The events in today’s post happened several weeks ago, in July 2015.
On Sunday afternoon, I’d headed for Babylon as soon as my shift at the parking lot ended. I typically want to get to civilization as soon as possible when my time off starts, but by the time I complete my descent into the parched heat, I usually wonder why I thought leaving the mountain was a good idea.
This Sunday was hot too, so I stayed in the coffee shop as long as I could. After it closed, I found the temperature hadn’t dropped much, so I walked aimlessly through Target for a while. But soon that store was closing too, and unless I wanted to waste some time (and money!) in Denny’s, there was no place else for me to go. Besides, I was tired and needed as much sleep as I could steal from this desert night. So I drove my van to the 24/7 supermarket and found a decent spot to park.
I don’t sleep well in the heat. I sleep best when the air’s a little cold, and I can snuggle under a pile of blankets and never get warm enough to kick them off in the night. I knew this was not going to be a night of good sleep, but I figured if I could catch a few hours of shut-eye, I’d be ok the next day.
The last time I looked at my watch it was 11:30. I must have dozed off because I was suddenly jerked awake by knocking on the van.
Who is it? I asked loudly (and probably gruffly too).
The dreadful reply: Sheriff’s department.
Oh fuck! I didn’t have any guns or drugs in the van, so I knew I was ok on those fronts, but I couldn’t imagine any good reason a representative of the sheriff’s department would be knocking on my door in the middle of the night.
I peeked out the curtain, and sure enough, a very young man dressed in cop clothes was standing next to my van.
I said One moment or Just a minute and started fumbling in the weak parking lot light filtering through my curtains to find my glasses and some clothes to put on. Once I was dressed and could see, I moved the curtain so the cop could talk to me through the window.
Here’s the story he laid on me: He was looking for Alfonso Gonzalez, who lived in a van just like the one I was in. He asked if Alfonso Gonzalez were in the van with me.
I don’t know anyone named Alfonso Gonzalez, and there sure as hell was no one in there with me. So I told the deputy that Alfonso Gonzalez was definitely NOT in the van.
Of course, then the cop wanted to see for himself. He said if I’d just open the door and allow him to look inside and see that no one was with me, he’d be on his way because all he was interested in was finding Alfonso Gonzalez. I wanted the whole interaction over as soon as possible, so I agreed to let him look inside my van home.
I opened the door and stepped out onto the warm asphalt, barefoot and wearing a skirt with the elastic pulled up over my breasts, strapless sundress style. The cop shined his flashlight into the van and must have immediately seen that I had been in there alone.
But then the liar started questioning me! Of course, he wrote all my answers in his little notebook.
What was my name? When was my birthday? Did I have any outstanding warrants? Had I missed any court dates?
I answered his questions despite the fogginess of my sleepy brain. I didn’t feel like I had much choice in the matter. I was in a parking lot in the middle of the night, and I didn’t have a lawyer to call. Would he find an excuse to take me to jail if I didn’t answer his questions? If he took me to jail, would my van be impounded? If my van were impounded, would I lose all of my belongings and owe a bunch of money to the court system? I answered his questions.
I don’t remember now if I volunteered the information in hopes of making myself look respectable or if I answered a direct question, but I told him I was down from the mountain where I worked as a camp host. I said I had to get supplies in the morning, then I would be on my way out of town.
You can guess where his questions went from there. What company did I work for? What town did I work in? (That was a particularly difficult one for my sleep addled mind, since I don’t work anywhere near a town. I’m near a couple of small communities, but I’m miles from any real town.) I think he even asked me my boss’ name. I answered his questions.
Then he started asking me about the license plate on the van. He asked if my registration was current. I told him my registration didn’t expire until the end of August (which he would have already known if he’d looked at the sticker on my plate), but added that in fact I had just paid to update the registration and was waiting for the new sticker to get to me. He said he had run my plate number, and it wasn’t in the system. I don’t understand how a legally registered vehicle (which my van is) wouldn’t be in the system, but that’s what he said. So then he asked to see my registration if I had it handy. (I’m sure he was hoping I didn’t have it handy so he’d have a reason to ticket me for the infraction.)
As I was digging around for the registration, he asked me how long I’d been in California. I said I’d arrived at the end of April. He told me I needed to register my van in California since I was residing in the state now.
I tried to tell him I wasn’t residing in California, that I don’t have a residence in California, but he said it looked to him like I was residing in my van. True enough. I didn’t think to say my job is temporary or seasonal. I didn’t think to say that as soon as I’m laid off, I’ll be high-tailing it out of California. I don’t think any of that mattered to him. I think he figured since he hadn’t gotten Alfonso Gonzalez, he’d try to find some reason to harass me.
I’m aware of the concept of California Uber Alles, but I wasn’t aware that like the Borg, the state wants to assimilate anyone who enters its domain.
Thankfully, my good sense kicked in (or maybe I just woke up), and I decided arguing with the cop was not going to make my situation better. I just shut up and handed him the van’s registration paperwork.
He went back to his car (which he had parked behind my van, blocking me in) to run my information. I guess everything checked out because when he came back, he returned my paperwork and didn’t ask to search the van, and he didn’t haul me off to jail. He did tell me that I should transfer my registration because the CHP (California Highway Patrol—you know, CHiPs…Ponch and Jon…bad 80s television…)
is very strict about people living in California while their vehicles are registered in another state.
After he left, I locked my doors, closed my curtains, and crawled back into my bed. In addition to the heat, I had adrenaline coursing through my body. I was awake for at least another two hours, wondering if the deputy had called CHP, if more cops were on the way, if my van would be impounded and I’d lose all of my possessions (again). I finally dozed a little and was less worried about the CHP and the prospect of losing my van in the light of day.
Since that night, I haven’t been bothered by any cops looking for Alfonso Gonzalez.
And it may be superstitious, but I don’t sleep in that parking lot anymore.
Oh man! That experience really sucks! I would have freaked out. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure we are on the brink of change regarding laws about living in cars. I don’t know… but I live in California with Nevada plates…. and a possibly suspended license – geez I have to do something about that!
Thanks for commenting.
Yes, I was pretty freaked out.
Sorry to hear about your possibly suspended license. I strongly support you looking into getting it worked out. If money is the issue, maybe you can set up a payment plan? I’d at least find out if the license is indeed suspended so you know what you are up against. I know how difficult it can be to deal with bureaucracy. They don’t make it easy for us poor folks…
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