Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
It has been a while since I visited Arizona. If I go back, I think there is more to worry about now than sunburn and the Phoenix freeway maze.
I imagine traveling along a lonely stretch of highway through the spectacular Painted Desert, marveling at the enchantment that dusk carries daily on the cooling breeze. The colors are changing so rapidly with the setting sun’s last rays lapping upwards against the orange-stripped book cliffs that I hardly notice the state trooper’s lights flashing from behind.
I mutter a few salty words that break the magical spell and reach for my driver’s license as I watch through my rearview mirror the uniformed enforcer of reasonable speeds ambling towards my car. The window glides down and a blast of heat fills the cockpit.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“No, sir. I was driving carefully.”
“Yes, you were,” he says. “A little too carefully. Anybody traveling 67 mph through here might have something to hide, hmmm?”
I tell him that I have nothing to hide and haven’t had a drink in two days since I am coming from Canyon de Chelly, where the finest cocktail they offered in that dry Navajo county was sugarless grape juice.
“Is that so?” he says. “Well, the reason I pulled you over is because I have good reason to believe that you are in this country illegally and our state law gives me the right to do something about that.”
“I’ve heard about your new law,” I told him. “And, I don’t much care for it. But, in the interest of saving time and energy, do I really look like a Mexican?”
“Ha!” he snorted. “You think we discriminate down here, don’t you? Just like all the rest. Well, mister, I’m here to tell you that we don’t. We don’t care where you’re from. If you are here illegally, we want you out. I believe you to be an illegal Canadian.”
Stunned, I asked on what grounds he supposed this to be true.
He responded: “Wouldn’t you think it a little strange to see a Canadian driving around Arizona in a car with Colorado plates?”
“Perhaps,” I said. “But, I am not …”
“I thought it was a little odd, too, and that’s why I stopped you. Now then, please step out of the car and take off your shirt.”
“Just do it … NOW!”
He reached and flicked the safety on his revolver as he loosened the holster strap. Of course he had the right to shoot me dead on the spot if he judged that I posed a serious threat. I chose not to test the latitude that Arizona law granted him again and did as I was told. He looked my naked chest over.
“Just as I thought,” he said. “No tattoos. Belly white as Casper’s. Look at those tan lines. Got them yesterday afternoon at the Holiday Inn pool, didn’t you? Before you got down here, I bet you hadn’t seen the sun in eight months, ay? Now, take off your shoes.”
“But, why on earth …”
“Because I want to make sure!” he barked. “It’s a little trick we learned from our friends at Homeland Security. Do you think I take this responsibility lightly? I am accusing you of breaking the laws of this great nation and I take that very seriously. Now, get ’em off!”
I did as he said.
“Just as I thought, no arches. That’s what wearing hockey skates instead of booties when you’re a baby will do for you, ay? Isn’t that how they do it back home, mister?” Then he fired a question at me from out of the blue. “Who was the greatest Canadian hockey player of all time?”
“Wayne Gretsky,” I blurted.
“Just what I thought,” he said. “Only an American would reply that quickly. And that’s what you’re trying to do – fool me into thinking you are an American. A Canadian would have to think a little harder. Ever heard of Guy Lafleur or Maurice Richard? I suppose not. Ha, ha. Betraying your national heroes just so you can come down here and maybe turn a bowling alley or two into a chain of broomball rinks, or something. It sounds like what a yellow-bellied Canadian would do.”
“But,” I pleaded. “I am not a Canadian.”
“OK,” he said. “I’ll give you one last chance to prove you’re an American. Let me have a look at your passport.”
Of course I didn’t have my passport. Who takes their passport on a road trip through the Monument Valley on their way to the Grand Canyon?
“Do you have your birth certificate?”
I offered him my Colorado drivers’ license instead, which he told me might be proof enough for a bouncer at a college town bar, but not for a state of Arizona officer of the law sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution and even bolster it a little where needed. Having gathered sufficient evidence that I was, in fact, a Canadian in the country illegally, he cuffed me and stuffed me into the back of his cruiser, not bothering to protect my head from banging against the door frame.
“What about my Miranda rights?” I whined.
“So, you’re going to start talking Mexican to me now, huh? Those rights are reserved for We the People, the taxpaying citizens of the United States! Besides, we can cross that bridge, not wade across the river with all of our worldly belongings tied in a bundle held over our heads, when we get to it. In the meantime, sit back, shut up, and practice your English. You’re going to need it to tell your story to the judge. He has less patience than I do with you people.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake! Do you think I can get a fair and speedy trial here in Arizona?”
“Are you an American?”
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