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What it feels like... (extended edition.)

Esquire magazine used to have a feature called What it feels like... to do things that most people never will: Rassle an alligator. Drive a race car 200mph. Walk on the moon.

One of the best was "What it feels like to get high," separately, with Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg.

Smoking marijuana with Willie on his tour bus, the writer said, was soothing, like being submerged in a warm, soothing bath.

One toke of Snoop's herb, he said, left him in a coma for three days.

Esquire didn’t ask me, but I could’ve told them what it feels like to almost get killed by a cop.

In nearly 40 years of driving, I’ve been pulled over by police easily more than 100 times, usually deservedly so. Three times they have pulled weapons on me.

On this particular bright Saturday morning 30 years ago while driving up Broadway in Gary, Ind., where I was a newspaper columnist, another car cut me off. I tooted my horn, inoffensively, I thought, but the driver took offense.

He saluted me, using one finger.

Me, being young and stupid, returned the salute.

In my mind, the incident was over and I could proceed to the bank and draw out a few shekels. My nemesis had other ideas, though. He slowed down in front of me, causing me to slam on my brakes. The woman beside him in the passenger seat bent down out of sight and he appeared to reach over into the glove compartment. I figured, correctly it turned out, that he was reaching for a gun, because he pulled next to me and waved it at me.

I zoomed around him, but he remained behind me. Through my mirror I saw him talking on a CB radio - this was before cellphones became ubiquitous - and immediately feared he was calling his buddies to come and waylay me.

That's when I got scared and reached into the secret compartment of my Volvo and pulled out my legally registered handgun. I eventually lost him in traffic, or so I thought. I crossed over into Merrillville and pulled into the bank's parking lot and then up to its drive-thru window.

Within minutes, I heard what sounded like every police car siren in the world.

How oblivious was I?

This oblivious: My first thought was "Oh boy, somebody's robbing the bank and I'm right here to cover it."

Not exactly. Within seconds, I was surrounded by police cars, and one officer jumped onto the hood of my car, his gun pointed down through my open sunroof and right at my head.

One never forgets a day like that, and I remember my first thought being “Man, I didn’t know I was going to die today.”

On TV: whenever cops point a gun at a suspect, they shout “Put your hands up!”

Most. Superfluous. Statement. Ever.

When police point a gun at your head, your hands go up automatically. The officer then commanded me to give him my license. I looked at my wallet, which was on the passenger seat beside my legally registered gun, then looked at him.

“No sir,” I said, feigning calmness, hands still raised. “I know what you’re going to do. If I reach for my wallet, you’re going to say I’m reaching for my gun and you’re going to kill me.”

The teller at the bank, a kindly sounding older woman, said, “Don’t worry, baby. I’m watching everything.”

In the officer's defense, there is no telling what he'd been told by the guy who called him after following and threatening me, and he could have been told that I was some maniac driving down the street terrorizing people. In retrospect, I’ve come to actually applaud the officer's restraint, because if he’d shot me, I’d have been just another in a long line of “justifiable” shootings of brothers.

What happened in Elizabeth City to cause police to descend upon Andrew Brown Jr. with enough weaponry to storm Fallujah is still unknown, since they’ve released only a snippet of video footage. Police say such an overpowering show of force was necessary because Brown had been charged previously with resisting arrest.

Did he truly pose a threat to them?

I don’t know. What I do know, though, is how easy it is to catch a “resisting” charge: if an officer bends your arm behind your back in an unnatural way, your natural and reflexive instinct is to pull it forward. That’s resisting arrest.

Want to know the two scariest words in the English language?

Stop resisting - when you’re not resisting.

My greatest regret about that Indiana incident, besides not staying at home in bed that morning?

Never going back and thanking that bank teller for possibly saving my life.

1 Comment

One of your best. Thanks.





Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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