A Strange Occurrence in the Month Preceding September 11
by Will Skinner
It was the first week of August, 2001. I know this because the sticker on my license plate says that my car's registration expires at the end of July. This will matter in a moment.
I was living in my car at the time. I didn't have a job nor did I want one. I'd found a fairly quiet place adjacent to the John Wayne Airport in Orange County where I could park my car and sleep in the back. It's a hatchback and I would fold the back seats down with my upper torso in the trunk and my legs sticking out into the passenger compartment.
It was near midnight. I'd just pulled up into my favorite spot and started brushing my teeth with a little tube of toothpaste and a brush I keep in the side door compartment. A cop in a Bronco-type SUV drove by. A minute later, he drove by again, stopped, and flashed a light onto me. The cop got out of the truck. I could see that his door said "Sheriff," which meant he wasn't a cop but rather airport police, since John Wayne is county-owned.
He approached my vehicle and I rolled the window down.
"Hi. Whatcha doing here so late?" he asked.
"Nothing much, just relaxing before I go home," I replied casually.
"Could I see your driver's license?"
I was feeling rather tired and annoyed, and he hadn't "pulled me over" – that is, it wasn't a traffic stop and I wasn't sure if a cop could demand identification if he didn't actually pull you over for doing anything wrong – so I replied, "No."
He was taken aback. "Let me see your driver's license."
I shook my head. "No."
He grew more flustered. And I had started shaking because I was damn scared to be doing this.
He took a step back and looked at my license plate. "Your registration's expired. I could ticket you for that."
I said, "I mailed the payment in already. If I'm not mistaken, you can drive on an expired registration if your payment has been mailed and the registration is being processed."
He paused a moment, then said something about me being parked within 200 feet of an airport and something about being able to cite people for trespassing if they're 200 feet from an airport. So I relented, gave him the ID card and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize I was doing anything against the law. I didn't see any signs..."
He took the card, mumbled that no, there weren't any signs. At this point I was shaking terribly.
He flashed his light over the card and said something to the effect of: "So if I run this, am I going to find anything I'm going to need to take you in for?"
I said, "Nope, should be clean."
He said, "Because if you tell me now, I could maybe cut you some slack, but once I call this in, if there's anything on it I'll have to take you in."
"Nope, it's clean."
So he went to his car and came back a couple of minutes later.
"Ok, here you go," and he gave me the card back, then turned toward his truck. I spoke out.
"Hey, just so you know, it's nothing personal. I didn't mean to give you a hard time, it's just that I'm from a long line of lawyer-types and we tend to..." I waved my hand to finish the sentence.
He replied, "Well I understand, but once I take you in it's out of my hands. You can either settle it out here or you have to settle it in court and that can be a hassle."
"Good point," I said.
He turned to leave, paused for a moment, and turned to me once more. Then he said something in such an odd voice that I can still remember it clearly.
"Did you hear they're sending troops to Egypt?" he asked.
I stared at him for a second, not sure I heard the question right. I frowned. "No... I didn't."
He shrugged, got in his truck and drove away. I didn't think again about his question until five weeks later, on September 11, 2001. Since then I've wondered how he got that bit of information, and why he chose to share it with me, in a parking lot by the airport that night.
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Copyright ©2004 Will Skinner All rights reserved.