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The Ballad of Cobb County

I’m inclined to think there was a lot of male regression last week as the marathon US election count dragged on interminably. Simple domestic tasks, which the modern male had only recently been trained to accomplish, were once again remaining undone. The toilet seat was standing in the upright position like a monument to male oblivion. Dirty dishes were heaped in unwashed mounds on the coffee table, on the worktop and the draining board. Clothes that should have been retrieved from the washing line were flapping in the wind like giant, wet, Floridian hanging chads. The male political junkie becomes almost feral when elections come around.

Last week, I was that soldier, lost between phone, computer and TV screen, wandering around unshaven, unkempt and distracted. I even had the gall to wonder aloud how come so many yanks had voted for the most misogynistic president of all time. The current consort said nothing, realising that, as well as not doing the ironing, I don’t even do irony.

Aside from the near collapse in gender equality in the home, the US election was an amazing spectacle. It was also a great lesson in the geography of the United States. By the time it was over we were all experts on the demographics of Arizona’s Maricopa county and the racial makeup of counties Erie and Monroe in Pennsylvania.

I was sitting on the couch late one night, dispassionately watching the news from Georgia. The current consort had retired after concluding that there would be no further developments until later in the morning, it being 2.30am. I was given a list of things to be done before I too retired, I had doors to lock, a dishwasher to kick-start and devices to switch off.

I was half listening to CNN’s John King going through the counties around Atlanta until he mentioned Cobb county, the very utterance of which, caused me to freeze. I have reason to remember Cobb, its name is stitched into my psyche since December 23, 1995.

I was driving from Chicago to Florida with my aunt and a mutual friend to spend Christmas in the sunshine state. On the beltway around the Georgian capital, I hadn’t noticed the speed limit had dropped from 65mph to 55mph.

Unfortunately for me, a policeman parked in the highway median noticed that I hadn’t noticed. With lights flashing and siren blaring, he ‘pulled me over.’

I was searching my wallet for my driving license when the lawman appeared at the driver’s door. He asked me to step out of the ‘cawr’ and explain why I was speeding. We had a mannerly difference of opinion about the speed I was doing, but when he heard my accent and saw my license he said, “I have no choice but to arrest you , sir, you are from out of town and unlikely to appear at court to pay your fine.”

At this point may aunt alighted from the car and proceeded to berate the officer for his treatment of ‘this young man, a visitor to our country’. The policeman was impervious to her indignation and I suggested to her that she might be making matters worse for me.

“I am arresting this man and, Mam, you can follow us in your car.”

“Where are you taking him?” she asked.

“I’m taking him to the nearest place where I can process this offence, there’s a women’s correctional facility just a few blocks away.”

“You’re taking him to jail. To a women’s jail?”

“Auntie, leave him alone,” I asked, “I will be fine.”

It was December 23, the night before Christmas Eve, and here I was in the back of a cop car in Atlanta, Georgia, heading for a women’s prison. I hoped Santa would be able to find me.

At the prison the officers in the reception booth didn’t know what to do with me. The policemen told them that as prison officers they were also court officials and could process traffic offenses. After much phone calling to various bodies across Atlanta and much talk about what they were doing for Christmas they eventually dealt with the charge and after paying a fine of $51 I got me out of jail. I still have the receipt identifying Cobb County as the location of my offence.

Once I’d paid up, the policeman said, “You are free to go now, sir.”

“Excuse me,” the woman behind the counter said, “he is our prisoner, and we have the authority to release him.”

“No, he is my prisoner,” the policeman protested. They fought over me for about ten minutes before I was eventually released. Outside the jail by my aunt proceeded to give the arresting officer another dressing down.

“Come on Auntie,” I said, let’s get out of here.”

That’s the last time I was in Cobb county. I felt some touch of redemption in the wee hours of Friday morning when CNN announced that the citizens in the place of my detention were set to give Biden the nod. All is forgiven.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a bit of ironing to attend to.

First published in the Farming Independent on Tuesday, November 10th 2020

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