the Red Bluff story

In 2004, I was stationed in Washington state living without Angelbuscuit.  We were married, but she'd gone back to Alabama to finish her last semester of college, so I was living by myself in our apartment in Washington.  A day or so before Labor Day, my good friend Sauced decided we should go to JoshuaFest 2004 in Quincy, California for the holiday weekend.  I didn't have anything else planned, and I wasn't driving the Oldsmobile anymore (RIP), so I said I was game.

We met up on base to pick up our contingent of friends, whereupon I met Brooks.  Brooks was a new friend for our group, and he was coming along to JoshuaFest with us.  He seemed like a nice fellow, so at some point in Oregon, we rotated passengers and I found myself with Brooks as my co-pilot.  We got along swimmingly, and I was comfortable enough to switch places with him at some point in California, so that he was driving and I was navigating.

Then we got to Red Bluff, California.  According to the map, we needed to leave I-5, circumvent Red Bluff itself, and then pick up California State Route 36.  We were driving around Red Bluff when I noticed some cop cars on the shoulder of the road.  Checking the speedometer, Brooks was going a little over, so I told him to slow down and pointed out the cops.  We passed the cop cars, but sure enough they pulled out and started following us.  Fine.

Brooks pulled us over, we turned on the hazards, rolled down Brooks' window, and we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We kept checking, and sure enough the cars were still behind us with their lights on, but nobody was getting out.  Finally, several minutes later, we heard them come over the loudspeaker.  Alas, they sounded like nothing but Charlie Brown's teacher, and we had no idea what they really wanted, or why they weren't coming up to the car.  After giving that up, they started just shouting at us: "Driver, put your hands out the window!  Passenger, put your hands on the windshield!"

Now, I don't know if Brooks had ever been pulled over before, but I had once before, and it certainly didn't go anything like this.  Brooks and I looked at each other, and complied.  He put his hands out the window, and I put mine on the windshield.

"Driver, keeping your hands in view, open the door from the outside!  SLOWLY!"  Brooks did as ordered.  They then instructed him to get out of the car and walk towards them, at which point I lost their voices because they weren't yelling so loudly.

I waited.

"Passenger!  Keeping your hands in view, open your door slowly!"  I had a brain fart at this moment, as I reached down to move the atlas off of my lap.  "KEEP YOUR HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM!"  Oh, right.  I jiggled my lap until the atlas fell off, then managed to open my door while simultaneously keeping my hands in view.  This was a feat.

I climbed out of the passenger side of my car, and saw Brooks kneeling beside one of the cop cars, handcuffed and facing the fencing along the side of the road.  I looked about, and saw no cops, though.  They weren't anywhere to be seen.  There was Brooks, there were the cop cars, there were the guns… oh.  I see.  The cops were kneeling behind their open doors, pointing their guns at me, to where I could only see their open barrels and their knees behind the door.  I cannot adequately explain the terror and horror that came over me in this situation; one wrong move and I could have been shot right there on the side of the road.

Holy carp.

I was instructed to kneel next to Brooks, at which point I was handcuffed.  (I feel obligated to point out at this time, it's very uncomfortable.)  They then started to questions us from behind.  "Do you have anything in your pockets which could hurt you or me?"


"Do you have any weapons on you?"


"Do you have any weapons in the car?"

And then it clicked.  I knew why we'd been pulled over.  I knew why they'd been overreacting.  I knew why I was handcuffed on the side of the road in Red Bluff, California.  Brooks had brought with him a pair of clear, plastic, Airsoft pistols.  Now, they are shaped like a grip-loaded, semiautomatic pistol, but they hold little plastic pellets that you shoot at one another, and are clear plastic so that you can see all the inner workings.  I don't know how I knew, but I realized that these had to be the reason we'd been pulled over.  Not an hour previously, we'd been goofing around with them in a Subway parking lot after lunch.

"N—well, we have a pair of Airsoft pistols in the car."

"Where are they?"

I told the officer where I'd stashed the pistols, and gradually calmed down as my assuredness of the situation grew.  He pulled out the plastic guns and I could see the incredulousness on his face as he realized they were all we were armed with.  They still searched the car, and found nothing more than our overnight and sleeping bags.  They fiddled about with the Airsoft pistols to determine that they were, in fact, as harmless as they seemed.  And they conferred with each other and their radio, which came back with the report that there were "two men in a blue Honda Civic with Washington plates with guns in the car."

We were released while they asked a few more questions:  No, we hadn't been threatening other drivers with the Airsoft guns.  Yes, we were on our way to Quincy, California for a Christian music festival.  The last vestiges of my concern were eliminated when they asked us for our names and addresses without even checking our IDs.

We were told to put the pistols in the trunk until we arrived in Quincy—just so no other drivers would see them while driving—and sent on our way.

thumbnail credit: "lost" by Fio (CC BY-NC 2.0)