The day I drove into Memphis, there was a race car on a trailer with the name Memphis 501 Blues. Very cool. While Memphis is the home of Blues music, a city south of Memphis was where I experienced more than my share of blues.
I was working a good job at a manufacturing plant, in Southaven Mississippi. It would have been a better job if it was located in Memphis, because the state of Tennessee had no income tax. Just driving across the border into Mississippi for work every day cost me an extra 6% of my gross income.
As a youngster, I wanted to be a policeman, but as a 30-something professional, I wanted nothing of the sort. Close and personal encounters with uniformed policemen would diminish the admiration I once held for them. They usually had something negative to say to me, which often involved a traffic fine.
I became wary of Southaven uniforms when I was stuck in a New-York-City style traffic jam on Goodman Road early in the morning on my way to work. I didn’t usually take Goodman Road to work, but I had driven it enough to believe that such a traffic jam would never happen there so early in the morning.
Exceptions do happen. Was it a bad accident? Was there something spilled on the road? Had a tree fallen onto the road? None of that. Several police officers were standing at a forest-surrounded intersection, stopping everybody. I hope they were looking for an escaped felon, or a drug smuggler, or something important. They didn’t look like they were doing anything more than making people late for work – and more than a few minutes late, in my case. They weren’t even talking to every motorist. When I asked an officer, “What’s the holdup?” he ignored me.
I saw another officer strolling along the side of the road, with a cigarette flapping in his mouth as he suggested that a certain car should be pulled over for having too much stuff packed in the back.
There was a time when I walked to work, after I destroyed my pickup truck. There were no sidewalks or even bike lanes in Southaven in those days. I crossed Stateline Road at a convenient area where I had no problems before. I had seen a few other people also cross there at the same time. It was near the old Golden Corral building, far from the nearest traffic signal.
That day, the motorists all seemed to be in a hurry. I stood alone in the middle of the road, in the turn lane, waiting for a break in east-bound traffic. It seemed when people saw me there, they would accelerate to avoid having to wait for me to cross. Nobody slowed down for me. Maybe some of them even got a thrill from keeping me standing in the middle of the road. I was there long enough to get the attention of a police officer.
He was standing on the south side of the road, near Burger King, waiting for me to cross over. I was rather surprised when he said that the reason he stopped me was because I was jaywalking. He asked for identification, so I showed him my employee badge. It was the most convenient thing at the time. He wasn’t happy with that. He wanted a government issued identification, like a driver license.
When I hesitated, or perhaps protested – from his point of view – because I wasn’t driving anything, and didn’t see the need to show my driver license, he said, “I don’t need no attitude.” He was just having a friendly conversation, he said. Not trying to be mean.
This man actually was one of the most friendly police officers I have encountered, but friendliness notwithstanding, I was being detained. I pulled out my driver license and handed it to him. This made him happy.
He quizzed me about why didn’t I cross at the intersection with the traffic signal, and what I was carrying in my satchel. When I told him I was kind of anxious to get to work, he offered to take me to work, in his patrol car. He said he didn’t want to search my bag, and he wouldn’t search me if he could put the satchel in the trunk of his patrol car. I had nothing to hide, except my pride. So I agreed.
The officer tried to chit-chat a little more with me as he drove me to my work. I asked him to let me off by the guard shack. Just after I got out and retrieved my satchel, my boss came driving up, and offered me a lift. It was still quite a distance from the guard shack to the main entrance of the plant. It was an awkward moment, and I felt like I should say something. I stated the obvious: I got a ride with the Southaven police. Thankfully, my boss didn’t quiz me about it.
I once complained to my plant manager about potholes in the parking lot, which needed to be filled. They were hazardous, in my estimation, because you couldn’t see them after a heavy rain. That parking lot, through which at least 30 plant employees had to drive, would be covered with standing water. He said he would get to it when he had time. This man drove a Ford Expedition, by the way.
The very next day I drove my little car through that pond-covered parking lot, and hit a rather deep hole. It ripped a hole in the sidewall of my new tire. It wasn’t one of the old tires; it was the new tire that I had purchased the day before. And now it was ruined beyond repair. I complained to the plant manager about that, and got no satisfaction. The company would not reimburse me.
I mentioned this to a co-worker, who suggested I shouldn’t have been driving so fast. How fast can you drive through a pond? The speed wasn’t really the issue. I was looking for some sympathy, and instead got a pithy response. Like rubbing salt in my wound.
I was getting tired of working in Southaven, not because of the drive from Memphis, or the extra taxes, but rather because some of the people I associated with saw things very differently than I did. Especially the women.
There were many hispanic people working at the same plant where I worked. One of them was a cute girl who I had visited with on my breaks, over several weeks. The main problem betweeen us was communication. I did not know much Spanish and she did not know much English.
One day, while I was waiting for her in the breakroom, the plant manager happened to come in and gave me a boxed lunch. I had already eaten, wasn’t hungry, didn’t want a boxed lunch; he gave it to me anyway. Save it for later, he suggested. I decided to try using the lunch as an excuse to go find my hispanic friend, in one of the plant production areas. I also wanted to get a picture of her, so I borrowed a company camera, and carried it with me.
I found her working alone, where she normally worked. After presenting the boxed lunch, I asked her if I could take her picture. She refused. Not even one picture? Please? No, no and no. It was like I was trying to steal her soul. So I left with no pictures, and started working at my desk.
Meanwhile, the girl told her supervisor and co-workers about the incident. That supervisor complained to a production manager. The production manager complained to my supervisor. My supervisor called me into his office, and asked, “James, were you in the plant taking pictures?”
One unfortunate morning in 1999 , I left my apartment, located in midtown Memphis, to discover that a thief had broken out a passenger side window in my Honda CRX, and used my own tools (which I kept in the car) to remove my radio/cd player from the dash. This had happened without alerting anyone in the neighborhood.
That radio had a removable front control panel, which I should have taken out when I parked the car the prior evening. But I had been too tired to remember then.
The thief was probably a junkie, looking for a way to fund his next fix. The console was somewhat damaged from the operation. There was shattered glass strewn all over the inside of the car. The thief had used a cushion from a neighbor’s lawn chair to sit on, to protect his greedy tush from getting cut on the glass while removing my radio.
The thief had thrown out all my personal things onto the ground and sidewalk, looking for valuables I suppose. My accumulation of mail (ads, personal letters and bills) which I had intended to review during my lunch break, was also scattered on the sidewalk, and damp from the morning dew.
Of course I felt violated. I was angry about the radio, and the broken glass. I didn’t have time to make much sense of this, because I was due at work shortly. I gathered up my things from the ground, stuffed them into plastic shopping bags, brushed the glass off my seat, and drove to work.
After work, I drove to Jitney Premier, a grocery store on Stateline Road. It was near the old Walmart building. Not many cars were in that lot, and I chose a parking spot near a floodlight, where I could read better . The sun was going down. I didn’t want to go shopping; I just wanted to be alone, get my thoughts together, sort out my mail.
A fabric store employee was locking up her store for the night. She got into her car, and I heard the engine cranking but it wouldn’t start. I hardly paid any attention, because I was busy with my mail. Shortly a police patrol car drove up to her and some officer tried to get the woman’s car started. I thought, “That’s nice, a policeman actually helping someone.”
The officer approached me and asked me for identification. Sure. I rolled my window down, and handed him my driver license, which he took back to his patrol car. Another patrol car arrived.
The officer returned with my license, and asked what I was doing sitting there, without buying anything. I was starting to get agitated; he probably sensed it in my tone, when I said I was looking through my things, minding my own business. “Is that your garbage?” He assumed that my mail and papers were garbage, because they were in plastic bags. Yes, was my reply.
The officer told me to step out of the car. For some reason, I felt like I should take my key out of the ignition switch, and hold onto it. A different officer approached, and asked essentially the same questions as the previous. I wanted to know what the fuss was all about, and this officer claimed that they (the police) had a couple complaints about me being on the property. They did not use the term loitering but that was the implication. He wanted to know “my story”. Why was I there looking through my things without buying anything?
I wanted to retort that my story was none of their business, but I chose a response that was less inflammatory. “As a matter of fact”, I replied, “I am a customer of Jitney Premier, if that’s one you’re referring to … although I haven’t been in there tonight. Did another store complain about me?”
He replied that there was a complaint from the fabric store. Then I started to understand. That woman was afraid that a boogeyman (me) parked on the same lot as her troubled car, might try to rob her or kidnap her or rape her, or who knows what I might do to her. She called the police to protect her.
There were now several officers standing around watching me. They evidently didn’t like me sitting in my own car, looking through my own things, minding my own business, because the officer said, “Mr. Beall, I’m going to search you for weapons. Put your hands on the car.”
I turned my back on the officer, and slipped my key into my pants pocket. That made the officer freak. “What the hell are you thinking?!” He grabbed my arm, pulled it back, and kicked my ankles, shouting “Spread ’em!”
He searched everything I was wearing, from my jacket to my pants. Finding nothing but my keys, he yelled at me for reaching into my pocket. One of the other officers concluded, “Well Mr. Beall, if you don’t have any business here, you better hit the road.”
I got into my car, and drove home, with a sour attitude toward police, and a more sour attitude toward the fabric store woman. I wrote a letter expressing my displeasure, and personally delivered it to the manager of the fabric store. In part:
“I am a not a customer of your store. After the treatment I received from the Southaven Police on the tenth of March 1999, at the request of YOU or one of your employees, I never will be.”
I delivered a similar letter to a manager at Jitney Premier. That poor guy didn’t know anything about what happened to me, and even though he had nothing to do with it, he apologized in advance for what someone in his store might have said or done to cause it. It seems likely that nobody at Jitney Premier ever complained about me to the police.