By Tony Spokojny
The year: 4 B.C. (Before Children). I was single, a little irresponsible and yet, professionally employed. No, I wasn’t much of a lawbreaker – a healthy disrespect spillover from the anti-war rallies; more of a scofflaw for laws that didn’t make a lot of sense. The law for (or rather, against) the possession of marijuana was one such law. We saw Reefer Madness for what it was, an anti-drug scare flick produced to convince a naïve audience, that smoking weed would turn docile youth into crazed rapists. It became a cult film, its ironic and hysterical lesson more enjoyable to absorb when imbibing the subject of the film. I wasn’t a pothead, but every once in a while I enjoyed the feeling of putting my senses in a different gear.
I was traveling back and forth from my office in Detroit to Lansing regularly to meet with a client. I knew every nook and cranny on the Interstate, I-96, that connected the two setting settings. It was a boring, 80-mile straight line dotted with farms, little towns and industrial sites and billboards popping up on the green landscape. On July 3rd, there was work to do until late afternoon. I decided to stay overnight to attend a party with a friend. But I wanted to get back in time for an all Fourth of July party thrown annually by Doug and Kathy, the sister and brother-in-law of a close friend from my first year of college, John. John was a social magnet – people of diverse backgrounds would flock to him. For several years during and after college, there was a biweekly gathering arranged by John at Lum’s, part of a chain of restaurants that served cheap food and $2.50 pitchers of beer. People from all over the city would come to drink beer and scream jokes up and down a long row of tables placed side by side to accommodate us. The party at Doug and Kathy’s was the Lum’s crowd.
I say my goodbyes to my friends in Lansing and jump into my little lime-green Mazda for the ride back toward the city. About 20 miles and several farms into my trip my eyes are drawn to my ashtray. A two-thirds consumed joint, a little bigger than a roach, is sitting there carefully balanced as if to say, “you put me here for a reason.” No, it wasn’t talking to me. But, I start to feel the attraction of eliminating boredom from my drive. OK, it’s time to light up to Déjà Vu. I push in the cassette.
I sing. And I’m not subtle about it. Someone will pull up to me and stare. I’ll stop. Once, I was driving along the freeway in a traffic jam heading downtown and I’m listening to Three Dog Night on the radio. “One is the loneliest number, one is the loneliest number …” I’m wailing. Right next to me there was a woman singing to the same tune. We looked at each other for a long second and broke out in laughter.
So, as I’m driving along, singing, an 18-wheeler pulls up next to me. From his high perch, he’s able to see into the cabin of my car. He stares down at the doob pulling my hand to my lips, stays with me for about 15 seconds or an hour and then suspiciously pulls back. Now he’s riding right behind me, talking away on his CB radio, gesturing energetically. Now he can be talking to someone across the road or across the county. Or he could be talking to the ….
Now, the other heightened feeling while under the influence of a buzz creeps in. Paranoia! “Like looking in my mirror and seeing a police car,” Neil Young is singing. I sit up straight so that I can get a better look. Can’t read his lips – and I’m not one to stereotype – he looks like one of the silent majority types; probably listening to “Okie from Muskogee.” My own brain is singing made up words from “Convoy”. “I’m in a little Convoy. He’s talking to the police.” But, I’m aware of overreacting, so I slowly pull over to the right, turn signal flashing, law abiding citizen that I am, to let him pass. And he pulls over to the right and settles in behind me.
I can outrun him, “But I’m not giving in an inch to fear,” Neil Young instructs. I can pull over to the shoulder or I can continue on my journey and try to ignore him while staring at my mirrors. Besides, he’s already reported my fluorescent car and its license number. I look around, craning my neck to see behind me, expecting to see flashing red lights approaching me from a distance. A speeding car pulls into side in my rearview mirror. No lights. It finally passes. “Was that a siren?” I turn off the music, hold my breath to listen carefully. No, again. Apart from my heart, now beating loudly in my ears, it’s just my tires whining on the pavement. I change lanes, again, just to see if my new companion mirrors my move. He mimics my maneuver. He even followed me onto Southbound I-275 as I continued toward Doug and Kathy’s home in Dearborn Heights.
The inside of my car isn’t the most pristine environment. An extra t-shirt, a couple of old meal wrappers. You know. I was single. Things accumulated. But, I don’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t get high often enough to collect roaches. It should be pretty easy to hunt for visible seeds. Assuring myself that, aside from a stray ash, there are no remnants of my having strayed over the line, I begin to relax as my 18-wheeled companion turned off towards Detroit.
Michigan Avenue, my exit. I head south. Oh, shit! I can’t go to the party empty-handed. I need to find a place to buy beer. But, it’s July 4th. Who’s going to be open? I spot a liquor store on a solitary corner. It’s an old, stand-alone store, brown brick with windows on both street sides covered with beer sale posters, a neon Budweiser sign. Miller, Bud, Pabst 6-packs, cases. This place will do nicely. I pull to the right, signal light on, of course. Parking is literally on the wide gravel shoulder of the road. I pull up just past it, just in front of a used car lot sharing the shoulder and start to get out of my car.
Suddenly two cop cars come speeding up, lights blaring, no sirens. One screeches to a halt a few car lengths behind my car, one directly in front. The cop behind me quickly exits his vehicle running towards me. “Put your hands in the air!” he yells in a commanding voice. It’s all happening so fast. I have no time to react in any way but to obey. Up go my hands as the cop runs to me, left hand reaching for his holstered pistol. “FOR A JOINT?” my mind is shouting. The cop is two feet away. I’m prepared to be taken down and I defensively brace for impact. He continues past me on my right to the front of my car and quickly turns right and running into the used car lot where the other cop was already standing, gun drawn over an apparent hubcap snatcher. I’m still standing still at the side of my car with my useless arms raised feeling my pulse in my armpits, as gravity slowly causes my arms to float toward the ground. Reality is momentarily suspended as I mindlessly walk into the liquor store to complete my side errand. I don’t remember going in, but I arrive at Doug and Kathy’s with a case of Stroh’s Signature.
The party is lively as I walk in the crowded, but tidy back yard. Conversations strain to be heard over “Shake Your Booty”. Doug approaches me, greets me. The frozen look on my face is telling part of the story. Doug is laughing at it, knowing there’s a story behind it. “What happened?"
Tony Spokojny has been practicing law in Michigan for over 40 years.