An early ringing telephone rarely bodes well. It is, at minimum, the first evidence that your day will no longer remain uneventful. And for my naturally, at least partially Norwegian, skeptical and somewhat fatalistic mind; the ringing conjures a wide range of potential disasters and calamities before I even lift the bedside receiver.
This call, though it would provide proof of my original observation, (it would not be an uneventful day) also spoke of certain calamity. (Although not a personal one.)
My good, hometown friend had called to see if I could pick him up that morning from the airport in Omaha and drive him to Lincoln. Did his waiting till the last minute to secure transportation indicate a general renown of the scope of my life's uneventfulness and thus my availability?
As for calamity; he was returning to Nebraska from his new home in San Francisco to attend the funeral of an uncle. I had never met the uncle, so news of his funeral was not personally upsetting. (It had probably been more upsetting to the uncle,) and of course to my friend.
I immediately agreed to provide transportation. I wasn't busy doing anything else. Again, that reputation for availability may be why he had called me in the first place and why I was on the phone agreeing to, only a few hours from now, this sad errand. He was, after all, a good friend and it was his favorite uncle, though that hardly entered in the equation: since I lived in the only city in Nebraska with anything like extensive air service from anywhere else, people were always calling for transport, (well not that many people actually are flying into Nebraska) and I was available…
I flew out of the bedroom, (yes, pun intended) figuring by the time I got myself and my 4 year old son cleaned up — "was my friend already flying over the Grand Canyon?" — He would be meeting his connection in Denver. Then, before I got the car cleaned out (Sorry, son, pop-tarts for breakfast), I would barely have time to fight traffic —well Omaha traffic anyway —and be at the airport for his arrival. He would be landing and we would be driving in a zone most people simply "fly over."
The airport wasn't busy. Had I ever been there when it was? I can't remember when I couldn't shoot a cannon down the concourse and worry about hitting anyone.
My friend looked healthy and tanned coming down the hallway from the gates. Somehow more cosmopolitan (Californian?) with his small rolling suit case and clutching a briefcase. We could bypass the eternally spinning and predictable sparsely occupied luggage carrousel and proceed directly to the car.
The drive would take just about as long as his flight from California, a phenomena often commented upon by travelers to Nebraska. What can I say? "When you live in the middle of nowhere, miles mean nothing."
We passed those miles in conversation about our old times in Nebraska, how different San Francisco was from the scenery my quiet son was observing from the back seat, and the too-short life his bachelor uncle had led in California.
Rounding a curve about ten miles this side of Lincoln, a flash of sunlight off metal drew our attention ahead to a gathering of enforcement vehicles, City, County and State Patrol on both sides of the interstate and parked along the off and on ramps. Officers were standing around or checking cars. Men were on the overpass, some with binoculars. I braked (instinctively?). Into what apocalypse had we driven? I hadn't even properly slowed down when a uniformed official, standing in the road, indicated I was to pull to the side and park beside other previously stopped passenger cars.
Through my lowered window the officer explained, reasonably? "You were pulled over for exhibiting suspicious movement inside your vehicle." I thought, “wouldn't not moving suspiciously at the sight of probably every enforcement vehicle in the state be even more suspicious?”
I didn't say it however. I guess one suspicions that one oughtn't. I was asked for my identification, for us to exit and for permission to search the car. It happened so fast I can't remember either the order of requests or for that matter the order of our compliance. I also don't remember if we were then told or we surmised ourselves, standing on the shoulder observing the various uniforms and obvious hierarchy, that this must be some joint-operation training session.
“Thank God I had cleaned out the car, it would make their searching easier,”,I thought, with a strange sense of civic responsibility.
It was then they brought up the German shepherd to aid in the search. My son and I were not particularly "dog people" but that dog didn't appear to be much of a "people dog" either. Anyway, the dog was all business. Perhaps he was the only one already trained. Various officers standing near were observing the dog and trainer with an almost fierce attention to detail.
“They would probably be tested on this later,” I thought, as explanation for their inordinate interest.
My son was standing behind, peering around me with a wariness bordering on fear; fascinated as the first dog ever to get in our car ... got in our car.
While the dog was sniffing our history, I was being asked my reason for being on the road. I rejoined how I was giving my friend from California a ride to his Uncle's funeral. The term "California" seemed to raise new flags of alert in the eyes and manner of several participating officers, sort of like California rhymed with cartel. They focused a new attention on my friend who corroborated, 'yes indeed he was from California and was here to attend the funeral of an uncle'. They asked him if the unopened briefcase, which was still lying on the seat between where we had been sitting, was his and if they could inspect it. He agreed to their search. Leaning into the car the training officer unlatched, opened the case and in one whirling motion was brandishing, in our faces, a plastic bag full of a whitish powder. "What's this? What's this!" he accused, with a look of mixed scorn and half glee, as he nodded triumphantly at the trainees.
That this was looking to turn into an extra successful training operation, you could see in everyone's reactions. My friend explained of the now waving, cremated remains, "Well ... that's my Uncle…"
I had never truly understood the term “blanched” until I saw the blood drain from the accusing trainers face; turning as ashen, in color, as the contents of the bag. Cowed, he returned the cremains to the briefcase and re-snapped it.
“You can go now,” the official allowed to no one in particular. So everyone sort of filtered away. As we returned to our car we heard no audible chuckles. Everyone had the solemn demeanor usually associated with leaving a funeral.
I can't help now feeling a little sorry for that, suddenly lost- pride trainer. He, most likely, became the subject of many laughs over coffee and donuts in subsequent years.
For everyone involved, what had occurredseemed to become something almost legendary; an "eventful" training exercise and an "eventful" day.
Uneventful, I've decided, is too often unappreciated.