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Here’s the deal. I’m not going to be “recommending” anything in this installment of “Diversions.” I’m just going to tell a story about Wednesday, Nov.16, 2005 — starting right around noonish.

Bear in mind that people do bad things of all kinds all the time. As in: stealing the license plate off of ‘your’ maroon mini-van and putting it on ‘their’ maroon mini-van. Then proceeding to do something like robbing a roller skating waitress at a Sonic Burger just outside of Asheville sometime early Wednesday morning. Maybe this bad and stupid person just happens to look a little bit like you (white male, medium height and build, brown hair, facial hair and glasses) and later that morning there are quite a few police-type-people looking for you. Or him. You know what I mean.

I’m tooling down Main Street Sylva on this particular Wednesday when I notice blue lights behind me. Painfully aware that my little van is pretty well falling apart, I figure there’s a tail light out, my turn signal isn’t working, or my bumper just fell off. I pull over at the Shell station on Cherry Street and proceed to fumble with my wallet. Looking into my side-view mirror, I see an officer cautiously approaching my vehicle. Hollering something about “hands.” With his gun drawn.

Needless to say, my wallet fumbling escalated into something resembling a rabid chinchilla attack. Somehow it just wasn’t clear to me that I should forget about my license and registration and go ahead and stick my hands out the window like the officer was telling me to. Eventually he got me out of the car, cuffed me, and asked me if I knew what this was about.

In a word: No. Really, I had no idea that my tag was missing. Yes, you watched me open the back hatch of my van, in plain view of where my tag should’ve been. But alas, though I drive this van every single day, I really don’t even “see” it anymore. No, I was not in Asheville at all today. I didn’t even get up until after 10 a.m. I’m a vegetarian, why the heck would I go to Sonic Burger? Why yes, I’ll just have a seat in the back of this here cruiser. Sure.

And so it began: first two policemen, then four, then eight or so. Once the officer from Asheville arrived, I began to get a little worried. Why did I wear a Led Zeppelin shirt today? Is “COPS” filming around here? What’s that tow truck doing? Where’s my van going? Why am I still here? With all this crap spinning in my head, it hit me that I’d never had a “run in” with the law before. I’m a pretty law-abiding citizen, actually. Yet there I was, in the back of a patrol car, handcuffed, with most of Sylva slowing down as it drove by to take a gander at what I’d gotten myself into. Great.

Plus, I guess I AM a little scruffy looking. I had a year’s worth of junk strewn throughout the vehicle. If I could be put on trial as a “car slob,” then you’d just have to color me guilty. And though I have nothing but respect for anyone that can rollerskate AND deliver food to a customer without splattering it all over the car and giving themselves a concussion, the police were pretty sure that I was the bad guy, or “hamburgler” as it were. I couldn’t really fault them for thinking it was me— as fate would have it, I fit the description to a “T.”

And handcuffs really do suck. Totally.

After a long ride to the Asheville police station, I sat in a little cubicle for a few hours listening to a freaked out transvestite in the next room alternately threaten and/or flirt with the officers as he (she?) railed against George W. and banged his/her head against the wall, laughing nervously in a “Jack Nicholson with an axe” kind of way. Following a brief discussion with some friendly detectives, and deep contemplation of the fake wood-grain print on the little round table on front of me, it was revealed that I was NOT the guy that robbed anybody. The detective apologized for my inconvenience. I spoke to a Sylva police officer that apologized, as well. And I was free to go.

I had been telling myself how much I needed some time off of work, but this wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of “alternative things to do with my day.” It was, however, a brand spankin’ new experience. One that will stay with me forever, probably get embellished to the point of hilarity over beers with friends one night (responsibly, of course) and further fictionalized as years go by. And it’s one experience that I don’t care to repeat. EVER.

Oddly enough, nothing about my little escapade with the authorities appeared in the local paper, though an article did run recently detailing the capture of the wiseguy that actually committed the crime. Interesting.

— By Chris Cooper

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