Driving east on the interstate we blew a tire on a piece of metal sticking up from the bridge over the Mississippi River. We turned off in the first town in Illinois, Molline. After calling around to different places, and our roadside assistance number with Good Sam (not much help there), we decided to hobble over to the only tire place in town with our kind of tires; it was six o’clock on the Saturday night before Easter. As soon as we got on the main pothole-ridden drag, a cop car pulled out and started following us. Because we had a blown tire and were going slow, my husband put the hazards on. Apparently this was the wrong thing to do, because we got pulled over when we turned left, blocks from the tire place. “You didn’t signal, sir,” was what the first young officer said (even though my husband did, you just couldn’t tell because the hazards were on).
All told, four cops and one dog got out of two cars; they took our license and insurance, then made us get out of our RV and ransacked it. They seized our measly gram of pot and two pipes, and in the process tore everything out of the cabinets and under the bed, including mechanical parts of the RV. The K9 officer and dog were on our bed, reaching up to the cabinets and going through my lingerie. They broke my glasses, which were in a medicine cabinet that they straight up dumped out. Threw our DVD player on the floor, dumped out a can of pencils and some coffee, etc. They even got down underneath the RV and poked around. Finally, with everything lying left where the cop threw it, we were “let off” with a warning. Because of a traffic violation, our home was searched (without our consent: we voiced this), and when I asked if we could keep the marijuana, which we purased legally in Colorado, the officer in charge said, “You’re lucky it was me, if it was one of my buddies, you’d be arrested.”
Whether or not we were at fault for not signaling, did that offense warrant a home invasion? And taking of our property? They followed the cop script, asking all sorts of prying questions about our lives and where we were going while they manhandled our worldly possessions. When I asked the one female officer if searching a vehicle after a traffic violation was common practice in Illinois, she said, “If we suspect something.” Then she stopped talking to me. One thing that really bothers me about cops: they act like they’re doing you a favor when they don’t arrest you, despite whatever else they are doing to you. Our laws aren’t all just (no banker has gone to jail for the housing crisis they caused) and there’s little recourse when you’re pulled over on the side of a busy road, with families coming out of the Chinese buffet restaurant not twenty feet away, staring at you like you’re the worst people on earth.
I tried really hard not to internalize this situation, but it still made me very angry, and sad. The United States is getting more fascist by the season, with constant public surveillance, data mining of our phone calls and emails, and a general erosion of civil rights. My husband was much more positive—and calm—throughout our detainment (which lasted almost an hour, we barely made it to the tire place in time); he pointed out we could have spent the night (and following day, Easter) in jail, for having a gram of cannabis with us. Absurd as this is, thousands of other people have.
After we got the tire changed (almost $200) and made it to the next town (the officers kept asking us where we were going to spend the night, like they were going to come after us again) we put our home back together—took half an hour—and slept poorly for a few hours in another parking lot. Back on the road today, we’ve found Illinois’ highways every bit as inhospitable as their small towns. Wherever they put their federal highway money, it wasn’t into torn-up Interstate 80 (which is partly a toll road). Passing through a particularly bad stretch around Chicago, a billboard asked me “Feeling Illinoid?” Yes, I nodded, absolutely.