A triptych in an anti-Mayberry landscape

A triptych in an anti-Mayberry landscape

Maybe my problem is believing that Mayberry was real.

Ever since we relocated to the American South at the turn of the century, I’ve been waiting for someone like Sheriff Andy Taylor.

Guess what?

He ain’t moseyin’ by anytime soon.

In my admittedly limited experience, counting on law enforcement down here is entirely dependent on timing and luck, which is a very bad combination, unless you’re playing fantasy football.

But I want to stress at the outset that what follows is only one person’s opinion and not to be taken as a blanket indictment of Coastal Carolina’s overall efforts in making folks feel protected.

That said, however, I’d rather be in Tombstone in the late 19th century or Al Capone’s Chicago, circa 1925, places where lawlessness and ineffectual policing often strolled hand in hand.

Cops have a tough job. I get that. And I understand that, like all of us, they have bad days on the job, times when they aren’t at their best. Plus, they live with the reality that they might just die at work.

Not an easy gig.

OK, having checked with my legal department, I think it’s time to illustrate just how indifferent and arrogant cops down here can be.

In the spring of 2001, I lent a tidy sum of money to a colleague. She had been nice to me upon my arrival at the newspaper and, wanting to be a good guy, I agreed to the loan, getting it notarized.

That’s about when she disappeared into the wind.

She’d been gone for a few weeks before I contacted the law, which was probably a mistake, but I was a trusting soul, a good Catholic boy who thought the best of everyone, even a crack whore, to use my wife’s prescient and altogether apt description of the criminal.

So I reported the facts to the sheriff’s department, providing all the details they wanted, including her last known address, a rusted-out single-wide trailer sunk in the mud on the outskirts of town. The deputy I spoke to said she’d been on their radar for a while and for me to be patient, that they’d catch up with her sooner or later.

Then it got to be Christmas time and I’d heard nothing until I drove downtown and found the lawman with whom I’d spoken the summer before. He seemed surprised to see me, acted a little guilty.

“Well,” he drawled, “she jest don’t wanna git found, seems like.”

And that, to his way of thinking, was that. My $1,300? Jest gone.

Flash forward about 15 years. We were heading up to the Outer Banks, that splendid comma of barrier islands off the coast, a drive we’d probably made 20 times before, when I became aware of a car bearing down on me at an alarming rate of speed. This was on a stretch of two-lane highway posted with alligator and bear warnings, a wasteland of asphalt between nothing and paradise.

One thing you should know about that dead zone: Speed limits aren’t posted very often and they can drop from 70 to 45 quickly.

The car that was tailing me wasn’t marked. Looked like any sedan.

“I think you’d better pull over,” said my wife, sounding scared.

Twenty minutes later, I’d been ticketed and owed the county $218.

The cop seemed like a nice person at the outset, all like, “You folks on vacation? Heading for the Banks? Nice time of year,” and all that phony, homespun nonsense meant to put civilians at ease.

“Let me just call in your license and registration,” he said with a fake smile, “and you can be on your way. Won’t take a minute.”

He came back, asked why I was going 69 in a 55 zone and slapped me with a fine that pretty much crippled my bank account for a few months. He could have given me a warning, but that’s not how cops operate down here. They’re dedicated to ruining folks’ days.

Let me close with this most recent example of abhorrent police behavior. I was on my way to work in the predawn hours of a foggy morning. A light rain was falling and it was just after 6 a.m.

There was a white pickup truck ahead of me and a school bus to my left when I saw a police car merge right and fall in behind me.

I was essentially boxed in with my exit to the office looming ahead, so I signaled and headed down the driveway. Of course, the cop followed, threw on his red and blue lights and approached on foot.

I met him before he got too far and asked what the problem was.

“Jest wonderin’ why ya’ll was drivin’ so slow,” he said. “Ya’ll was goin’ 25 and the limit’s 45. S’plain that to me. Ya’ll impaired?”

I wanted to say that it was drizzling and foggy, that I was boxed in and had to make a fast right and that it was 6 in the damn morning.

Instead, I simply shook my head, my hair still wet from the shower.

“Just do your worst,” I said, believing that he’d do exactly that.

Mike Dewey can be reached at Carolinamiked@aol.com or at 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where Barney Fife always rides shotgun

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