Traffic funnels into the border patrol station off Highway 70, the good guys are waved on to drive into Alamogordo and scattered locales, the suspicious detained.
One recent Wednesday, just as we were affirming, yes, we are American citizens, the alarm device in the border patrolman's hands started flashing like a slot machine gone berserk. We were invited to pull over and chat.
I darted a furious look at Roberta. Her lightning-quick knitting needles produce baby blankets (don't ask) at a prodigious rate. They might as well spell T E R R O R I S T in the air. She wields these things as deftly as a skilled butcher dissects a side of beef. You don't want to mess with Roberta when she is brandishing those weapons. It was just a matter of time before they got us in trouble.
"Have you maybe just come from a medical facility?" the guard guy asked. Whoops. That's right. The folks at Cardiologist Boulware's office had warned me the radioactive gunk introduced to my body had the potential to shut down El Paso International. If my pacemaker short circuited I could take out Cleveland. There was talk of entering me into the All American Futurity.
For the technical minded, I was full of Tc99m Tetrofosmin. You inject Tc99m into the patient's bloodstream and then watch it circulate through the veins.
Think of giving a kid a glass of fluorescent lime juice and watch him suck it through a transparent, roller coaster Sippy straw. The precise medical explanation is even more complex than that.
"Say, I have a letter here from the doctor's office I am supposed to give you fellows, so here it is and I'll just be on my way."
"Step out of the car, sir."
The radioactivity coursing through my body was giving me that super he-man feeling.
"Don't fret, if this goes bad I can handle these guys," I whispered to my mate. Putting on what I hoped was an irresistible cutesy-coy George Clooney face, I said, "By the way, this stuff is making me feel just a little bit feisty, if you get my drift."
The dreaded eye roll. "OK, gramps, don't hurt yourself going into that stupid fake karate crouch of yours," she said. "You threw out your back last week walking a 12-ounce bag of garbage to the trash bin."
"Stand over there by that bench," the border patrolman instructed. George Clooney had vacated the scene, leaving a sheepish Woody Allen standing there with a sappy grin on his face. A steady stream of cars and pickups flowed effortlessly through the line, eyes riveted on me. They no doubt thought I was dealing dope in senior citizen centers from Portales to Farmington.
Border patrolmen are courteous folks but are paid to be suspicious. I finally figured out they needed to check the car for explosives, medical letter or not. It was conceivable I was both a heart patient and a terrorist.
Before sending us on our way, the two officers engaged in muted conversation. I will always think they were worried about the knitting needles.
Roberta mentioned the helicopter first. "Oh, wonderful," she said as we passed White Sands National Park, "now you've got them following us."
I had been silently aware of the chopper and figured it to be routine business of Holloman Air Force base. But then the whirly bird veered off and an Otero County squad car picked up the tail. And that Penske truck rental guy, peering down on us and reporting to someone on his cell. What was all that about?
As we came to a stop at the top of the driveway I suddenly remembered she had been fond of Paul Newman. I attempted what seemed a perfect imitation of a sultry Cool Hand Luke. "Remind you of someone?" I leered.
Have a nice day.
Ned Cantwell sometimes glows in the dark. He welcomes feedback at: