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An all-you-can-eat guide to American cops


He must have only been fifty yards in front of me and I was doing at least eighty. He was standing in the middle of the road, dressed all in black. I hit the brakes and the wheels locked, skidding the car to a stop a short distance from the man.It was a cop. There was a brief pause while he looked at
me and me at him.

Then he slowly walked up to my side of the car, his right hand resting on the gun off his hip.

I wound the window down and looked at his face. He was wearing dark aviator-style sunglasses.

‘What seems to be the trouble, officer?’ I said.

‘I don’t mean to be funny or smart,’ he said. ‘But can y’all see me alright? I’m not sure you can see me from within the vee-hickle.’

Dog Days by Andrew Thompson‘It was a little hard,’ I said, quite relieved. ‘With you in black against the black road.’

‘I thought that might be the case. It’s just that I’m clearing this accident here and I have to be out on the road.’

On the side of the highway were the remnants of a three car pile up. The cars were being hooked up to tow trucks and there was shattered glass on the road.

‘Maybe one of those high-visibility vests might help,’ I said.

‘You’re dead right about that, sir. We need to do something. It weren’t long back that poor ol’ Billy Joe passed on.’

He looked up at the sky and crossed himself.

There’d been a sign a little earlier stating that the highway was in honour of Officer Billy Joe.

‘Thank you very much for your time, sir,’ he said. ‘Y’all have a nice day now.’

‘Can I ask you a quick question?’ I said.

‘Sure can. Shoot.’ An interesting choice of word in the circumstances.

‘Why is it that all the police in America wear that type of sunglasses?’

‘Well, I don’t rightly know,’ he said. The look of a confused dog came over him. ‘Just like them, I guess.’

‘Oh, okay,’ I said. ‘I thought they must have been standard issue.’

‘Nope,’ he said, then nodded, as if he’d got to the crux of a long-standing puzzle. ‘It’s just that we like them.’

We were in Tennessee and it was obviously a treacherous stretch of highway. Every few miles there was an electronic sign above the road advising that there had been 425 deaths.

When we drove back a day later the number was up to 428.

Dog Days by Andrew ThompsonPerhaps that was the reason there were a lot of cops out that weekend. We drove all around Tennessee and the police were out in force. The same was true in Virginia and along most of the east coast. Every few minutes there was a cop car waiting on the side of the highway, partially hidden, or pulled up behind an unfortunate motorist, the policeman standing at the window of the offending vehicle, just like in the movies.

On the other hand, we drove for two weeks through Wyoming, the Dakotas and Montana and didn’t see a cop at all.

The standard American policeman fits the stereotype perfectly. They never smile, are usually dressed in black like they’re part of a SWAT team out on a raid, and without exception, wear dark or mirrored Aviator sunglasses. They eat a lot of doughnuts as well, or look as if they do, because they are generally fat. Most are bordering on obese. They waddle along, quite often with some sort of limp, and I could never imagine them giving chase on foot, let alone apprehending a suspect. A lot of them are fairly old as well, and we never once saw a woman police officer.

Then there are the cop cars. Every kind for every town. State trooper, state police, constable, highway patrol, sheriff, local police—these are the titles emblazoned on the side of the cars. I never got to the bottom of what meant what, or the difference between any of them. The cars were invariably painted with blacks, browns or blues and looked like they’d come straight from a 1970s police show. In the Rocky Mountains of Colorado they were pick-up trucks, but the design was just the same.

We stopped one night in Tennessee at Bull’s Gap, near to where Davy Crockett was born. I asked the receptionist at our hotel where the nearest convenience store was. Five miles, she told me. If a Tennessean tells you something is five miles, double it. We experienced this in Memphis when we were told it was one mile to town. After forty minutes of fast-paced walking, we still hadn’t made it. And at Bull’s Gap, the convenience store was eleven miles away. When we got there, it was shut. The receptionist probably knew that, but because we hadn’t posed that exact question, she didn’t think to tell us. That’s country folk for you.

‘What a nightmare,’ Lucy said.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It’s more like an inconvenience store.’

‘Everything seems shut.’

There was nothing open at all, and our hotel didn’t serve food. It was 7pm and we had driven all day and needed something to eat. We found a McDonalds and it was the only thing open. We had no option.

As we were approaching the restaurant, I saw a policeman standing just inside the door.

‘There must be some kind of trouble,’ I said to Lucy.

‘I don’t think so,’ she said. ‘He’s just waiting for his dinner like everybody else.’

And so he was. He was a typical cop, big and fat, who loved to eat. They all love to eat. Maybe it’s the nature of the job and always being on the move, but they love to eat, and it’s always fast food. We went inside.

For a number of years I’ve had a theory that women are getting better looking. It is based on sexual selection, a revolutionary concept introduced by Charles Darwin in the 1800s. The males of many species compete fiercely for the females, who sit back and wait to be courted, before selecting the most appealing mate. This has resulted in the males becoming more ornate and aesthetically pleasing in order to set themselves apart and impress the females. It is these males who are selected to reproduce, thereby passing on their genes and making their offspring even better looking. Prime examples are the colourful feathers of many male birds, the huge antlers on the elk and the mane of the male lion, compared with their female counterparts, who appear more drab. Sexual selection is predicated on the fact that the male is the aggressor and has to court the female, who does not need to impress. This has been the case throughout history with the human species. But in modern society with the advent of the women’s liberation movement, women have become more proactive, approaching and actively seeking out suitable mates. The sexual predatory nature of the modern woman has meant that men have been able to pick and choose to a greater extent, selecting the most attractive partner. And just as it works in the animal kingdom, my theory is that this has resulted in women becoming better looking.

Dog Days by Andrew ThompsonBull’s Gap in Tennessee is not the place to case study this theory. In Bull’s Gap the women are breathtakingly ugly. And the McDonalds was their headquarters. They all looked inbred and angry, as if the world owed them a favour. It was a Friday night, and most of them wore ample make up and clothes that were far too scanty. Then there were the truckers and redneck men sniffing around trying to take disadvantage of them. It was a haven for them as well.

Everyone was staring at Lucy and me, like we were from another planet. I’m sure the only thing that stopped us from getting killed was the presence of the cop. But then he got his food, sat down and started devouring it.

‘My God, look at her,’ I said to Lucy, as quietly as I could. ‘She could scare a hungry dog out of a butcher’s shop.’

I was referring to the woman behind the till, who was about to serve us. She was obese, dour-faced, and she was not friendly.

‘Yes, next,’ she barked at us.

We placed our order.

‘You’ll have to repeat that,’ she spat.

I did.

‘Again,’ she said.

I said it again and it seemed to register with her.

‘Now wait over there,’ she said, pointing at the wall. ‘Next.’

We stood over next to the wall. Everyone kept watching us. The cop was busy eating.

‘I bet she’s come straight from the Greyhound counter,’ Lucy said.

‘She’d certainly fit right in there,’ I said. ‘I must say though, I’ll be happy if we get out of here alive.’

Our food was announced and we walked up to get it.

‘Eat in or take away?’ the woman yelled at us.

‘Take away,’ we said in unison, and snatched for the food.

As we were bustling out the door, the cop was lining up for seconds.

Extracted from Andrew Thompson’s highly entertaining book, ‘Dog Days, tales from an American Road Trip‘.

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