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Editor's Note: Mr. Greinke is an ordinary citizen currently taking a few months' vacation to drive solo across the USA on a rather unordinary historical tour: a tour of the Cold War. His objective is to visit the many "Battlefields of World War III" that lie scattered across our great land. These "battlefields" include anything and everything related to the Cold War and the long-promised nuclear Armageddon that never happened.
Barney Greinke, Nuke Tourist: Part III
Only the Paranoid Survive
My Police Escort (cont'd)
I followed the ruler-straight road due west through the gradual ups and downs of the rolling Montana prairie. The paranoia was coming and going in waves. The adrenaline was constant. "Are they tailing me? Are they not tailing me?" I asked myself over and over, looking in the rear-view mirror for any indication of an answer. "I shouldn't have taken those goddamned pictures!"
I tried to focus on the road in front of me. If I suddenly came upon a roadblock or a helicopter, it would require some quick braking.
At 55 mph our three vehicles passed one of the evenly spaced, Homestead Act intersections every 65 seconds. I kept looking back, hoping the Air Force Broncos would turn off at one. They never did. It took about 10 more minutes for our informal little convoy to get to Conrad. The Air Force security vehicles kept their police lights off, and their distance, the entire way.
The two security vehicles didn't turn left. They went straight. Relief swept over me, paranoia evaporated, and I instantly felt a little foolish for thinking that anyone might care about someone snapping a picture or two of a silo. They must get that all the time, I figured.
Conrad, Land of Confusion
The left turn had put me on Conrad's main drag. I drove about a block and stopped for gas. The tank wasn't even half empty, but I needed to chill out for a minute and get my adrenaline level down.
"On your way up to Glacier?" she asked.
Still a little shaky from my chance encounter with Air Force security, I took the easy answer and said yes. I wasn't really going to Glacier National Park, but to the National Forest 50 miles southeast of there.
"'Lotta grizzlies in Glacier," she said.
"That's what I've heard," I replied.
I handed her my credit card and she ran it through the reader. For some reason the credit card machine was really slow just then. Or maybe it just felt slow because I still had some adrenaline coursing through my system. Whichever, I could feel the boyfriend's eyes on my back and I wondered if I somehow looked a little bit too nervous, like someone who was using a stolen credit card or was about to rob the place or something. My adrenalized mind decided that it was very important that I not look nervous, so I started asking dumb tourist questions to cover up.
"How far is it to Glacier?"
She told me. I pretended to listen.
"What's the quickest way there?"
She gave me the simple directions. Again I pretended to listen. My efforts to not appear nervous must have produced a look of general confusion, or perhaps general stupidity, because she then unfolded a big Montana map, took out her pen, and very slowly traced out the entire route for me. I thanked her, took my receipt and new map, and left.
I turned the Trooper around and went back up to the intersection where the security vehicles had gone straight. I needed to go that way too. I thought I did, anyway. The map I was using wasn't detailed enough to tell me I was wrong.
I drove past the two vehicles with my eyes fixed on the road, away from the drivers. I tried to look calm and disinterested while my brain went into overdrive analyzing this new "coincidental" encounter. Before I could reach any conclusions, however, I came to a T-intersection and realized that, on top of everything, I was going the wrong way.
With the Air Force security troops watching, I pulled over and yanked out my other map, the good map that I had bought this morning. This map showed that, in fact, I needed to go back past the gas station where I'd just been and exit Conrad through the south edge of town.
I turned the Trooper around again and drove by the Broncos once more. I tried smiling at the soldiers this time, but they didn't seem very friendly. I reached the corner and turned right, back towards the gas station. It was about 20 seconds later that I watched the first Bronco turn the same corner.
It may sound stupid now, but I was still not absolutely certain that I was being followed, or if maybe this wasn't just some huge coincidence. Sure, I had been out at a missile silo walking around and taking pictures; and, sure, these two vehicles had started following me minutes later; and, sure, they had stopped around the corner from where I'd gotten gas; and, sure, they were driving south out of town on the same road as me at the same time I was; but really, there was some teensy, tiny possibility that this was all coincidental. Right?
I decided to check. I zigged a couple of times, I zagged a couple of times, I picked up a small highway running southwest. The Air Force Broncos zigged a couple of times, zagged a couple of times, and picked up the same small highway running southwest. "This is not good," I told myself, finally convinced that I was being followed.
I thought about pulling over, to see what the Air Force security boys wanted, before this situation went any further. The paranoia inside immediately vetoed that idea:
"You're on a little highway in the middle of nowhere! You wanna fucking disappear?" said the little voice in my head.
I muzzled the paranoia for a minute and started running through all the possible scenarios. Maybe they're trying to intimidate me? Maybe they're just following me until I'm out of the missile fields? Maybe they're just a couple of guys out on security detail who're bored and have nothing better to do?
"Or maybe they're waiting for backup?" the little paranoid voice added. "Or for you to get somewhere where there's no witnesses?"
The little paranoid voice did have something of a point.
"OK. So what the hell do I do now?" I asked myself out loud.
I kept driving southwest on that little highway, further and further into the middle of nowhere. I'd have to keep driving until I came up with a plan. And in the meantime, maybe the boys in the blue Broncos would get tired of this little game and go home. Or maybe I'd exit their patrol area and they'd go home. Or or maybe something would happen and they'd go home.
At least I had a full tank of gas.
I kept driving and thinking, driving and thinking, trying to come up with a plan. "Is this how O.J. felt?" I wondered.
I pictured myself being broadcast live, like O.J., worldwide on CNN. Christiane Amanpour would be reporting from an orbiting helicopter; Wolf Blitzer would be at the Pentagon talking to Important People; and within minutes the CNN production staff would have a short theme song and a logo for the story: a picture of my face with the word "Pursuit!" above it and the words "Osama Bin Greinke" below, all in jagged, blood-red type.
It was about 10 miles later that I decided that my only reasonable course of action was to pull over and try to talk to these guys. But I wasn't gonna pull over in the middle of nowhere, the paranoia had seen to that. I was gonna pull over in a town with lots of people around, lots of witnesses. And with any luck it'd be a town full of gun-loving, government-hating, militia-type witnesses who'd be more than a little curious to know why a bunch of soldiers were hauling off an innocent civilian. This being Montana, I figured my odds of winding up in that kind of town were about 50/50.
I checked my map. There was a small town a few miles up the road; the map showed it as just a little black dot. Pendroy.
Montana is the third largest state in the US, but with a population of only 800,000 it's also the least populous. One result of these two facts is that a small town in Montana is a really small town. Often, it's three or four buildings on the side of the road and a gas pump that doesn't work anymore. Pendroy turned out to be one of these towns.
I slowed the Trooper down to a crawl as I went through Pendroy, looking for my witnesses. There wasn't a soul on the street. Not so much as a boy and his dog. Had they been warned of my approach and been told to stay indoors?
Accelerating back up to our unofficial pursuit speed of 55 mph, I pulled out the map once more. It was about 10 miles to the next little town, a place called Dupuyer, and I'd have to make yet another change in direction, picking up the 89 north. I wondered how suspicious all these course changes looked to the Air Force guys.
I reached the 89 and made my turn. After 35 miles of this low-speed pursuit, I didn't even bother to watch for the blue Bronco to mimic my turn. Of course it would.
E.T. Phone Home
A couple of miles out from Dupuyer I passed by another blue Air Force Bronco, which fell into column behind the first. At about the same time, I realized I might just have one more card to play before facing whatever was coming when I finally stopped. I reached under the passenger seat for my little Nokia cell phone. I didn't expect it to work way out in the middle of nowhere, 50 miles from the nearest McDonalds, and at first it blinked "NO SERVICE" but when I got to the top of a hill the little thing beeped to life.
First I tried calling my Mom. She has a tendency to panic in emergencies, but if I was gonna disappear I wanted someone to know my last whereabouts. There was no answer. "Shit!" I cursed. Next I tried calling my friend Os. There were three long rings before someone picked up the line.
"Hello?" I said, praying that I wasn't talking to a machine.
"Hello? Is this Barney?" a female voice answered. I recognized it immediately as Ali.
"Yup. Is this Ali?" I replied.
"Yes it is. How are you? Where are you?"
This was going to be one of those fun, surreal calls. "I'm doing pretty good, I guess." I tried to maintain a calm, pleasant phone voice. "I'm here in Montana, on Highway 89. I've got two Air Force security vehicles following me. They've been following me for about 45 miles now. I was checking out a missile silo and I think I did something to get them riled up. I took some pictures....Um, How are you?"
"Oh, I'm pretty good, I guess." Ali had no problem with surreal phone calls. "It sounds like maybe you're in trouble?"
"I don't know yet. I'm gonna pull over and ask them in a minute."
"Well, I hope it turns out OK. Be careful. You probably want to talk to Os?"
"Yeah, uh, that would be real good."
"OK, I'll put him on."
I listened to the static on the cell phone for a couple of seconds, wondering just who else might be listening in on this call.
"Well, hello there!" It was Os.
The road was coming down off the hill now, and the static on the line was increasing rapidly. I had to talk fast.
"Hey, I'm in Montana. On Highway 89, heading north. I was checking out a missile silo and now I've got some sort of Air Force security vehicles following me. They've been following me for about 45 miles now. I'm coming to a little town called Dupuyer. I'm gonna stop there and ask them what they want."
I reached the bottom of the hill. The line was almost pure static, but I kept talking.
"I'm coming up on the town now. Dupuyer. This connection is breaking up. If you don't hear from me in 24 hours, call my congressman or somebody. No kidding."
I hung up and tried to remember if the static on cell phone calls is worse at the cell phone end, or the other end.
I pulled into Dupuyer and immediately spotted a general store up on the left. There were several people socializing out on the porch, including a guy who appeared to be wearing some sort of sheriff's uniform. Jackpot. I parked in front of the store and turned in my seat to watch the security vehicles pull into town and park a block away, around a corner, as they had back in Conrad when I'd stopped for gas.
I got out of the car and waived to the Air Force security troops. They still weren't in a friendly mood. I walked over to the uniformed man, who was talking to an old cowboy and the cowboy's 6-year-old granddaughter.
"Excuse me," I interrupted, "Are you the town sheriff?"
The uniformed man turned around. He was a young guy who didn't have the wary look of a police officer; his smile was much too happy and carefree.
"Not exactly. I'm the local Game Warden."
A man with a gun and a badge. That would more than do.
"Well, maybe you can help me. I've got these two Air Force security vehicles following me. They've been following me for about 45 miles now and it's kinda freakin' me out. You can see 'em parked over around that corner." I pointed to the corner and the Broncos visible behind a few trees. "I'd kinda like to talk to them, find out what they want, but I figure it's probably better if someone else approaches them. I don't want them to see me coming and, like, flip out."
The Game Warden smiled a half-amused, half-concerned smile. "Sure, I can do that for you. Why do you suppose they've been following you?"
"Well, I took a few pictures of a missile silo. Y'know, tourist-type pictures. I think maybe I wasn't supposed to do that."
"Well, I'll go talk to them for you. See if I can't get this straightened out."
If he could get this thing straightened out, I'd definitely owe this man a drink.
The Game Warden got in his truck and drove over to the Broncos. I watched him get out and disappear behind the vehicles. He was talking to the security guys, no doubt. He was gone a long time. After a while I went inside and got myself a root beer and came back out to sit on the porch and wait. I could feel the locals staring at my back, checking out the mysterious fugitive.
"They're just playing with you," said a reassuring voice behind me. It was the old cowboy. "They just don't got nothin' better to do."
"Well, I sure hope you're right," I said.
"We got silos around here too. Those boys are always driving around with nothing to do."
I finished my root beer and kept waiting.
Next: Barney is not under arrest, but maybe he'd like to accompany his new friends on a little trip. Write to the Nuke Tourist at:
||Also in this issue:
LAYNE: A Weird Plea to Vote the Straight Ticket
BARNEY GREINKE: Low-Speed Pursuit on the Montana Highway
Japanese Giant Goes Bust!
New in TABLOID:
Mom's a Man, I'm a Witch -- And I Just Got Suspended!
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