We started the day early, not intentionally, but just because that was when we were up and fed. To start, we headed south out of Reno to visit Alpine County, California, part of a three-county island of unvisited counties in the map of my travels. We got to the state line and stopped to take a picture. My wife, a native Californian, was very happy to be back.
This made me start questioning my decision to never move back. Perhaps I had been too rash. I had made the resolution nine years ago. Maybe California wasn't really that bad, or maybe it was bad but no worse than anywhere else, or maybe it was better, or at least could get better. I began to wonder if, once we return from China, we could live in California.
Once we turned around, we stopped in Carson City to take a picture of the state capitol. While we were there, I needed to use a restroom, and since I'm not an unreasonable child, I decided to find a restroom while we were in a city instead of waiting ten more minutes and then being reminded of my need by the complete absence of all restrooms. So while my wife tried to take a picture of the capitol, I went in a casino to use the restroom.
My wife had a hard time getting a shot. Nevada's capitol is surrounded by dense trees, planted there for the express purpose (it seems) of making photography of the capitol impossible. Because terrorism.
Meanwhile, Crazy Jane was completely freaked out by the prospect I would gamble while heading to or from the restroom. My wife sent me with some nickels, which made Crazy Jane flip her lid even more. But good news, Crazy Jane: the days of gambling a few nickels at a time are over. I walked through acres of slot machines, but I had no idea how much they cost or how I'd put in money. It's all card-based now, I guess. And whatever happened to the good old-fashioned slot machine, with no theme aside from three cherries being a good thing? Now everything has a theme to it. It's not enough to watch wheels go around, the wheels have to be associated with some brand you favor. One of the slot machines was an honest-to-goodness Ferris Bueller's Day Off machine. Presumably, three Rooneys is a bad thing and three Von Steuben Day parade floats is a good thing.
When we returned to Reno, we stopped by the temple, then headed north of town on US-395, where we crossed back into California, this time to stay.
A few miles beyond the border was a California agricultural inspection station. If you've never driven into California you might be unaware that California stops every vehicle and asks if you have any produce or plants. If you do, and you're driving a commercial vehicle, they inspect the vehicle. If you're just a regular citizen, they destroy your produce. This is why my mother's 10-year-old houseplants were abandoned when we moved to California in the 1980s. This is why my wife has memories of her mother making everyone eat all their remaining produce quickly before reentering California from visits to Utah.
I knew I'd be within my rights to crack my window and ask, "Am I being detained?" but I didn't really see a point to that. The way my past experiences at ag inspection stations worked, they ask if I have any fruit and I say I don't and they let me drive on. But today was different, because today was the day I started thinking, "Maybe living in California's not as bad as I'm remembering it."
I stopped and put down my window. The inspector asked if we had fruit. I said no. He said, "I'd like you open the trailer, please." He said it that way because he had no legal basis to ask. I knew I didn't have to comply, but I also knew he could prolong the encounter to make my refusal more unpleasant than compliance would have been. I had to turn off the car to take my keys to the back to unlock the trailer. I did not say anything as I complied. But because I wasn't chatty enough, the inspector could tell I was upset about it.
Bear in mind, I was going to unhappily comply and then leave. The inspector decided that wasn't good enough. So it must not be compliance that is his true objective. It was the thoughts of my heart that mattered to him.
As we walked to the back of the car, he said, "Does this anger you?" I said, "Yes, it does, actually." He asked, "On constitutional grounds?" I said yes. He said, "Driving on the roads of California is a right, not a privilege."
Which is completely irrelevant.
I'm aware that operating a motor vehicle on a state's roads is a revokable privilege. But it cannot be revoked on whatever basis the state wants. Submission to unreasonable searches and seizures cannot be a requirement of keeping the privilege, any more than the state can deny marriage licenses to those who exercise their freedom of speech. The state cannot require you surrender your constitutional rights, and the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
On what grounds did I feel this was unreasonable? He asked me if I had fruit and I said no. What logic-based cause did he have to doubt me? This was not a random search, where the state would just have to show that all searches are reasonable and only some are executed in the interest of time. This search would not normally happen, but in my case it did, and there was no logical reason to assume I was not telling the truth when I answered his initial question.
So I said, "That has nothing to do with this. You're searching my property without cause." He said, "That's not your property, that belongs to U-Haul." As if U-Haul's owners have no Fourth Amendment rights or as if those rights don't matter when the owner is absent. I said, "The things inside the trailer aren't U-Haul's, and that's what you're actually inspecting." He started telling me about an invasive species he found in a tiny crack of a trailer once. I said, "We understand the need to prohibit invasive species. We grew up in California. But you have no reason to believe I have an invasive species in my trailer." He said, "I have two reasons: you are pulling a trailer, and you're license plate is from back east." I asked, "All trailers from Ohio are carrying fruit?" He said, "Some are." By this time, I was back in the car and had the engine running, so I left.
I was very upset that what looked like an agriculture inspection station had in fact become a thought inspection station. My inspection took longer because I had heterodox thoughts. If I'd been happier to comply, there would have been no problem.
We drove on, stopping for lunch at Jack in the Box in Susanville. When I went to California State Summer School for the Arts, a kid in my group was from Susanville and was quite tortured by the fact. He had this persecuted-genius-artist complex, convinced that everyone else in Susanville was trying to wound his soul or something. I didn't get that feeling in town, though I did have to see a lady use a tennis-ball-flinging-wand to scoop dog poop out of the bed of her truck (which she then flung into some bushes).
Next, we went to Lassen Volcanic National Park, where another low-level bureaucrat decided to use her authority to remind me that she had power and I did not. You see, we visit many national parks, and our children always participate in the junior ranger program. At some parks, the rangers are happy to have kids participate, and at others, the rangers use the opportunity to teach my children that the person with the badge is in charge. We often have problems with rangers who refuse to let Jerome participate because he's too young, and when we tell them the kid can handle anything designed for a boy twice his age, they think, "Of course parents will think that." So we're used to the idea that at some parks, the junior ranger program is a great experience, and at other parks, it's really unpleasant and only something we do because our kids are hoarders.
I went to the counter and asked the ranger if they had a junior ranger program. She said they did. She asked me how long we were going to be in the park. I said, "An hour or two." She said, "The program takes at least four hours."
We've encountered this type of response before. They are often wrong, because they don't know that our kids are faster than the average kid. So we just ignore these statements and complete the program. But this ranger would not give me the books because I wasn't going to be in the park long enough. She had authority over a children's activity book and she was going to maximize the reach of that authority. So she said it takes four hours and I just ignored her and said, "I'd like three books." She said, "I can't give them to you because we only have so many and we can't give them to everyone." So we had told our children all day that the small prize for this segment of the ten-day car trip was a junior ranger badge, but this bureaucrat decided we didn't get them.
Both of these bureaucrat interactions killed my budding "maybe California's not that bad" feeling. Yes, California is that bad. Central authority is to be respected at all costs, and contrary thoughts are persecuted as much as contrary actions. It is completely emasculating and contrary to the western tradition of personal liberty to have to submit to these intrusions. "Why did Dad stop the car?" Because someone else is in charge of when I can drive and when I can't. "Why didn't Dad get junior ranger booklets?" Because someone else is in charge of whether I can have them.
We came down out of the mountains, gaining about 35 degrees of temperature in an hour, and stopped for two days at my wife's sister's house.