As a long haul trucker in 2001, I’d been through the state of Tennessee many times, but never to Knoxville. When I did finally visit the city in 2002, the police entrapment attempt didn’t exactly make me fall in love with the place.
Oh, it ended well enough, but for a while there….
Driving a red Volvo truck tractor for Watkins & Shepard Trucking out of Missoula, Montana–with my home terminal being the Helena, Montana, location–I’d been given a dispatch that found me bringing a load into the city early one evening. Finding the receiver’s warehouse was neither easy, quick, nor simple, which made the timing good; the load wasn’t due for delivery until 6:00 a.m. the following morning.
It was a bit of a restless night, though, parked within city limits but out in the industrial weeds, forbidden by both law and company policy to carry a firearm, ever aware that a lone vehicle (big rig or not) is all too often a target for the ripoff artist, the loon who shoots through windshields into sleeper units, or even idiot youngsters with nothing better to do than grab a can of spray paint and go tagging.
When gray dawn came along and the receiver opened for business, I was ready at the dock but short on sleep, grimy around the collar, probably bleary eyed. In other words, situation normal for an OTR (over the road) trucker.
Delivery went off without a hitch. From there, things looked pretty good. Never mind breakfast; I had snacks and sodas in the truck. All I needed to do was shift from the southwest section of Knoxville up and over to the northeast quadrant, picking up the highway that ran north through Maynardville to, eventually, New Tazewell. After picking up my next load at New Tazewell, it was an easy run, just follow the road on up through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and keep on going.
Finding the needed road, however, had turned out to be a bit of a problem. I’d pretty much encircled the city on the beltway, looking for Highway 33…and was, if not lost, at least pretty thoroughly displaced. I didn’t know if it had to do with the directions given by dispatch (usually but not always 100% accurate) or what. My road atlas had an inset map for Knoxville, but it didn’t provide enough detail. It looked, on the surface of things–well, frankly, I just didn’t know.
So I pulled over, set the parking brake, leaving the truck idling with its 53′ dry van waiting patiently behind, and stared once more at the atlas, willing the blasted thing to yield up its secrets. It didn’t look that tough. It looked impossible. Frustration, my frequent companion at many such junctures in the road warrior life, had the upper hand.
I’d been there two or three minutes, scratching my head, when a snazzy little red Mazda zipped down off the beltway exit and pulled over right in front of my truck, stopping with twenty feet or so between us. Seconds later, the driver got out and started walking back to talk to me.
Every cop-dar alarm in my entire genetic system went off. BEWARE!! BEWARE!!
Oh, she might have been a hooker, but if so, she wasn’t winning any prostitute beauty contests. Five-two, fairly stocky, looked like she’d be more comfortable wearing a uniform complete with a Kevlar vest and a belt hung about with the tools of the trade for today’s law enforcement types.
She came straight toward my driver’s side door for the first couple of steps, making eye contact, but I waved her around to the passenger side. Traffic considerations, you know–and besides, I didn’t feel like letting her too close to my face, just in case.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a hardened criminal with endless years of law enforcement contact. I’ve done no time. In fact, I’ve never even been arrested…officially.
But there are natural outlaws whose anti-law enforcement attunement is inborn, and I’m pretty sure I’m one of those. We need po-leece in the system if we don’t want to end up living by fang and claw alone, the law of the jungle. I get that. Yet the badge packers are a mixed bag, and despite living a relatively law abiding life over the decades, I can smell Trouble coming.
And this one was trouble.
I made sure the truck’s door locks were engaged. They were. Sliding over to the passenger seat, I rolled that window down to talk to the woman standing on the shoulder. She had to crane her neck to look up at me.
“Do you have a cell phone I can use?” She asked, and that smelled fishy, right there. She added some sort of B.S. explanation about why she needed a phone, but I wasn’t really listening.
“No,” I said truthfully, “I don’t have one.” At that time, my wife and I relied on pagers–historic anachronisms now–to leave messages for each other. Our trucks had Qualcomm units in them so that dispatch could message us and vice versa. The one time I’d desperately needed a cell phone to call headquarters, requesting a replacement tire when one had blown in southern California, I’d borrowed the use of another man’s phone. The motorist had stopped by when he saw my truck was disabled; he was glad to help.
She wasn’t about to give up that easily, though. “How about your CB? Could you let me in your truck so I could use the CB?”
Cold day in Hell, I thought, again answering truthfully as far as it went. “I can’t do that,” I said, endeavoring to put real regret in my voice and expression. Good acting was required here. “It would mean my job. My company doesn’t authorize anybody else in their trucks.”
Not that I didn’t violate that rule when it seemed right, but this was not right.
Her irritation was showing, though she probably didn’t realize it. Finally, she got around to asking why I was parked where I was parked.
That, I was happy to explain. “I’m trying to figure out how to get to Highway 33 north, up toward Maynardville, and it’s driving me nuts. The map just isn’t–”
In the end, she left in a huff, realizing she wasn’t going to manage entry into my vehicle. Had she done so, I had absolutely zero doubt that I’d have been in cuffs and an orange jumpsuit before I could whistle Dixie. She’d have sworn up, down, and sideways that I’d solicited sex from her, invited her into the cab and urged her to join me in the sleeper for a bit of nicky nacky.
I’d have slept with a rattlesnake first.
She was gone, but she wasn’t done yet. Within no more than 60 seconds after her Mazda peeled out, a Tennessee Highway Patrol car pulled smoothly into the very spot she’d just vacated. Her backup, no doubt–but I knew how to play this one, and it didn’t involve locking myself into the truck cab.
Instead, I bailed out, road atlas in hand, hitting the ground before the trooper was fully out of his vehicle.
“Just the man I wanted to see!”
My enthusiastic announcement, waving the atlas, was met with initial skepticism. I had no doubt Little Red Fake Whore Cop had briefed him, told him bad things about me, that I didn’t bite on her goodies basket but still looked suspicious.
“I am?” He responded, and I knew I had my work cut out for me.
No problem. I’ve had many a challenge over the decades, dealing with guys who had little man syndrome, but this dude stood well over six feet. I laid the map out where we could both see, told him, “I need to get to Highway 33. I’ve been clean around the city once, just can’t seem to spot the right turnoff. Got a load to pick up at New Tazewell, and–” I was pointing at various spots on the map as I talked.
His attitude eased right up. The man was no fool; he could tell he had no more than a slightly confused and slightly misplaced working man on his hands. He told me what I needed to know, explained why the beltway signs hadn’t worked for me that day, gave me a simple three-change route through town that would bypass the beltway problems, and we parted on good terms, with my effusive thanks.
The directions were right on target. Thirty minutes later, I was pointed north, putting Knoxville, Tennessee, in my rear view mirrors, never to return. The load at New Tazewell was picked up on schedule, then on up through the Cumberland Gap, into and through Kentucky coal country, thinking of Loretta Lynn’s classic song, Coal Miner’s Daughter, loving every mile.
As every trucker knows, there are good cops and there are bad cops, and that day I met one of each. The Highway Patrolman clearly understood that, on the other side of the coin, there are also good truckers and truckers seeking roadside romance. Whether the Red Mazda Monster, she of the Incompetent Police Entrapment scenario, understood that as well–I do not know. My suspicion is that she did not, that she saw all of us, perhaps even all men, as evil lust laden louts deserving of nothing better than a concrete cell with bars on the door.
After all, Pam and I’ve encountered other short, stocky law enforcement women since, one example being the former Sheriff’s Deputy in Colorado who worked as our Realtor when we bought our home there in 2007. She did good, tough work at that time, but when we moved out in 2009 and retained her to try to sell the property, I inadvertently left behind my wife’s favorite horsehair vase purchased on the Navajo Reservation years earlier. We’d trusted her, but the ex-deputy’s reputation did not hold up. We called and also wrote, asking her if she would be so kind as to grab that vase and ship it down to us in Arizona before mucking out the rest of the stuff we’d been forced to leave behind.
The vase, she insisted, was nowhere to be found. Which was “strange”, as I’d told her exactly where to find it.
We’ve no proof, but we figure she stole it, just as the she-cop in Tennessee would have stolen my freedom, my reputation, and my money, had she been given the slightest chance. Yeah, we might be wrong about that. Maybe not all short female police people are like that. But that’s our bias, and we’re sticking to it.
It’s not just Knoxville, Tennessee.