Based on a true story about kindness in a darkened world
I had only been back in San Diego for a few days. The last time I was in the city, I camped with my son in a quiet business park about a dozen miles east of San Diego proper. No problems, just a few other cars in the area and a man dressed like a 90s church dad talking on his cell phone across the street when we woke up. At night it was well lit. After seeing the guy on his phone, I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable sleeping there again. Anyway, that weekend I spent a few days in a cheap motel outside the city. I needed a shower after working and sleeping in the car all week. I work for a courier service delivering food and groceries. Like Uber but without the crazy passengers. Most weeks I make about six hundred dollars. Sometimes more, sometimes less. If I’m really motivated, I make enough early in the week to take an extra day off and feel good about it, but I usually try to save money by only renting a room one night a week. My son goes on the deliveries with me. He’s seven years old so being with his mom all day every day doesn’t bother him. He keeps me sane and gives me reason to get up in the morning.
I don’t have an apartment because I haven’t lived in San Diego long. The way I see it, I need at least $2,600 per month just for rent and utilities. After that, maybe $1000 for food, clothes and everything else I never remember I need. $4000 would be comfortable. It wouldn’t be glamorous, but I’ve never cared about that. It’s possible but difficult on the pay I’m getting, especially with gas and inevitable car repairs factored in. I’m looking for a room mate.
Well, the weekend was over and I was back in the business park. I found a new spot so anyone who might recognize me wouldn’t see me. I didn’t really like the old spot anyway. It was too bright and there was another car that parked ahead of me most nights. I could see the guy inside staring back at us. He never did anything or even got out to approach me, so I let it go. A lot of people camp in their cars. It was a blue Honda Civic. I should probably watch for it.
“Can I watch a movie tonight?” My son asked me more politely than usual.
“Sure, why not?” I didn’t care either way. I’d set it up and then get out for a smoke before bed. The stuff was low grade and “economical” but it got the job done. I wouldn’t be able to sleep without it. Not in a car.
“I want to watch the one from last night.” He’d actually seen it four nights in a row, but he was smiling with his eyes squinting behind his shaggy yellow curls. I wasn’t going to say no.
All I could hear were the orchestrated jingles behind the opening credits when I stepped out onto the pavement. I shut the door as gently as possible. As I started to dig for my lighter, a squad car rounded the bend in the road behind us. I froze. I wasn’t really doing anything illegal but I was bending some rules. I started to panic and my fingers went numb. The top of my head tingled. The car flashed its lights and pulled up behind us.
It isn’t that I don’t trust cops. I don’t. But it’s because I don’t trust most people. I’m a petite blonde woman. 30 years old. Not to mention the news is filled with stories about dirty cops right now. I had no idea what he thought he could get away with.
He had already seen me. He had seen my car. He might have seen the joint in my hand. My cell phone was in my back pocket. By the time I realized it was all actually happening, he was shining his flashlight through the windows into my car. He saw my kid. They made eye contact. They even waved at each other. I hated that someone knew where we were. I definitely didn’t want the police to know where we were sleeping.
“Is everything alright?” He asked the question as if expecting a “no”. The flashlight was pointed at my face.
“Sure,” I stammered, “I’m fine.” No, I’m trying to enjoy my evening and get some rest before I work all day tomorrow, and I’m talking to a cop in a business park with a joint in my hand, and he’s taking way too long to get his flashlight out of my eyes.
“Ok,” his body started turning before the word was off his tongue. “Have a good night.” He had his back to me now and he was walking away. Back to his car.
I slid my phone out of my back pocket and dropped down to the curb. He was driving away. Sweat was burning at the corners of my eyes while I watched the tail lights shrink into the distance. He turned out of the park.
“Holy excrement, that freaked me out.” I sent the message to a friend in the city.
“What’s up?” he asked. I told him what happened. All he said back was, “that’s crazy.”
“Expletive, that really hit me hard, man.” I sent the text with shaky fingers.
“I’m surprised he left you alone. Are you at the business park? Did he know you had bud?” he said, and then asked. Weed is legal in California, but that was one of the rules I was bending.
“I’m still in the business park,” I answered, “but I don’t think he noticed the weed. I don’t want anyone else knowing where we are.”
“Eh… If he was cool and left you alone, it’s probably a good thing.” He was trying to calm my nerves. “The cops in SD are used to it.”
Another cop car sped by while I read the last message, so I didn’t respond directly. “Excrement, another cop just drove by.”
“If they want you to move they’ll tell you.”
“I’m not scared of that.”
He reminded me I had a camera attached to a phone. “SD cops aren’t gonna mess with you.” I wanted to believe he was right, but I wasn’t going to be complacent.
“I guess I have the benefit of having a kid with me.”
“Right,” he agreed. I could tell he was worried for me, but didn’t want to add to my anxiety. I didn’t respond to him for five minutes. I would have, but another cop car pulled up before the text came through. No. It was the first cop. He came back. And by this point, I had finished smoking. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have smoked that night. But I did. I don’t think he noticed. After he left, I send my next message.
“He came back and now I’m having a full scale panic attack,” I said.
“Let me know if anything goes down,” he sent back. “Take a pic and send if you need to.” He thought the cop was still there with me. I corrected him.
“I’d already smoked and had just finished up so I thought, well expletive me, naturally. But he came up and handed me money and told me he has a little girl and just wanted to help out and if it’s OK, to give my son a police badge sticker. Then he reiterated he has a little girl and just wanted to help out. Then he told me to have a good night, turned around, walked away and left.”
“I swear.” I sent a pic.
“I can’t move.” I couldn’t.
“Was he sexy?”
“I don’t know.” I didn’t. Or at least I hadn’t noticed.
“That’s cool.” This was his last text before a long string of messages about his experiences with crooked cops.
That was more or less the end of it. My son finished his movie and I didn’t see another officer that night. I fell asleep after the movie with an arm around the boy. He was breathing softly and had no idea the amount of panic I’d been through. The whole night was fun for him. I woke up the next morning thinking the whole thing had been a dream. Then I saw the police badge stuck to my son’s shirt. His eyes were still closed.