Thursday, May 15, 2008

First police encounter

Had my first run in with the police last night. It was because of my own sloppiness of course. One thing that sucks about vandwelling is that one relatively small mistake can cause huge, serious problems. Gotta stay on my toes-- or else.

I have been working a lot lately (which is great... but for very little money, which is not so great) and had gone 24 hours with very little, if any, sleep. So early in the evening I headed to what was one of my favorite suburban beach spots, to watch the sunset and cook some dinner, and then take a nap. There's a 10PM limit on parking at this location; I didn't remember the exact time but I knew I definitely couldn't spend the night there. I was too tired to cook. I decided to take a nap. Right before I passed out, I had a thought to set my alarm for 10PM so that I could get out of there before cops came around. But I was so wiped out I didn't have the energy even to pick up the alarm clock and set it. I've been unable to nap more than a few hours anyway lately, and I didn't think I'd sleep too late. It was only 6:30PM, after all.

I woke up to someone banging really hard on the van. I could tell I'd been asleep a long time. I grabbed my glasses and got up to take a look to see what's up. Then I heard it "Whoop! Whoop!". Uh-oh, cops.

So I stuck my head out of the van and there's a cop standing behind the van, yelling at me to get out. Fine, I stumble out, hands out, still asleep really, but waking up quickly, police car headlights shining in my face. What are you doing here, he asks? I came for the sunset, I replied, and I took a nap, and must have overslept.

The cop asked me if there was anyone else in there. Nope. OK, license and registration please. He comes close enough to me to take my outstretched license, but still stays quite a distance away. I climb back in to get my registration and insurance for him. And I close the door to the box, which apparently I'd left open when I first came out.

He asks if I can open the rolling door and see what's in the back. My first reaction is to say, "No", because I do not want to consent to a search, or answer a lot of questions about living in a van. But I thought, there must be some reason he wants to look around, and I should tell him why I don't want him to. So instead I said, well I know the rules about being in the parking lot after hours, but I also know the rules about search and seizure. He replied, I'm not going to search, there's just a lot of weird stuff that goes on around here. "Weird stuff", I asked, like what? He said, I want to make sure you don't have an exchange student tied up in there or something.

Yikes! No wonder he's so being so cautious. OK, sure, I open the box. He pokes around with a flashlight. This makes him comfortable; cops in general are used to being able to poke their flashlight into your vehicle and look around. He looks at the sheets of insulation. What's in those boxes, he asks? Those aren't boxes, they're sheets of insulation. He reads the label on them, indeed, that's what they are.

At this point I'm very glad that I have those there. I left them there to keep crooks and criminals from seeing any valuables in the van in case I have to open the back-- it just looks like a cargo van filled with crap. But it also came in handy here too. He stood there for a long time, not moving, not saying anything, and not really aiming the flashlight at anything in particular. Then I figured out why-- he was listening, probably for anyone moving or breathing in it. There's nobody in there though, and he pretty soon figures that there's no "weird stuff" going on, just an old hippie who might be in one of the building trades, with a van full of insulation and scrap plywood and tools, who came out to watch the sunset, and probably smoked too much pot (I don't smoke at all, actually, but I look like I do) and fell asleep in the wrong place at the wrong time. OK, you can close it up. So I do.

He does all that license stuff. As he does, I notice the whole parking lot is empty. It's totally dark, except for two police cars with their lights on.

And I'm thinking, damn, are there kidnappers out here at night? Was I safe here after dark? I'm starting to be very glad that they woke me up, even if it was in a kind of jarring way.

When all is done, he sends me on my way. I'm happy that the van started up on the first try too.

Things I have learned:
1. NEVER EVER take even the shortest nap anywhere that there's a time limit, without setting an alarm first.
2. Secluded spots might not be such a good idea. Hiding in plain sight (i.e. more populated ares) might be safer, depending on who is populating them.
3. I'm glad I learned how to deal with cops: just answer their questions simply, don't offer any information unless it's specifically asked for, try to understand the fear that a cop has of making a mistake that'd embarass him by letting someone dangerous get away-- or, worse, getting seriously hurt or killed himself, and don't try to make up any B.S. stories.
4. NEVER have a favorite or regular parking spot. You're playing the law of averages, and repeatedly going back to the same spot is asking for trouble. Move around, and don't ever get comfortable (this one is hardest for me. I really want to be comfortable and sedentary, and I'm a creature of habit; moving around is work).

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