San Francisco, California – Close Encounters: The bicycle officer

San Francisco is one of the United States’ oldest cities. It was founded in 1776 as Spanish mission. In 1906 80 % of all buildings fell victim to a conflagration that followed a severe earthquake. The city wasn’t abandoned, and counts 780,000 inhabitants today, the bay area five millions. San Francisco differs decisively from other American cities. Its location in a bay, its climate not following the seasons, its grown town centre, one of USA’s biggest China Towns, the dreaded prison island Alcatraz, and pier 39 with all its restaurants, souvenir shops and seals dozing on the pontoon bridges create a very special flair.

We’ve been to Frisco before, so we tackle it easily. First, we are heading to THE landmark: the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a nice view from the parking lot at the south side. Then we hop over to the south where is another view point where there is a good prospect to Alcatraz and the city. A good third spot is on top of Conzelman Road. But there stands a bicycle police officer between us and the fun of taking photos. She cycles towards us, she rides around, plants herself in front of us, studies the number plate, and signals to open the driver’s door. No hello, no self-introduction, her opening words are: “You can’t drive around with this number plate in California.” “No? Why that?” Because we needed a Californian licence plate when driving through California, she informs us. “Since when? We’ve never heard of that.” Since ever, she explains, and then a ridiculous, senseless and incomprehensible discussion starts. Our passports and visa don’t mean too much to her. She rather wants to know if we have a bed in the cabin and can cook there. (Is that of her business? It’s not a friendly question; it’s more that she accuses us of living in the camper.) Where did we enter the United States and didn’t the immigration inform us about our obligation to carry American number plates? And didn’t they search us thoroughly? “No, the border officers were very friendly and let us pass.” That is completely irresponsible, she curses, in SUCH a vehicle you could smuggle tons of weapons, drugs, or even people!!! Without being disrespectful, did she watch too many bad movies? If we were never stopped and controlled by a police officer, she wants to know. No, and if it were only questions of personal interest, no official control. Her world view begins to sway.

Joerg’s aggression level slowly rises. His answers are getting a bit ill-tempered. It’s worse with me. I desperately try to keep my composure. I really don’t want to make the officer know what I think about her evident neurosis and her leak of specialized knowledge. It’s better not to say anything. Not easy though. Breath deeply, count to ten, doesn’t help. Go on, 20, 30,… Once more she starts this dumb Californian number plate story. Joerg has got a read face, trying to keep calmness, but the seismograph now clearly indicates an impending eruption. Then even the officer seems to realize that. Joerg shall relax, sais she, we are only chatting. Chatting?!? I probably had a wrong idea of this activity.

She makes concessions and tries to feign interest for our vehicle and the trip. Until she obviously finds the rewind button at her implanted cassette recorder, presses replay, and the same old story of the Californian number plates starts again. I interfere: “But we didn’t import the vehicle.” “Nooooo?”, she asks. „And if we don’t import it and don’t keep it longer than 12 months in the country we don’t need American number plates.“ But we entered the country on the overland route, and that’s completely different from shipping a vehicle, she still doubts. “No”, I state definitely, “that doesn’t matter. If we don’t import, we don’t get number plates. And if we don’t have a United States’ residency, we can’t even import”, I claim. She doesn’t seem to be convinced, but basically pensive. Perhaps she ways up if it would be better not to create another enemy on the other side of the driver’s cabin. Her survival instinct wins. Who knows which weapons are stored in THIS vehicle? (I’m willing to draw them.) She half-heartedly wishes us a good trip and pedals. What a pity, I actually planned to ask her for her name, grade, department, and superior.

A sign at Conzelman Road states: No RVs and buses. The bicycle officer can’t be far, so we skip this. Plus we are having another problem. Our engine seems to lose oil. That’s absolutely not good since our oil pressure transmitter gave up two days ago. Besides, there is the risk of a drop of oil on San Francisco’s ecologically-pure pavement. And in case the two-wheeled law enforcement gets to know this… Death penalty is still practised in California. Let’s go.

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