I faced a long drive back to my Atlanta home after three weeks doing stand-up comedy — and partying heavily every night — in Colorado Springs and Albuquerque in 2005. To save money on the way back, I stayed with a friend in Oklahoma one night, but still had twelve hours of driving to go after golfing with him all day. No amount of coffee could stave off my exhaustion.
I did, however, possess a dose of LSD to serve as extra-strength NoDoz. Not only could an acid trip keep me awake, but I could also put it to professional use. I could save any “profound” psychedelic ramblings on my voice recorder. Perhaps I’d figure out the meaning of life − or at least a good comedy bit − for future use.
I dropped the acid to drive through the night.
Driving on LSD is not an activity I recommend, but I do so just fine. Driving is like walking to me. I did it professionally for over a decade, as a courier in Atlanta. I’d also tripped more than one hundred times over thirty years, so I know my limitations under the influence. Contrary to popular belief acid hallucinations don’t involve, say, a unicorn suddenly materializing in the road. Objects may morph oddly when stared at, but not enough to disrupt driving on a freeway that involves no oncoming traffic.
A couple of hours into the drive I ingested enough LSD for stimulation, but not so much to distort reality. To me, it was like a really amusing five cups of coffee. Soon, my psychedelic reverie made a mundane ride vivid and exciting.
I cruised through Arkansas, a colorful sunset over the farmlands of the Mississippi Delta in the rearview. The Talking Heads or Blind Melon on the stereo transported me further. I marveled at the heap of metal that carried me, careening along at seventy-five miles an hour while in air-conditioned comfort. The tech gadgets and charger wires next to me, for a camera, phone, mini-disc recorder, and iPod, fascinated me. Traffic was light, and so was I.
All was good until I came upon a dizzying amount of freeway construction, like a sinister video game come to life. Shifting lanes and uneven pavement. Bright orange barrels and concrete barricades inches away. Bullying tractor-trailers. Senior motorists panicking while going forty miles per hour. My recorded running commentary during this interval was hardly philosophical or profound; I was cussing like a tattoo artist. “What the fuuuuuck!!!”
Thankfully, I soon surrendered to the flow and enjoyed myself again. The video game became fun. I efficiently navigated the construction zone, speaking play-by-play of my driving maneuvers into a microphone. . .
“A typical driver would be flipping out, but I’m possibly the best driver in the world. I am completely unfazed,” I boasted. A bit later I exclaimed: “Whoa, blue lights! . . . Just kidding, they’re in front of me.”
About thirty seconds later different blue lights appeared, directly behind me. Words failed me as practical thoughts intruded. The next noticeable sounds besides traffic noise were roadside rumble strips moaning as I pulled over. The recorder kept rolling.
I remained cool, like Dock Ellis throwing an acid-fueled no-hitter. I scrambled to dig my license out of my golf shorts in the back seat and prepared to present it to the cop casually. “I got this,” I said to myself. The weed sitting on the passenger seat said otherwise.
Yes, amid the aforementioned mass of wires and gadgets next to me sat less than a gram of shitty marijuana, in plastic from a cigarette pack. A fan in New Mexico gave it to me during a drunken evening, but I’d forgotten. Had it been of decent quality I would’ve stashed it appropriately. The weed sat in purgatory: not good enough to hide well, but not bad enough to throw away. Either way, in 2005 Tennessee it was illegal.
My license and proof of insurance were in hand as a cop approached on either side. At the last second, I spotted the herb on the seat and threw a towel in its general area, luckily not covering the rolling recorder. I presented my ID to a strapping young cop built like a linebacker . . .
Lead Cop (LC): “Sir, we’ve stopped you for speeding in a construction zone.”
“Where are you coming from, sir?”
“You’re in Memphis,” he replied, seeming to chuckle.
“I mean, Albuquerque . . . I’m a stand-up comic.”
“A comic? Do you have a CD or anything?”
“No, but here’s one of a lady I worked with this week.”
I handed him a CD case. The cover photo featured comic Jessie Campbell shooting pool with a cigarette in her mouth. A great character witness. With a smile, the officer asked me to step to the rear of my car.
Meanwhile, the Second Cop (SC) grabbed the poorly concealed weed through the passenger window and handed it to the one asking the questions. They returned to their vehicle to run my plates and strategize. I succumbed to amusing thoughts such as how freeways work, not worry much. The cops reemerged ten minutes later. Or fifty. Acid trips warp time.
LC dangled the paltry package of pot in front of me. “Now, I’m not going to arrest you for this, but you need to tell me right now if you have anything else in this car.”
“I got nothing to hide, search it if you want,” I said. This was true. Since I’d eaten my acid, I didn’t even possess an empty beer can of shady cargo.
“No guns, drugs, anything like that?” asked SC, suspiciously.
“No officer, go ahead and check.”
I must’ve looked like I harbored more drugs, and possibly a lot. My twelve-year-old Lexus GS 300 had blacked-out windows and out-of-state tags. I presented my license with a shaky hand and didn’t seem to know what city I was in. Sketchy as hell.
They escorted me to the back of a K-9 equipped 4-by-4 SUV. Clad in a golf shirt, sandals, and funky light blue swim trunks − hardly dressed for a treacherous Memphis jail should I go there. As they placed me in the vehicle I asked the cops if they wanted my keys, but neither heard me. The hot mic in the seat picked up the following exchange as they began searching my car.
LC: “Did you get his keys?”
“Uh, no. Don’t have the keys.”
“Get the keys from that motherfucker.”
After retrieving the keys from this motherfucker, they left me alone to absorb a strange new world. I noticed how hard I was tripping, three hours after ingesting a relatively small dose of five-year-old LSD. Although I fully recognized reality, vivid visuals delighted me, enhanced by flashing blue lights in the dusk. Just behind me loomed a cage containing a sizable dog.
“Hi, puppy! Whatcha doin’?”
This earned me two ear-splitting barks and a vicious snarl. Only thin bars of the doggie cage save my aorta from being trapped in a dog jaw. Tough crowd.
I don’t advocate animal abuse, but I admit I heckled the canine cop in return for it being a dick. “Bet you wish you could bite me, don’t you, pig?“ What was he going to do, arrest me?
Meanwhile, the human cops dismantled my car interior and rummaged through my belongings as I amused myself. They looked under my trunk liner and behind door panels. I addressed the K9 unit again. “They are airing my dirty laundry. Literally!” He responded with another snarl.
I didn’t take the dog as a bad omen, however. LC had sent off good vibes, so I felt at peace. He didn’t appear to know I was tripping, and I was confident my wits would keep me in the clear.
The pair of police trudged back to me and their vehicle twenty minutes later. Or an hour. They muttered to each other for a minute, then LC asked: “OK Mr. Phillips, are you a famous comic?”
“No, but after this story, I might be!” I admitted. I then described my mission to record myself and how they pulled me over moments after I declared how great a driver I was. They found this amusing.
“Where did you get this pot?” LC asked.
“A girl I met in Albuquerque gave it to me. I about threw it anyway because it sucks.”
“Yeah, this looks like Mexican weed,” LC professed. ”I guess you call it ‘dank?’”
I quickly corrected him: “No sir, that’s schwag; the good stuff is dank.” I realized I shared industry lingo with the enemy and blurted: “Shit, I just spilled pot smoker inside info.”
“Yeah, I think you did. Show me the handshake too.”
We all laughed. Clearly, no arrest was coming, so I turned really talkative. I told the cops how my schwag source was a hot chick in Albuquerque that got me high in her car after a show. I expected to hook-up with her, but some random guy warned me she fucked every army guy in town. And she turned me down, anyway.
Following more small talk (LC) Officer Brady Valentine, West Tennessee Judicial Violent Crime & Drug Task Force Special Agent released me from my temporary cell on wheels. We moved in front of the vehicle, and he waved my weed as he spoke.
“Now I’m going to dump this out right here. Just do me a favor and tell your friends not all cops are dicks.”
He produced his card and added: “And give us a call next time you have a show in town.”
“Oh, wow!” I blurted. “Thank you, officer, and have a great night!”
“You’re welcome. And slow it down.”
His final remark reminded me of why I got pulled over in the first place, seemingly a day earlier. I didn’t even get a speeding ticket. Life was good.
The danger now dodged, a practical matter emerged: I had to piss worse than ever. It’s typical to forget to urinate while on a psychedelic trip anyway, and my dramatic run-in made this even easier. Each slight bump in the road poked my groin like an ice pick.
The next freeway exit delivered me at three enormous back lit crucifixes, close to a huge church. If ever there was a time to find religion, this was it. The closest I came was thanking Jesus once I relieved my doubled-over pain at a convenience store urinal. I peed for an eternity.
I never returned to Memphis to perform stand-up and hang out with the benevolent Officer Valentine. My recording of his pull-over, however, opened the door to an on-air position on a top Atlanta morning radio show, The Regular Guys.
Valentine moved on to other ventures too. Specifically, he got prison time for taking part in a steroid distribution ring, which probably operated even as he won Tennessee Narcotics Officer of the Year in 2007. I hope his replacement on the police force isn’t a dick.