Last Sunday morning seemed to be a little different. The usual sunrise mist and light fog hung low through the Olema Valley as I went for my morning walk. Afterwards, rewarded with a cup of coffee at Toby’s, I sat with friends who noted how calm it was in town. We all had turned our clocks ahead to spring forward and it was obvious the normal tourist deluge would be later than usual. It seemed like a good time to drive out to the seashore to enjoy some nature in my own backyard. Sometimes I feel a little guilty when I don’t get out and enjoy the wilderness we are so grateful to live in. Over the last year, my retirement from the restaurant and my new summer camp job had renewed my connection with the trails and beaches I have known for the last four decades.
I followed my nose, driving north up the ridge road through the dairies toward the parking lot above Marshall Beach. There you can see west over the Pacific or look east, down on Tomales Bay. I drove down a road that used to go down to the old Mendoza hunting cabin in a beautiful cove. Halfway down is a large set of cypress trees where you can turn right onto a power pole service road leading to a small grassy meadow on the side of a hill. I turned off my S.U.V., left the radio on to listen to my favorite Sunday show and got out to enjoy the view. I gazed out on a gorgeous clear day to the east with the ocean fog behind me. To my right lay the Olema Valley, green and luscious all the way to Bolinas, and off to my left a streak of blue water all the way to Bodega. It seemed like you could see for 100 miles.
I’d spent a meditative hour with my music, my thoughts and that incredible view when something startled me in the shallow brush next to the meadow. I expected a rabbit, a quail or maybe a deer. Instead, a park ranger stood up out of the low sage about 30 yards away and walked toward me. “Hey there,” I said as he stepped into the clearing, “Good morning, what a day, huh?” He asked what I was doing there, so I explained. He asked how I got there, so I pointed out the service road that I was parked on and that he obviously was unaware of. A second ranger walked up the hill. From the body language and the fact that they didn’t know the road, I gathered that they had not been there before. And I noticed two things about them. They both kept their hands on their guns, and their combined ages would not even come close to my 60-plus years.
I was made to sit on the ground with my hands showing while they radioed in to check my car registration. I was not asked to show I.D., but was being treated like they pulled me over on the road or something. The rangers seemed nervous, so I tried to be as nice as possible and cooperate with questioning. I told them who I was, about my Bolinas business, my P.O. Box in Marshall, my home in Point Reyes and my decades of experience in the area. I was a little embarrassed, realizing that I was probably in a place I should not be in. Maybe I would get a ticket and be told not to go there anymore.
Instead, I was informed that they had found a warrant for me from Napa County for driving on an expired license back in 2000. I asked how old they were 18 years ago. They searched me and my car without informing me of my rights. The handcuffs caused me so much pain when I tried to fit in their backseat that I was put in a belt with a big metal ring with handcuffs attached, like maximum security. They took my socks, my glasses and my hair tie, loaded me in a park S.U.V. and drove me over the hill to the jail at the Civic Center. I was told an officer would take me to the Napa jail.
I thought of the questions they could not, or would not, answer. How did this not show up every time I registered my car for the last 18 years ? How come, when that highway patrol officer gave me a no-seatbelt ticket 10 years ago, did it not show up? How come, when I paid the $100 parking ticket I got outside my own restaurant in Bolinas on July Fourth, did it not show up?
As I sat there handcuffed in that transfer room, on that cold metal bench, I thought of how ridiculous this had become. An hour ago, I was sitting in a plush meadow in my own backyard, enjoying a calm morning and a world-class view. Now, hair in my eyes, no socks, hands behind my back. The humiliation was setting in. I felt, and probably looked, like a criminal. I had been doing my best to keep a light attitude, but now the ironic jokes and casual conversation was giving way to a dire situation. The rangers left me there like I was entering Guantanamo. I did not want to hear their positive spin of “Well, at least you will finally get it straightened out. You’ll get it done.”
Once I was inside the jail, a very large sheriff asked me my waist size and shirt size and another lovely young sheriff explained to me that if I wanted to see a Marin judge instead of Napa judge, it would take about five days. I stepped back and said “Whoa, wait a minute! You guys are going to dress me out and put me in jail for five days for a driving on an expired, 18 years ago? Why has this not shown up before?” The lovely young sheriff said, “Have a seat. Let me make a call.” When she came back, she winked at me and told me they would sign me out in a couple of minutes. I caught a hippie in a van eating a big burrito by the parking lot and he gave me a ride to Lucas Valley. After walking a few yards, a guardian angel named Leela picked me up and drove me all the way out to West Marin, dropping me off just down the trail from my car. It took a fraction of the time to get back than it did to be taken away.
I guess the rangers out in the national seashore don’t have to arrest anyone very often. They do not seem to be really good at it, though I can’t speak with a lot of experience on the subject. From what I see, they are trained more in fear than in compassion and understanding.
Furthermore, I have no idea why they kept my socks.
Dave Cook is a retired chef and host of KMWR’s FishTales. He lives in Point Reyes Station.