Iam tooling down Winnetka Avenue one day recently, going maybe 22.5 miles an hour, when I suddenly catch a glimpse of red lights in my rear view mirror.
It is a motorcycle cop, and he is waving me to the curb in front of a Taco Bell restaurant, so naturally I comply. I know what happens to Mexicans when they ignore a cop in front of a Taco Bell.
I'm not sure what to do exactly, since I do not get stopped by cops very often, so I just sit there in the car, careful not to make any sudden moves.
The cop gets off his motorcycle like John Wayne dismounting from Trigger, or whatever, and ambles up to my car window.
"Hey," he says, smiling, "how 'bout coming over here and chatting?"
He is gesturing toward the sidewalk.
"Sure," I say, like a good citizen, opening the door slowly and keeping my hands in plain sight.
I am re-creating the dialogue from memory, by the way, because although I have a notebook in my hip pocket, I am not about to reach for it.
The cop is a huge man, but there is a floppy, puppy-dog quality to him that is both friendly and disarming. I feel like I am in the presence of Captain Kangaroo.
He doesn't have his ticket book out, so I figure I'm only in for a lecture. Either that, or he is going to draw suddenly and shoot me down like a dog.
"There's a school back there," he says, "and in 10 minutes the speed limit is going to be 25 miles an hour. You were doing 50."
He says it with kind of an admonishing, naughty-naughty half-smile, and I respond by lowering my head in a contrite manner and kicking at the dirt with the tip of my toe, except it's concrete, not dirt, and I have just had a wart removed from my foot. It hurts like hell.
I mention that only to explain the sudden rush of irritation that came over me, which I responded to by saying, "I never go 50 on Winnetka. Did you clock me?"
That is not exactly a cry to "Come and get me, copper," but it hit Officer Kangaroo with the same impact.
All I meant to say was the Pontiac 6000 I was driving was not capable of going 50 miles an hour, but what came out sounded to him like a call to arms.
Suddenly his smile fades, and I begin to realize that the puppy dog is about 6-feet-3 and probably a pit bull.
"Did I clock you?" he says. "Mister, I've been doing this for 25 years and I know how fast you were going! I could take your license and impound your car!"
I am not all that crazy about the car, but since it belongs to the L.A. By God Times I figure it would not be prudent to risk its impoundment by challenging a motorcycle cop, so I let it go.
Enhancing my decision to remain silent is the fact that Officer Kangaroo by this time is beginning to tap my chest. It is not a hard tap, but the gesture itself is not unlike a tiger shark waving its head from side to side before ripping into a swimmer's belly.
I am beginning to look around for witnesses to the potential attack but all I see is another Mexican getting a burrito at the Taco Bell, which will do me no good at all.
In L.A., two Mexicans on the same block constitute a gang, and I'm not about to turn a simple lecture into a SWAT team attack.
I am thinking about all this when I suddenly become aware that the policeman is talking about a traffic guard in front of the school, a Mrs. McDoogle or something, and how people drive by and throw beer cans at her.
I'm not sure exactly how we got from impounding my Pontiac to throwing beer cans at Mrs. McDoogle, but I notice the cop is beginning to look at me like I might be the one who has been tossing the cans.
Right away I say in an outraged, good-citizen tone, "That's a terrible thing to do! Poor Mrs. McDoogle!"
This softens him a little and, encouraged by his change in attitude, I am about to add a little humor to the pot and say I never drink beer, I drink martinis. But then it occurs to me that at some point someone might have thrown a vodka bottle at Mrs. McDoogle, and I don't want to open that bucket of worms.
Anyhow, Officer Kangaroo suddenly remembers I am the guy who had questioned his instinct and says, "I'm trying to be nice, but you won't let me! The next time I see you in front of the school, I'll put a radar gun on you and nail you to the wall!"
His chest-tapping by now is getting a little harder so I turn to full atonement and say I will never do it again, so help me God and Chief Gates.
I really get into the spirit of the thing after that and confess not only to speeding but to child pornography and drug-running up the coast from Nicaragua.
But by now he is weary of the game. He tells me to drive carefully--drive careful, I think he said--and have a nice day. Then he remounts Trigger and off he goes.
I'll say this for the guy. He's good at what he does, going from Tinker Bell to Attila the Hun in a blink of an eye, and I've learned valuable lessons from the encounter.
For one thing, I'll never throw beer cans at Mrs. McDoogle again.