TWISTS IN THE ROAD: No. 3


BY ROBERT DIGITALE

The sunglasses kept falling out of the shopping cart.

Take my word on it. I know Dave: Cal grad, Boy Scout. He wasn’t trying to sneak those glasses out of the store. But who could have foreseen what would happen next?

We were seniors in high school. Dave and Ron had gone for groceries at night at a supermarket on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. They were buying food for a gang of Sea Scouts and Mariners (i.e., Girl Scouts with boats) that were gathering at Dave’s cabin for a snow weekend in the High Sierras. The group would include at least one adult, our skipper, and nearly 20 young people.

Tall with curly blond hair, Dave regularly looked on the bright side of life, even when from my viewpoint he seemed to be getting the short end of the stick. On his first visit to our Sea Scout base, he ended up falling fully clothed into the chilly Sacramento River. He still came back again and joined us. On another Tahoe snow trip, a faulty gas connection in his cabin shot out a flame that singed off his eyebrows. When the excitement died down, he expressed gratitude that the problem had been found before the cabin filled with natural gas; he said the place might have blown up.

On their shopping extravaganza that night, Ron and Dave took along two younger fellows, who soon went off to wander the store by themselves.

Dave picked out for himself a pair of sunglasses, but they kept dropping out of the shopping cart. Eventually he got tired of picking them off the floor, so he put them in his pocket and kept shopping.

At length, Dave and Ron bought a shopping cart’s worth of groceries, paid cash and headed out the door. By that time the two younger fellows had joined them.

Waiting outside were the store’s security guards. They had been watching the two other teens. Once the guards announced themselves, one of the younger fellows immediately surrendered an item he had shoplifted, a winter hat he had stuffed down his pants. Ron and Dave were shocked. Why did he do that? What kind of trouble had he just gotten himself into?

The guards apparently had been watching Ron and Dave, too. One of them asked Dave if he had anything to show them.

No, said Dave.

What’s in your pocket?

Nothing, said Dave.

Show us what’s in your pocket.

Ron was offended that the guards would accuse his friend of something as stupid as shoplifting. “Go ahead, Dave!” he boldly encouraged. “Show ’em! Show ’em what’s in your pocket.”

Dave reached in. He shut his eyes in disbelief when his fingers grabbed those sunglasses and pulled them out for all to see.

The security guards called in sheriff’s deputies. The two young men were cited and released.

Dave had to call his dad. His father drove up late that winter’s night from Sacramento to take Dave home, along with the other young man. If I had been the dad, I would have been wondering why I ever had let my son get hooked up with those crazy Sea Scouts, the ones who kept him out late cruising on the Sacramento River, who helped crash his family’s pickup when Dave wasn’t even in it, and who now had played a role in giving him a criminal record. Dave’s family was on a first-name basis with the federal judge whose vacation home was near their cabin at Tahoe. They seemed better acquainted with the people who made and interpreted the laws, not the ones who broke them.

Dave’s parents hired an attorney. A court date was set. The judge dropped the charges.

And today, years later, Dave still can manage a grin whenever we recall how circumstances converged to make him look so guilty.