My 8-year-old golden retriever took me down to Belle Isle for an afternoon hike on a recent Sunday. The solitude was relaxing, and I settled into a steady walking rhythm, to the Band of Gypsies song “Who Knows,” which was stuck in my head from several repeats during the drive. I paused in the middle of the pedestrian bridge to tighten up my boot laces. “Shoulda worn long pants,” I thought as the chilly breeze carried two Canada geese.
The sweet childhood-summer honeysuckle fragrance, with a hint of red blackberries aching for more sunshine, greeted me on the other side. I turned right and headed up to the big rocks. The ambient swoosh of the swollen river washed out all distractions. I paused to watch two blue heron fish for a late lunch, their scrawny legs somehow defying the raging brown runoff that started some 300 miles west. Gravel crunched behind me, and I turned to see the mountain bikers. But lo and behold, there were no mountain bikers at all.
Something about a shiny, bright white Richmond police squad car moving slowly alongside the Hollywood Rapids just didn't fit the picture. I grabbed Lilly's neon-orange collar and awkwardly stumbled onto the riprap so the car could squeeze by.
It stopped instead, and two policemen climbed out. The driver seemed to be in charge, and told me I needed a leash. I told them I didn't have one. Truth be told, I had one back in my truck, but I left it because I have never once used a leash on Belle Isle or along the North Bank or Buttermilk trails.
My disbelief began in earnest when the driver asked for my license. He sat back down inside the squad car to call in. Meanwhile, the other officer stood outside the passenger door with his arms across his chest, watching me through dark glasses, as if the name Cool Hand Luke were written on the back of my gray sweat shirt.
After some idle time of just standing there, I nodded toward the rear of the squad car: “Think you could tell the driver about the people waiting to get by?”
He turned to the Segwayers, then back to me. “Not much we can do — car's already parked,” he told me.
If the driver would have pulled up about 10 feet or so, there would have been plenty of room for the two-wheel Segways to keep on rolling alongside the river. I wouldn't have mentioned the idea otherwise. I wanted to say something. But I've learned — the hard way — to keep my mouth shut around policemen. I spent a night in the Charleston, S.C., pokey next to a flatulent crack-head because I shared my thoughts on the inanity of the “no golf cart driving at night” law in a state where one can drive a motorcycle at 70 mph without a helmet. So I kept my mouth shut and just looked out at the river while the policeman looked at me.
Two kayakers came into view, slipped down Hollywood Rapids, and grew smaller, then disappeared in the distance. The two blue herons stayed put. Some time later, two more kayakers came into view, slowed down, slid between the big rocks, then made their way downstream. The high water made their runs appear relaxed and calm, but I'm sure they were quite aware that at any instant they could roll over and hit a rock face-first or their kayaks could get shoved under a log.
The Segwayers quietly rolled in circles in jerky to-and-fro movements, making me think of the “Chimpanzee on a Segway” YouTube video. After at least five minutes, and it seemed more like 15, the driver stepped out and put his metal clipboard on the hood and told me to sign a summons to appear in Richmond General District Court on June 15.
I kept my mouth shut and signed. He showed me the number to call “if you want to prepay.” I just had to know, so I asked. Twenty-five dollars. Their business being done, the two officers hopped back in the shiny white squad car and drove upstream.
Two Segway riders rolled alongside and asked me what was up. I held up my yellow summons to appear in court. “Failure to restrain dog in city park!” I read aloud. They could not believe it either. Nothing else needed saying, so we silently continued upstream on the gravel path. Lo and behold, the squad car was pulled over again: this time with plenty of room to get by.
We made the clearing and then saw the two officers down on a small dock in the abandoned rock quarry, talking to two guys who thought it would be fun to kill some time dropping a hook on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I had to say something. “Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?” I hollered down. One of the Segwayers said something funny about the police being really busy on a Sunday afternoon. Then they turned around and rolled away.
I wondered if they were tourists returning to the Segway rental in Shockoe Slip. I wondered if they knew about the armed robbery last week at the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Shockoe Bottom. I wondered if they had ever seen the circular holes in the big rocks, carved out by smaller rocks, water, gravity and time. S
Richmond resident Terrell Bowers organized the 2008 Tunes for Trails concert, which benefited the James River Park system.
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