Here’s a story about a time I spent a few hours in a holding cell

Holding Cell

Two things before we get this going:

1. I realize that when I write a story like this and attach it to my personal blog, someone could find it and read it and it could doom me in certain future opportunities. I know that’s a possibility, sure, but I also like telling stories — and some of the ones about myself are funny, so why not share? If someone can’t understand that this is meant to be a reflection on failure and a way to move forward, I probably wouldn’t want that opportunity anyway. Talking about failure is freeing, IMHO. It’s cheaper than therapy for me to write these things down.

2. I’ve never actually been arrested, and this story isn’t on any record of any kind anywhere in the great wide world. In fact, I didn’t even do much wrong. Read on. 

This takes place in June 2001; I actually turned 21 in November 2001. Remember that in a few seconds.

In June 2001, I was living in DC (where I went to college) with some of my good friends. Most of the people from that summer are actually still my good friends; my entire refrigerator now, 14 years later, is basically pictures of their children from Christmas cards.

I had a party vibe going in summer 2001, as I was 20 and living in a cool city and all that. I still have a vague party vibe going, but now when I try to do shit like I did that summer, I usually just make an ass out of myself and get in a fight with my wife. (I have a lot to work on.)

Alright, so … on the night in question, DMB was playing in the DC area. Most of my friends were going to that. (Don’t judge them for that; in 2001 DMB was a really tangible thing.) The plan was pretty basic: they’d go, and me and my friend Squid (real name Nick) would coordinate a party at my apartment. It would get going, we’d be in the swing of things, they’d come back from the concert and join the party. Standard plan, generally speaking, for when you’re 20/21.

I could write 19 entire posts about Squid and the things we did that summer (and other years), but for now just know this: one of my good friends, funny kid, isn’t afraid of trouble. Also probably one of the most insanely loyal people I’ve literally ever met in my life.

Around 6pm on this evening in question, after my other friends had left for the concert, me and Squid go up Wisconsin Avenue to this liquor store called Wagner’s. This place appears to still exist, and while I have no idea what it’s like right now, in mid-June 2001 it was definitely a place you went if you were underage, had a solid-to-slightly-less-than-solid fake ID, and could pass for somewhere between 17 and 21. In short, it was the easiest place to buy beer and liquor (esp. kegs) with a fake ID. Everyone has these places.

We get up there, and we go in to buy a keg. I had done this maybe five times already in my life, including probably two weekends prior to this, and I had never once been carded. In June 2001, I was probably 6-5, 280, so that only seems about logical.

These moments always reminded me a little bit of this:

Alright, so I go up to the counter to order, and I do the order and all that, and my man behind the counter — who I’ve dealt with for months at this point — cards me. Right that moment I should have known something was amiss, but I blew through it, undaunted. I had a nice-ass Tennessee fake that I bought in NYC the summer before. My cousins all had Tennessee driver’s licenses of the real variety, and it seemed to pass muster. I was a solid 19-for-19 at using it since its initial acquisition (that’s 19-for-19 on large purchases mind you; I was 44-for-44 on all purchases in the past year, including bar entrances).

Squid and I get the keg and roll it out. I honestly think our plan at this moment was to get a cab or something. I really have no idea.

As we’re rolling it out, a guy scoots up to me and says, “Hey, can I see some ID for that keg?” He then flashes a badge.

At this point, basically everything went to shit, because I’m not from Tennessee, I’m not a licensed driver there, and as I said, I was 20 at this moment — despite the fact that I would be 21 in about five months. The first thing that went through my head was Jesus, I should have waited just five more months. The next thing was Another liquor store would have been better. The final thing, all in about the span of three seconds, was Fuck, how do I handle this?

Showed the cop my ID, he ran it, it was fake. (No surprises so far.) He instructed me to sit on the curb with these two other kids who had just been popped. (I think “popped” is the right slang here.) They looked maybe 16-17. Skater kids, too.

There was a period of about 8-10 minutes of logistics where cops talked, walkie-talkies buzzed, lights flickered, and a small crowd grew on the street with these three people (under-21s) sitting there. Squid stood by. The keg had been returned to the store, but like I said, my man is loyal.

Finally the cop comes over and tells the three of us he’s taking us to jail.

Here’s where maybe it got a little weird.

I come from a good area and had a relatively privileged middle class upbringing. People like me aren’t supposed to go to jail, even for stupid things like trying to buy a keg at 20 and 7 months old. I didn’t want to have this conversation with my parents, or other friends, or even with myself. I was a fucking kick-ass debater in high school, so I felt like reasoning with this cop would be a good strategy.

I had recently seen the movie Traffic; if you’ve never seen it, it’s basically an Oscar-winning movie about the differing levels of the drug trade and how it affects people and institutions.

Having seen this movie, and being generally intrigued by the drug trade as is, I had an idea to float to this cop.

Here goes.

You had three people sitting on this curb, all under-aged. The liquor store had carded them, yes, but ultimately also sold them liquor. 16 to 20 year-olds will always chase the dream of drinking if that’s what’s cool in their friend group. You can’t change the demand side of things, right … but maybe you can change the supply.

So I basically told the cop, “This isn’t right. Instead of busting us, you need to bust the store.”

At first he ignored me, so I said it again, this time a little louder.

“Logically, from an economics standpoint, you should bust the store.”

(Freshman year of college, I got a C-Minus in Microeconomics.)

“Bust the store, not the demand-side. You can’t change the demand side!”

Eventually he came over to me and told me to shut up. Within about three minutes, me and the two others were put in a paddy wagon.

As this happened, for some reason — that I still don’t understand — the cops asked the three of us to take off our shoelaces, belt, etc. (The stated reason was that it might be a threat to us in jail.) I take this stuff off, and, of course, my pants half fall down past my ass. Now there’s a crowd of people rubbernecking our situation, plus traffic driving by, and my ass is half-exposed to a solid crowd of 50 + those in cars. Laughter ensues.

Squid takes my shoelaces and belt; I believe he said something akin to “I’ll wait for you, brother” or “I’m here for you, brother.” At the time, it was funny, but seemed melodramatic. Also, I was terrified because I had no idea what was next.

We drive around in the paddy wagon for probably 40 minutes; fulfilling every cop cliche ever, they stopped for donuts and coffee not once but twice.

Finally we get to this holding cell area and we’re tossed in there. There’s probably about 9-12 people in there; I staked out a corner and chilled there. For 40 minutes, no one talked to me. Then this dude with bloodshot eyes came over. He basically told me he was in there because he got caught speeding, but had “a suitcase of cocaine” in his trunk.

That seemed like a lot of cocaine, so I asked him if he was worried about the repercussions. He explained that he wasn’t, really — he didn’t love the American way of life that much anyway. He was from Brazil, and there (according to him) you could “drive 100 MPH down a mountain while a model does lines off your dick.” I nodded, never having experienced that per se, and basically got him to move away.

They let the skater boys go at this point, so I started freaking out. I asked to speak to someone and, another 40 minutes later, someone came by. Apparently I was still there because I had two unpaid parking tickets from New York State, and they were trying to resolve that. This was a Saturday night and I asked how long it might take. “Potentially until Monday,” came the reply. At this point I basically shat myself. (Not literally, but eh. Might as well have.)

1-2 hours pass — probably about 9pm at this point — and an officer comes in, takes five of us, handcuffs us together, and tells us we’re going to Central Booking. The whole idea of the term “Central Booking” sounded like something out of a thug movie, so I was quite literally terrified. We get in another paddy wagon, drive for 20 minutes — one donuts/coffee stop this time — and arrive there.

Remember above when I said my friends were at a DMB show that night? That video’s not from that show, but it’s from the same summer. (Video above is from Boulder, not northern Virginia.) Point is, you ever been to a DMB show? You know what happens there, typically?

We get to Central Booking and instead of the thugs and gangsters and hardened criminals I’m expecting and dreading, it’s literally all 16 year-olds stoned out of their minds and terrified because their parents are coming to pick them up. Apparently they had picked up 80-100 people at this concert for weed.

They actually put me in a cell with one such kid; I shit you not when I say he was crying for most of the hour we spent together. I also shit you not and admit I’m a terrible person for telling you that made me feel somewhat better.

1-2 hours passed — that kid was released into the stern glare of his dad — and finally, around 3-4am at this point, someone came by and just let me out. That was it. No fanfare, no paperwork, no anything. Let me out of the cell and pushed me into the night of downtown DC. I walked around for 3-4 minutes, saw some potentially shady characters, and got over to Chinatown area and found a cab. I took it back to my apartment for the summer.

I walk in, and Squid’s asleep on the couch. No one else is around. There are beers and some solo cups; a social event had been had that night. I look and see a banner over by the kitchen table. It says something like “Free Ted” or “Get Teddy Out.” I laughed and went to bed.

I got woken up at 9am because one of my friends’ ex-roommates came by to see if anyone wanted to go jogging. When I told him “I had a rough night,” he goes, “Oh, me too brah.” I added, “I was in a holding cell for a while,” and he goes, “Oh, fuck. Shit.” He scurried out of the room.

I think I slept until about 3pm that day (Sunday Funday!) and then began telling the story to various friends and interested parties. Most of the time, it was received with laughter. Sometimes, I got some wicked side-eye.

I had this girl I was into around June 2001 — she’s married now, 2 or 3 kids or some shit — and I remember having a bunch of missed calls from her when I got my cell phone back; 2-3 weeks later, I started dating this other girl who I dated for probably six months. By that time, the ship had decisively sailed on Girl 1. I used to think that if I had been around that night and not missed those calls (I guess her and her friends were out in DC), maybe that summer all shakes out differently. Ah, well. Sliding doors.

TL:DR Once because of attempting to buy a keg underage and some unpaid parking tickets, I spent a couple of hours in a holding cell with cocaine users and stoned teenagers. Fun times.

Ted Bauer