Washoe Lake State Park
Life as an earthnomad

Do I need to run your plates?

I’m working at a coffee shop when I get a text message from Antoine. Something weird is going on and he wants me to know. At some point this afternoon someone is standing by the trailer. Antoine steps outside to see what is going on. A clean cut looking man is petting the dog and looking over Antoine’s shoulder, into the trailer. The man says that he heard a dog barking and a child screaming, and he waves some sort of badge. At this point our toddler -who is currently potty training- has decided to get completely undressed and step outside.

Antoine is concerned with keeping our little one warm and getting her back inside, and the man leaves. About fifteen minutes later he comes back. He waves the badge again that he has around his neck, claims that he is from the sherif’s department and asks Antoine if he needs to run his plates. Antoine asks why the man should run his plates. “You know” the stranger answers. Now the 8-year-old steps outside. The man asks her name. Shy as she is, she doesn’t immediately answer. Antoine, thinking he is talking to an officer, tells her it’s okay to answer. While this is going on, a ranger drives by. The man leaves again, and Antoine decides to follow his gut and take this  situation a little further and talk to the ranger.

The ranger, a young mother, heads to our nosy neighbor to find out what is going on. She is outside his little tent but he does not seem to be there. The ranger walks away, just out of sight and is briefly on the phone. When she walks back to the tent, the man is sitting in his truck.

handcuffsShe confronts him, and it turns out he was there all along, avoiding her. Questioning him about his so-called concerns, she points out to him how dogs bark and normal toddlers scream. He points out how he saw a naked young lady coming out of the trailer. “That naked young lady is a toddler!” the ranger exclaims. “And toddlers do not always want to stay dressed, and it isn’t worth fighting them over this.”

Thank goodness there is this officer with great common sense. She is not at all distressed about our naked toddler. She is, however, bringing up a much more serious allegation. Did he give us the impression that he was any kind of law enforcement officer? Did he wave a badge? Did he tell us he could run our plates?

The man realizes he is in trouble and starts apologizing profusely. Apparently he was at some point in the past connected to the search and rescue department of the local sherif’s office in a volunteer position, hence the laminated badge. The ranger points out how he should have waved her down when she was driving by, if he had a concern. The man has gone way out of line.

When I get this phone call, my first reaction to Antoine is of course, if he has asked to see the man’s badge. I also find it extremely weird that someone would threaten to run plates. Seriously, if an officer, on duty or not, feels like they need to check something they do that without first threatening you with it. I am glad that an actual law enforcement officer is now involved.

After I get home the ranger drops by to discuss with us if we need to take this further. After all, the man is camping next to us, and it looks like he’s downing a good amount of vodka. We discuss the whole situation and decide to leave it at this, the man does not seem to be a threat and it is obvious that he knows that he screwed up. The next morning, his tent and truck are gone.

The reason that I elaborate about this incident is two-fold. Firstly, this is the prefect example to show our kids how not everyone who claims to be in a position of authority, is actually what he claims to be. Generally, we talk to our kids about police officers or fire fighters as being safe people. But how do you really know? I can hardly teach my 5-year-old how to recognize what a real badge looks like.

Secondly, when you are fulltime traveling with children, people have questions. Most of the time they are genuine questions about their schooling, and we have personally not encountered anything out of the ordinary until now. But we have also heard the weirdest stories about people calling child protective services on traveling families. And that concerns me. Because do you always run into an officer who herself is in the midst of little kids? Are we at risk of being unfairly judged because of our current traveling lifestyle? I have always strongly believed that if you do nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. But I guess you are still at the mercy of whose eyes and ears decide to have an opinion of you.

In this case, everything turned out just fine. According to the ranger, the man was older, had no kids of his own and was probably just annoyed by the noise. And let’s be honest. Our kids are cute, but man can they be loud! 

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