Tuesday, April 29, 2014

125 MPH in the Custody of the Queen: A Scottish Holiday

  It was a terrific Saturday. The first in over a month that I'd not found myself in a rush. Between rumbling across the U.S. in my van from Seattle to Atlanta, via Dallas, to catch my flight back to Romania, in the span of 5 days, and a not quite direct motorcycle trip to the U.K. via Kiev, Ukraine to collect a van for European rambling, I'd worn myself thin. Transferring the money from my account to the van's seller proved to be an arduous affair and I was ready to split from Newcastle to a more rural setting once paperwork for the Sprinter's transfer was finalized late Friday afternoon. After driving into the evening, along the coast, I spotted a nice flat spot and stopped.  I awoke the following morning to find a Pay and Display parking meter in the lot which I had passed out. These have spread like the plague in the UK since my first trip here, and you now find them in cow pastures. I checked my pockets for change to find 90 pence, a far cry from the 2 pounds (Thanks to the stodgy Canadian setting monetary policy in the UK now, about $3.50) needed for the first two hours. After digging through a variety of Pesos, Shekels, Bolivianos, and Quetzal (amongst others), I found another 30 P. I rolled my eyes and thought about the $9 per (US) gallon diesel I'd filled up with on my way to North Sunderland. Surely to God there was enough tax there to fund some bloody parking lot out in the sticks. I put it out of my mind and hiked through the field down to the shore.
  It felt good to hear the North Sea waves crashing on the beach and sense the slap of cool, rushing, wind as I sauntered along. I had nowhere to be and there were castle ruins on the horizon. My goals for the day were to be flexible and simplistic, a good fit for me I figured. One foot in front of the other, look around, repeat.
  Though the sandy patch of earth was far from crowded, I saw dogs, horses, golfers, surfers, both machine gun, and sand, bunkers before reaching the castle which loomed over the entire journey.

This fellow looks to have a pretty good arm. He must play cricket.

A walk spoiled?

Perhaps Pine Oaks should consider adding one of these to the back 9.

 I returned to the car-park/cow pasture in an ambivalent mood. Between the 15, or so, miles I'd covered and the restless wind, I felt a bit shagged, but oddly rejuvenated. The semi-euphoric second wind inspired a look at the map. Shit, I was at the doorstep of Scotland, one of my favorite places, and home to a friend from a former life.
   My days at Washington College Academy are held in high regard, and many of the kids I met there are still friends, and likely will be for life. The virtues of private school are topics for another day, but it was during my time roaming the grounds of WCA that I met Kate. We aren't overtly similar, unlike me, she wasn't expelled, and she has gone on to reach some lofty heights. I suppose the mountains of East Tennessee must feel a universe away for her now as she attends to the needs of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in the heart of Edinburgh. Though perhaps odd that I have some sort of connection to a priest in Scotland, I suspect that there is something vaguely appropriate about it. I'd always thought of Kate as having an obstinate streak, one she's likely had to suppress, more than to her liking, to reach her goals in life. Conversely, my recalcitrant composition is something that cannot be subdued and a caprice, roller-coaster, life has made aspirations difficult to chase, but still, I have a nagging desire for success and the trappings therein. Perhaps we aren't altogether different. So, I sat there looking at Google maps. Old St. Paul's it is, I concluded, and pulled my ticket laden van from the parking lot on a northerly course to catch the following morning's service. In hindsight, I should have stayed put.
 By the time I reached the Scottish border darkness had fully enveloped the sky, but Edinburgh was
just another hour up the A1 so I stopped briefly to recall a memory and snap a photo for posterity. When last I was at this mortar and stone ode to the freest part of the UK, I was out of jail on $25,000 bond. In an attempt to help some poor sod back in my home town of Jonesborough, Tennessee I'd summoned a shit-storm of anti-1st amendment sentiment amongst the most steroid addled coppers in all the land. They exercised a great deal of imagination, but very little concern or restraint, in concocting a story and levying charges intended to destroy me. Though victory was mine in the end (if it could be called that), when I first reached Scotland, little over a week after defending myself at a preliminary hearing, the toll taken on my life seemed large indeed. So-called friends would no longer be seen with me, and murmurs of my stupidity were hard to bear. I wondered how trying to help someone could transform me into such an outcast.
None the less, before the judge I stood tall and I fought hard. I recall leaving the court-room after the preliminary hearing in the newly-finished, multi, multi million dollar Washington County Justice Center feeling less than happy. There is little justice to be found here. How can they build a case from nothing? Fuck them, and Fuck this place, I thought, this isn't living, and this is not my home. Rather than putting off my planned motorcycle trip across Europe, I pushed forward. I sold everything easily liquidated that I owned, including my beloved Ducati, scratched the head of the only girl that didn't mind to be seen with me at the time (Daisy is the best friend a trouble-maker like me could ever have) and headed for a new environment.
  Shortly after departing the border monument I passed a Volvo wagon (or estate for the right-hand drive crowd) adorned with the distinguished markings of the Scottish police. I noticed that the Swedish cruiser balked as I passed, but thought little of it, though similar behavior from police in the States would have left me looking for a place to pull off and hide. It took a while, however, blue lights illuminated the sky and I quietly cursed the Polish tag that hung from my bumper. The two officers hastily approached after I pulled over, they went to the front of the van then the more wiry of the pair came to open drivers window, while the other surveyed the interior through the sealed passenger's window, and asked me to switch beams. He then returned to the front of the van and called for me to join him. He pointed to the extinguished low beam. It then became obvious that he'd expected a Polski. When I removed my passport, while explaining the lack of warning lights for blown bulbs in Sprinter vans, he said "You're an American?". The dark haired copper began an inquisition into how I came about having a Polish registered van. The other guy just looked on in silence. I produced paperwork for the van and he somewhat dismissively said, "This means nothing
to me". Things weren't looking good. He asked about insurance, and I replied that I'd only bought the
van the previous evening in Newcastle and I'd not had a chance to acquire any. There was unmistakable glee in his eyes and voice when he informed me that they would be seizing the van and it was going to cost about 200 Pounds, at the least, to retrieve it. Damn my honesty, this guy wasn't going to be cool in the least. The lanky chatterbox escorted me to the back of the Volvo so they could collect some information. After directing me to the back seat and closing the door, he took to the phone and returned to my van. The bulkier, and until this point mum, officer was seated in the front passenger seat and inquired, as we waited for his partner's return, "do you have a bike in there?". "Yes" ,I responded, "how did you know?" He said, "I saw the Isle of Man TT patch on your jacket in the van". He went on to tell me about his Fireblade (that is the 900-1000cc CBR Stateside) and asked about camping on the Isle for the TT. Why couldn't this guy be in charge, I thought. We continued with our motorcycle centered conversation till the other officer returned and directed the discourse in a more stressful direction. The call to the tow driver ("I need a job created", he said. Great, I thought, a Keynesian copper) went unanswered, so the friendlier bloke took to the wheel of my new van and followed Glasgow Slim and I to the impound yard. I was told I could take my things from the van. I explained that I had insurance on my motorcycle and I wanted to use it to go on to Edinburgh since Monday was the earliest I could retrieve the van. My young driver had started to soften as he heard of my journeys and relented, after all, it had insurance. The biker helped me unload, and pack, my Yamaha. Once finished, I was instructed to follow them to the station in the town of
Dunbar. Ironically, this birthplace of the father the modern conservation movement, and proponent of the formation of U.S. national parks, John Muir, is also home to a massive coal-fired power plant. Once past the monstrosity of a plant, made more dingy by the high pressure sodium bulbs illuminating its austere exterior, we reached a large roundabout and the Volvo pulled away for the 270 degree right-hand turn. Not so fast I thought and put my on bike its side motoring up to the exhaust pipes of the cruiser as we exited the roundabout. It was a taste of things to come. With the power plant out of site, the, quaint, sleepy burg showed little movement for
a Saturday night. We passed John Muir's monument in the middle of town and I thought about the U.S. National Parks pass in my hip pocket. It had been useless, a few month prior, during the government shutdown. Oh, how apt bureaucrats are at taking something good and turning it to complete shit. We pulled into the abandoned bread-box of a police station and I settled into the employee of the month parking spot.
    I have a knack for finding myself in interrogation rooms following relatively innocuous infractions, you might even call it a gift, having now done so on four continents in seven countries. So again, I found myself sitting at a table intended to separate the investigator from the suspect. Alone, sipping on coffee procured by the biker, I came to the conclusion that this was taking far too long. The duo of sweater clad bobbies finally entered the room and Slim spoke up. "Well", he said, "You are having a bad night, and it's about to get worse. We ran the tag on your bike and the MOT expired last month (MOT is an acronym for Ministry Of Transportation, these are the government screws that get to say that your car or motorcycle is in good enough shape to be used on the roads. Once a year your vehicle is scrutinized and, if passed, given a certificate. When I bought my Yamaha here a year ago, I never dreamed it would return to the UK, as it was intended to carry me to Siberia) and you cannot provide us a U.K. address. Given that we have no way to contact you and your motorcycle is not road-legal here, we have to take you into custody". I grinned broadly and gazed at the two and said, softly with my best Scottish accent, "Fookin' great". This prompted a little chuckle from the Jr. partner. "Right then", said skinny, "you'll be going to court on Monday in Selkirk, but till then you'll be kept in custody in Harwick at the detention facilities. That's 60 miles from here, but before we take you we'll need to document all your belongings not packed away and locked in the motorcycle". That's a lot of documentation, I thought. And the two cops went about accounting for about 100 separate items in my two bags. They got a big kick out of my Breaking Bad tee shirt. "In legal trouble? Better Call Saul!"
     After all my baggage had been itemized, I was placed in cuffs and taken to the Volvo. They managed to have some difficulty fitting my bags, coats, and helmet into the Wagon. "I fit that on a 660cc motorcycle, surely to Christ you can fit it into an estate" , I quipped. The biker laughed, and I was belted in place with cuffed hands between my torso and tightly woven nylon. Friendly took a seat alongside me in the back, and Glasgow Joe grabbed the wheel. By now, it was after midnight and their shifts should have been over, but this gave them opportunity to show the American a good time. We reached the roundabout and Slim put the peddle on the floor. The hash-marks of the A1 melded into a solid line as the turbo whirred. It was foggy, and misting rain, as the Swedish grocery getter's speedo needle eclipsed 120 Miles Per Hour. I looked over at my neighbor and inquired as to whether or not my rapid taxi was equipped with All Wheel Drive. I was mildly relieved to find that it was. It must be said, I have a very high tolerance for speed and 125MPH in a straight line isn't the sort of thing that accelerates my heart rate but I certainly found the restraints disconcerting. Upon turning onto the A6112, my assessment of the situation changed. The rural routes which snake through the Scottish countryside are not to be taken lightly under the best of conditions. They are narrow, hilly, and crooked. My first girlfriend lost her life here in a motoring accident, and I thought of her as we barreled over a blind rise which bent to the left. Displacing rain and mist, the Scandinavian brick briefly battled with gravity and pressed heavily back into wet asphalt as it sprinted off toward the next terror. Only another 50 miles of surprises, I pondered, what a pity. I spoke up in my flattest, deadpan, tone, "I take it you drive these roads a lot". There was only a laugh in response, and it may of well been emitted from a wicked clown. Even knowing these roads well, as Slim clearly did, it was still the folly of a young man showing off, and I was not amused. At
least they are well insured, I mused as we set off the flash of a speed camera taking an apex ascending yet another hill. You could tell the driver's familiarity with the roads began to dwindle the further into our trip we reached, and he was forced to make corrections mid-corner on a couple of occasions. The worst of these came when his radio clicked on, taking his attention precisely as the transition between breaking, acceleration, and steering input needed to be fluid. Following this mishap the wheelman reduced our speed by about 15% and I was much happier. The remaining 20 miles transpired in relative bliss.
  Upon arriving at the detention facilities, run by the friendly folks of Q4S, the jailers were more than a bit surprised to be looking after an insurance offender. I was taken to my windowless, 10'x10', cell and promptly passed out. The jailer came by and woke me on the hour, to ensure I hadn't offed myself. I suppose there really isn't much to report. It was 40 hours of solitude, save for the 40 check ups and 2 showers. I suppose it is worth mentioning the DNA sample though. "You can tell the Queen that she can fuck off" I implored "If you want my DNA, you are going to have to forcibly take it" The officer was caught a bit off balance, he'd not expected resistance. I had, until this point, been a model detainee. A senior officer came in to assist. "Come now" he said, "it's just like brushing your teeth, we know you brush your teeth". I thought quickly of my showers and the odd device provided for oral hygiene. It was a cylinder about 2 inches long with a diameter of half an inch. You unscrewed the cap , jettisoning the outer tube, to reveal an attached, brush-like, rubber instrument to place on the
index finger. Why not simply brush with your finger?  I inserted the little rubber brush into its vile after I'd finished, placed it with my wet towel and called for an escort back to my slice of Scottish oppression. I realized the sneaky fucks already had my DNA. They were threatening to keep me longer if I didn't relent, and I decided that they had it either way, what did it matter? In hindsight, I wish I'd made more of a stink, but alas, I am getting too old for that.
  Shortly after making a fuss over forking over my DNA, I was taken to a G4S prisoner escort truck. Each passenger had their own portable cell. How nifty! As we got going the radio was notched up to ear bleed setting for the 10 mile trip to Selkirk. My little window possessed a red tinting that had not been noticeable from the outside. There was an impossible classic rock trivia game taking up an inordinate portion of the air-time on this particular BBC station and, even coming from the red-neck rock capitol of the world, I was oblivious to the answers to most all of the queries. I was focused on little red sheep prancing about red pastures divided by red fences when the pointlessly obscure trivia was interrupted by Kansas. "Carry on my wayward son. There'll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest. Don't you cry no more". Fitting, the red landscape continued to pass my gaze as I listened to this song I'd heard at least a thousand times before, I concluded, in silence, you can't make this shit up. "Carry on, you will always remember. Carry on, nothing equals the splendor. Now your life's no longer empty.
Surely heaven waits for you." On que, this was about the time the paddy wagon pulled into the Sheriff's court of Selkirk, to a building was more akin to a castle than a court.
  The wait to speak with my solicitor (lawyer) proved to be a lengthy one so I took to people watching. My cell-mates were of the typical faire, young, poor, and uneducated. The major differences between inmates here and back home was that none of these were here for drugs or DUI. I wonder what Q4S would give for a good, old fashioned, drug war in the UK?
  The two lawyers representing those in custody were both young. One was a sharply dressed man with far too much gel in his hair to be trusted. The other, a lady, looked to have spent too many nights awake without a break. Fortunately, I was given the latter to represent me in court. She went about collecting copious amounts of personal information to present to the Sheriff (that's the judge). She couldn't believe that I'd been arrested for an insurance violation, I wished I felt the same, but these sorts of things no longer surprise me. She informed me I needed an address to give the court. I told her that if she could arrange to get my phone from the bags containing my property, I could get an address. There was no signal to be found in bowels of the courthouse, but there was one address that I had at my disposal. I looked at the google maps history. 39 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. The address, of course, was to Old St. Paul's Cathedral. Sorry Kate, desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps there is something fitting about it. After all, shouldn't St. Paul have some sympathy for the traveling prisoner?
   At about 5pm I was cuffed to one of Q4S' finest and marched up out of the depths of the holding cells to the arena that is a Sheriff's courtroom. As the accused, I was stood, along with my tethered escort, at the lowest level of the room with all other seats surrounding me at higher levels. I felt like an examined specimen. The prosecutor began the proceedings expressing some confusion in the multiple tags and registrations attached to the charges. I spoke up to clarify that there was a motorcycle involved as well as the van. This was clearly not the time to help, and the entire court took a collective gasp at my audacity. I pled ignorance, apologized, and the prosecutor finished her brief, misguided, citation of the charges.
  I must say, Sarah, my solicitor made me sound pretty impressive. "Israel Gillette is an honors graduate from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga where he studied business and economics. He is in the midst of extensive travels which have seen him in 40 countries over the past 5 years. He is in the UK to acquire a van needed to expand his motorcycle transport business to include Europe." She continued on to explain the technicalities of the van's acquisition as well as its seizure and mounting tow bill. I was really amazed with Sarah's performance, she hadn't paused or stumbled during an extensive narrative. Now, it was the Sheriff's turn. Speaking up in a most dignified and aristocratic voice, he delineated the particulars of the insurance motoring law of 1988. He went on to recognize that though I'd only just acquired the van, insurance was compulsory prior to my operating the van on UK roads. "It is something we take very seriously here", he said, adding, "however, I have never see anyone taken into custody for it, In light of your extended stay at her majesties' pleasure and the mounting tolls for the release of the vehicle, I will modify the penalty from 120 pounds to 80, and assess 6 points to you license (what license?)" I was taken back down the stairs and released.
  It was time to get to work, I had 3 jackets, 2 bags (packed to the gills), and a helmet. The impound yard was 50 miles away, I was on foot, and I had 1 pound 20. I emerged from the courthouse looking like a motorcycling hobo, missing a motorcycle. A lady standing outside approached me and asked if she could be of help. She'd heard about my court appearance. More infamous than famous I thought, and pulled my, nearly dead, phone from one of 20 available pockets and asked that she snap a photo. Things were going my way!



  1. Holy cripes! This was before we met you...? You didn't mention it! I'm glad to have seen you on the other side of such ridiculousness.
    May things be MUCH simpler from here on out.

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  4. Really sorry for your troubles in Scotland my friend .I am the Scottish guy you met with the Irish guy in the bar/coffeehouse in Johnson city Tennessee. I hope you have a better experience when you come here again . Slainte mhor