Normally, driving from Belgium into the Netherlands is not as exciting as it was tonight. The only way to notice you're crossing the border, is the change in road surface and an occasional border patrol car parked on the side of the road. But I have never actually been stopped before. Today though, for whatever reason all traffic is stopped by the police and no vehicle is left through without at least a visit from an officer. I had been listening to music on my phone, so missed any news bulletins that must have been reporting about it. No worries, I will just sit, wait and be a good boy. Tonight, I have nothing to hide and I am not in a hurry.
I decide to turn on the video camera on my smartphone and inconspicuously put it near the handbrake lever, pointing at the driver-side window. With the growing amount of stories about police brutality, I want this encounter to be recorded.
The recent turn of events in my life, had caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about my life. What will I do to get a decent income? Work had been slow, but I had never considered a career change. Should I? I mean, look at me. I am a 42-year old, divorced standup comedian who needs to drive from Groningen to Antwerp to do standup in some beat up old bar with an audience too drunk to realize they are being made fun of. And the whole thing pays less than it costs me to drive there. The only upside is that there is no money left for my ex-wife to go after.
Standup was never really my thing, but it was the only way I had been able to get some money in the bank. For about a year now, I had been unable to come with something really good. Apparently, being a YouTube celebrity was not a guarantee for eternal income, even though my "Practical Puns" videos had been watched by more than 250 million people. Like any hype, popularity had quickly faded after the last video and I had been unable to come up with a new hit video. I had lost my touch. Gone was the endless stream of creativity. Gone were the days that I would just turn on the camera on my smartphone and record the perfect execution of a practical joke in a single take, upload it, and immediately see the number of views shooting through the roof. Gone were the days, the Google AdSense dollars poured in as a result.
I waited as the police officer approached my car. I turn the engine off, but keep the lights on. I roll down the window at the very last moment. No reason to envy her tonight; it is almost midnight, windy, raining and the display on my dashboard indicates the outside temperature is just slightly above freezing. Inside it is warm and cozy.
"Your license and insurance papers please.” she says. I hand her the paperwork, all scruffy from years of bouncing around in the glove box. They nicely match the state of the car; a 15 year old Peugeot 206, ice-blue with 260.412km on the odometer. I should have gotten rid of it long ago, all kinds of plastic bits and pieces from the interior had come loose. The engine still purrs like a kitten though and this is my first car. So many great memories, I love this thing!
The officer briefly browses through the papers, looks at my car then at me. I must not have set off any alarms as she hands over the paper work. She signals that I can leave, and tells me to drive safely with all the professional courtesy of an officer who has been out in the cold rain for several hours in the middle of the night. "Thank you, officer.” I nod politely. But I would like to know what is going on. "This is very unusual isn't it, officer? What is going on here, if I may ask?” She rolls her eyes and sighs. Apparently I guess I am not the first to ask. "We are looking for a serial killer, sir. But, you look ok, so you may continue your journey. Drive safely."
I put the papers back in the glove box, start the car and drive off onto the A16. This has made quite an impression on me, because I notice I cannot stop thinking about what the officer told me.
They are looking for a serial killer!
That must be a sign, I must act now. I am only a few kilometers away from the checkpoint and decide to take the next exit. Breda. A left turn, over the highway, another left turn and onto the A16 again. The excitement! I push the pedal in as hard as I can. Belgium, here I come. Again.
Passing the border into Belgium again, there is no police control there. And I notice, the police on the other side of the road seem to be wrapping up their search. I speed up more; hopefully I can make it in time before the police have left. First exist in Belgium. Another left turn, across the highway again, and another left turn, back onto the highway. Floor it! As I see the police in the distance, I slow down. "Don't mess it up now, you do not want to attract unnecessary attention", I think to myself. "I do need to talk to the officer again though". A few minutes later, I let out a sigh of relief as I join the last few cars that are waiting to be checked. There she is! She comes up to my car again, same ritual: I roll down the window and happily hand her my papers before she can even ask for them. She raises her eyebrow and her face shows me her confusion. She looks up at me and I can see she is now on high alert. "Sir, you were here earlier tonight, correct?” she asks, "Why are you here again?” Her voice slightly higher, more excited now. My turn, "Yes ma'am, I was. You told me you were looking for a serial killer, correct?”
"That is right. Why?” she said. I can see her adrenaline levels shooting up. She's on DefCon 5 now.
"Well, I have thought about it and made up my mind. I'll do it!".
I lean back so that the camera records a her puzzling gaze for a few seconds. I stop the recording, punch in a title "How to become a serial killer" and immediately hit the "upload" button. I'm back!
Image credit: Tomi Tapio K