The following is a long story about how Doug Stanhope indirectly kept me out of jail and/or a speeding ticket back in June 2005.
It’s about 2am-ish and I’m doing 85 or so on I-24 trying to get back to Nashville after a night at the Punchline in Atlanta. Fellow comics Billy Wayne Davis and Craig Smith had bought 40oz beers in the ATL, try but they were fast asleep by now.. and I was coming up on Manchester, for sale TN. I should have remembered that the damn Bonnaroo kids would bring out extra cops.. but I’ve had cruise control set and I’m just clickin’ along.
Blue lights. BW and Craig wake up as I pull over and they hide their empties. Cigarettes are fired up and BW scrambles for my registration as I fish out my license.
“Step out of the car please.”
I recognize the state trooper as one who pulled me over a few years ago in the same area. I had told him I was a comic who had just left Zanies and was on my way to Chattanooga.. and he let me go with a warning saying, “Mr. Riden, I don’t want to end up as one of your punchlines, so I’m goint to let you go.. just keep it under 80.. ok?”
This time, he asks me who’s been drinking.
“All of us. We’re stand-up comics.. we did a show at the Punchline in Atlanta tonight and we’re on our way home to Nashville. I had a couple beers before my set.. but that was like 8 o’clock. I haven’t drank since 9pm.”
He asked if we had any drugs.. that he’d been pulling people over all day confiscating all kinds of shit from Bonnaroo goofs. “No,” I said, “we’re just three professionals on our way home from a gig.”
He got BW out of the car and asked him pretty much the same thing.. also grilled him about what he was doing as he pulled us over. He had seen BW reach down and stuff.
“You’re not hiding a beer under the seat are you? If I look down there, what will I find?” He would have found a nearly empty 40oz and probably a few other empty cans and bottles and who knows what else. I don’t clean cars out.. I just walk away from the wreckage and find a new one when necessary. BW says he was putting his shoes on as we pulled over and as he says that he puts his hands in his pocket. The cop flips.
“Do you want me to shoot you? Get your hand out of that pocket!”
BW explains he never gets pulled over and he’s nervous.
“Well, don’t do that! Damn.”
While this is going on, I see that Craig is hiding something in the back of the Jeep. I move in between that image and the camera which I assume is mounted in the cop car. BW gets back in the car after a few minutes. The trooper comes back to me.
“Mr. Riden, do you want to give your money to the state of Tennessee?”
“Cause I’ll take your money. If you don’t want to do that, I’d suggest slowing the hell down. I’m going to let you go with a friendly warning from the state highway patrol.. I’m not trying to be a dick..”
“You’re NOT being a dick, you’re being really cool.”
“Well, I’m letting you go because you guys are comics and I’ve been listening to Doug Stanhope on Raw Dog Radio.”
“Holy shit, you’re listening to Stanhope? We were just listening to his cd!”
So, now the trooper drops his puffed up chest stance and is loose.
“Yeah, he’s crackin’ me up. Have a good night and slow it down.”
I get in the car and fire it up. I pull the headlights knob and I pull it right out of the dashboard.. the headlights do not come on. I tried putting it back in and twisting it around… fiddled with it for three or four minutes. It’d been giving me trouble lately anyway.. but this hadn’t happened before. I can’t just drive off away from a State Trooper with no lights on.. I’m frantically trying to get it to work. I gave up and walked back to tell the cop what I’d done. I walked to the right side of his car and he had the window rolled down.
“Uh, I pulled the headlights switch out of the dashboard. I can’t get my lights on.”
He laughed his ass off. “Damn, boy! What else are you gonna do tonight?”
He got out and came up to look at it. He fiddled with it but no dice. He looked for a screwdriver but didn’t have one. He called his trooper buddies and the TDOT road-side assistance vehicles and asked if they had tools.
We all got out of the car and were standing around talking about comedy and stuff while we waited for the TDOT trucks.
“You would have been much better off if I hadn’t pulled you over.”
“Yeah, well.. I didn’t want to be the one to say it.”
We bullshitted with them for a while. Craig even tried to sell some of his artwork to the trooper. Craig made some joke about patchouli and the trooper was like, “yeah, I’ve been confiscating it all day.. I’ve got a whole trunk FULL of it!” He thought patchouli was slang for pot.. we all died. Then I’m thinking, “just how cool IS this cop? I want to dip into that trunk of his..”
The TDOT guy tried to take apart my dash and find the switch, but couldn’t get to it. We decide to wait for daylight before continuing.. but we were ass deep in the middle of Bonnarooistan.. and by daylight traffic would be fucked and we’d be stuck in the middle of it. The Trooper offers us an escort 10 miles down the road to a truck stop where we’ll be past the traffic.
We load up in the Jeep and follow a TDOT truck for 10 miles down I-24 without the headlights working. The trooper follows for a while, but turned off. We passed a long line of Bonnaroo goofs, already lined up. At the truck stop, we bought some shit and watched the hippie parade for a while. Craig tried to start an impromptu comedy show in the parking lot. We ended up crashing in the Jeep until 5:30ish when the sun was up.
So, indirectly, Doug Stanhope kept me out of jail for open containers (and whatever else they may or may not have been able to find) or at least got me out of a speeding ticket.