb. Item No. 1: a Coleman flashlight.
Item No. 2: a Coleman two-man tent.
Item No. 3 (his true prize) he stood with and shook it in my face asking in an accusing tone what it was. “It” was a Coleman camping hatchet. Obviously part of the Coleman camping gear he had just removed. I patiently explained this to him and added that it was “like an axe only smaller”…he seemed a little slow.
Red faced he corrected me in that it was a concealed weapon, and suggested that I might use it on an officer during a random traffic stop. Seriously dude? It took like 30 minutes to dig it out. Ignoring my protests of reality and logic he called for an evidence bag and then proceeded to write out my citation. While he did this I inquired where I should keep a camping hatchet when in transport. He informed me that it should be kept on the dash of the vehicle. OK, so it would be legal and safer to have a 6 lb, 2 foot long axe on my dashboard? What the f***? What if I were in a serious accident? The last thing I want to worry about is, “Where’s the hatchet gonna end up!”
As the incident drew to a close I reluctantly accepted my court date. The only restitution I took away from it was that it seemed the other officers were equally baffled by the entire situation. As it turns out so was the D.A. when I approached him about it the week of my court date. He agreed that the hatchet was obviously for camping and the idea of keeping it on the dash was borderline insane; he would speak to Officer Friendly about the matter. He threw my case out of court but denied the return of my hatchet—it was in police custody.
After this incident I had definitely learned my lesson. To prove this I drove around for the next month with a full sized double-bladed axe laid across the dash…gotta keep it legal ya know.
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