After three 100+ mile riding days, I was relieved to see only 72 miles on the schedule for today. That said, no matter how long the stretch ahead, it is never easy to roll out of the hotel into the rain and wind. Alas, a two-wheeled scoot was my only option, so I clicked in and pointed East.
As before, there really isn't much to say about the Oklahoman landscape. It is flat, barren, and primarily devoid of people. It can actually be spooky out there when you don't encounter any humans for a while.
In any event, I was looking forward to being done with the day. I was cold, still sore from the last few days, and just ready to be off the bike. I mean, you know a man is getting desperate when he starts fantasizing about the awaiting Holiday Inn Express.
Four miles from said lodging, one of my riding buddies got a flat and stopped to fix it. I soft-pedaled ahead a bit to keep my legs limber, and soon found myself next to a Conoco Phillips refinery and pipeline. The facility was an impressive tangle of piping and iron framing. Say what you will about the petroleum industry, this was truly a marvel of mechanical engineering.
As I've done the entire length of this trip, I whipped out my iPhone to grab a few snaps of the plant whose discharging spires appeared to be Oklahoma's best attempt at a forest. I stopped my bike on the highway shoulder, framed a couple of pics triggering the shutter with my numb fingers, and headed back down the road.
About the time my mates caught up to me to cycle the rest of the way in, a rent-a-cop presumably from the oil company pulled his pickup truck right in front of my moving bike ordering me to stop and come with him as the "pictures [I] took are illegal."
Well, I didn't even know where to start in terms of responding. But, you can take it as bible that I will never, ever stop for a private security guard when I am riding on a public street. Pedaling away gave me a chance to temper the vitriol I felt for the Patriot Act heroism in which this fascist attempted to wrap himself.
Of course, he followed me down the street, giving me a chance to take a picture of his truck. (I thought that was too funny an opportunity to pass up.) As he soon gave up and pulled away, I turned to my buddy and remarked that he undoubtedly relinquished pursuit because there was now an APB out on me. We chuckled and kept riding. Sure enough, within two minutes, a passing cruiser from the opposing traffic spun around, blared an unmistakable police horn, and ordered me to pull over. It was Ponca City, Oklahoma's finest.
So, picture this: I am decked out in my LIVESTRONG kit sweaty from 70+ miles ridden today, and now standing in a strip mall parking lot, a police cruiser parked diagonally across the entrance/exit, doors ajar, and two officers approaching me ordering me to come to them.
This next detail is just too good. The younger officer, as he approached me, hiked up his belt while simultaneously spitting his chaw at my feet. He was right out of central casting. If I wasn't so scared shitless that I was on my way to Guantanamo, I would have laughed my ass off at how faithfully he portrayedthe role of redneck cop. Next to him was another officer in plain clothes, but clearly sporting his badge evidencing he was indeed the chief. Holy cow. They brought the chief.
They asked who I was, where I was from, and what I was doing taking pictures of the refinery. I explained that I am riding across the country and taking pictures of everything I see for the benefit of you all. They let me know that they are on high alert when it comes to the security of the oil facilities and I had been profiled as a potential threat. The situation was tense and a bit of a standoff ensued. I think they expected me to surrender my photos.
In an effort to ease all involved, I joked that I am, in fact, "guilty of having a beard" and that got them to break character for a moment. I explained that the pictures I took were snapped with an iPhone and posed no threat. They made clear to me that it was illegal to take any photographs at all of the Conoco Phillips installation. I countered that there were no signs posted and I was on a public highway shoulder. Of course, they responded that "homeland security rules" make it illegal to take pictures of such a place. (I am bummed I went to law school to learn a bunch of laws and now still have to go to rule school to get up to speed on all of these new rules.)
Throughout this trying interaction, I was worried they were going to ask me for my phone, and there was no way I was going to hand it over. I know to some of you that will sound almost childish. However, it is just so fundamental an issue to me that my property would not be subject to search or confiscation. I can say with unwavering certainty that I would have taken a ride downtown before giving up my pictures no matter how crappy their quality.
Luckily, it didn't come down to that. While the cops were weighing their options, I jumped in, "Hey guys, I have a question for you. Where should I eat tonight? Who's got the best local grub?" Suddenly all of their energy was invested in explaining the various options for both kinds of food: grilled meat or smoked meat and they soon forgot about why I had been pulled over in the first place.
All told, these were not bad guys. Once they made their determination that I'm a harmless white guy merely passing through town, they were more than hospitable. But, the entire basis for their actions is frightening to me. We live in an era where a private security employee feels free to attempt to detain me on a public roadway and the Ponca City chief of police took time out to respond to a call intimating that I'm a domestic terrorist all because I took a touristy photo from the side of the road on my bike trip.
It's all too much. Goodnight.