It was the last leg of my solo trip in California back in the October of ’15. I was going to fly back to Jersey from Los Angeles. Plan was to start from Los Angeles, spend a day or two each in San Diego and the Grand Canyon and drive back to Los Angeles before flying.
San Diego is a pretty little beach town. I spent about half a day in USS midway museum and headed to the beach. It was a typical Californian sunny evening at the beach. I loved that it looked less a touristy beach and more a local favorite.
Just before getting out of the car I contemplated a minute about what should I be carrying. A sudden urge crept on me to spend the evening unplugged, so I left everything back in the car except a swimming trunk and a bathing towel in a small rucksack and started walking towards the beach.
I spent a little while in the easily accessible part of the beach and despite the place being already less crowded I felt the need to get away even further. After a brief dip in the ocean, I walked under the pleasantly warm sun to dry myself, then thought I would walk more and then I felt I should walk even further as the sun was working on it’s final act of the day. I have to admit I was going through a low point at the time and was in need of some solitude and introspection to gather myself up, straighten out my thoughts and declutter my mind.
By the time I realized that it is dusk and that I should go back now to reach my car while there is still some daylight left, I noticed an SUV which seemed like a beach patrol about a mile away. In the next few seconds the vehicle loomed large and it was pretty clear that they were actually looking for me when they stopped right by me. There were two cops in the vehicle, a male and a female, white, in their thirties I presume and they started enquiring me without getting out of the vehicle.
He: Sir, are you a military personnel?
They exchanged looks and got down from the vehicle. That is when I realized I’m in some kind of trouble.
I: Is there a problem officer?
He: Sir, are you aware that you trespassed a protected region of naval air station?
*shit-hit-the-fan moment in my mind*
I: No officer, I am not.
He: Do you have an id with you?
I: No, sorry. I have everything in my car which I left in the roadside parking near the entrance to the beach.
He: Are you carrying a gun or any kind of weapon? (pointing at my rucksack)
I: No, I am not!
He asked if I had my social security number and my residential address by heart, both of which thankfully I had. He collected all of my personal details and called someone in his walkie, probably his peer or a higher official in their base conveying the situation, providing all my credentials and waited for a while. The other cop, the female, spoke for the first time, making small talk about where I’m from and if I’m in San Diego for the holidays, how cold the ocean water was, how she hates the cold etc., like I care. She must have been playing the good cop of the duo. I was replying to her mechanically, with my eyes still fixed nervously on the other and ears intent on the walkie.
After a brief discussion in the walkie which I thought was for running me in their system, he said I’ll have to get in their vehicle so they can drive me to my car. That is when I realized I’m still kind of wet, with only a swim trunk and a bathing towel on me and that I do not have the opportunity for a shower or a change of clothes. Well, they at least let me wear a shorts I had in in my rucksack on top of the trunks and a tee.
There I was, sitting in the rear of a cop vehicle, locked uncomfortably, wearing a wet under garment. Sigh! So much for wanting an evening unplugged!
I guided them to my car and provided my driver’s license and the car rental agreement. He made another call into the walkie and in a few minutes there were couple other vehicles with flashing lights. Their higher officials arrived at the scene, probably to make sure that I’m not an anti-national element. There was an asian looking senior person in a vehicle who introduced himself as the commanding officer of the base and in another came this well built person, his deputy, who brought along with him a young chap in his early twenties looked like he was excited that something happened on an otherwise boring day. They demanded an explanation for the situation again. Apparently there was a warning sign about the naval protected region which was well beyond the public access beach and the implications of trespassing which somehow completely ended up on my blind side.
After verifying my documents it looked like they were convinced that I’m just a tourist who strayed off and there is nothing anti-national about me to escalate the situation further. My NJ driver’s license and my proof that I’m using a rental car seemed to have helped my case. But they must deal with the incident still – they let me know they are going to report the incident to the local jurisdiction who would sent me a legal notice to my address in New Jersey and that I should provide an explanation by mail which would close off the incident which is not a big deal. Then they had a discussion again and to my luck they decided to play down the incident further and mentioned they would rather just let me go with a written warning notice instead of taking it to the jurisdiction and I wouldn’t have to do anything other than signing that I agree to pay a 5000$ fine and (or) a six month imprisonment if I happen to be in the vicinity of any of their other navy protected zones within the next 36 hours.
They asked the young guy if he had worked on such an incident before and let him prepare the warning notice. Looked like he was a trainee and they brought him along as part of his training program. No wonder he looked excited about his first trespassing case. I bet it must have been a disappointment to him that I didn’t turn out to be a spy.
After they let me off the hook, I breathed a sigh of relief, changed clothes in the beach shower room which was surprisingly open still. I called it a day and found a couch to crash in Airbnb for about 20$, rented out by this Jersey native girl who settled in San Diego after she fell in love with the year round sunshine. Needless to say – I stayed low for the next 36 hours.