Come Out With Your Hands Up!

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MCG somewhere America — the sign says “Positively NO Drinking, Loitering, Profanity, ON Premises — not sure why I’m barefoot.

On Spitboy’s first major US tour, having planned to drive as far north as Michigan for shows in Detroit and Flint, we decided, why not Canada too? Of course this meant that the four of us had to devise a plan to smuggle our contraband merchandise across the border into Canada and to convince the border patrol that even though we looked like a band and had a van full of amps, guitars, and drums, that we were not going to playing shows across the border. Toronto was to be our first stop, but would we make it? 

We had been on tour a couple of weeks already, so much of our merch had been sold, but there were still quite a few t-shirts and seven inches left in the back of the van under the loft. Still, if the border patrol agent found a bunch of merchandise after seeing all the band equipment, she might deduce that we were going into Canada to perform, to make money – to work, essentially, and without work permits, which is illegal. A similar kind of illegal associated with Mexicans in the US, not that we made that connection at all.

Our Canadian tour contact who really wanted us to play a show in Toronto had told us what me must do in order to avoid suspicion, to ensure border agents that we were not going to be making money in Canada, only spending it. We had heard stories from other touring bands too, so as we drove from Flint to the border, we worked out our plan. We stopped at a service station a couple of miles before the border crossing to put the plan into action. We all got out and went to the back of the van to pull out the merchandise for hiding somewhere and rearranged all the equipment to hide one larger box of seven inches that we didn’t know what to do with. When they asked, we decided that we’d say we were a band from the US that had been on tour and we were headed to Canada for a short vacation before driving all the way back to California. 

We must have been sure we wouldn’t be caught or that we’d just be turned away if our merchandise was discovered, because while we were all pretty nervous, we didn’t seem to think we were taking some big risk, even after the run-in with the police in New Orleans.

We were actually on our way out of town, driving around a bit lost, looking for the freeway, when we heard loud voice over bullhorn, ordering us to pull over. We had heard a couple of short siren squawks that we didn’t think had anything to do with us, and once Karin who had been driving realized, the sirens had been for us, slowed the van to a stop once she heard the order to pull over. From the passenger seat, I remember thinking that it was weird that the cops wouldn’t let us a drive ahead a bit to a stretch of road with a shoulder instead of the curve in the road along side a guardrail not far from the freeway entrance we had been looking for. For some reason, they were in a big hurry to get us stopped on the side of the road and out of the van.

“ Come out with your hands up!”

“They have us surrounded.” Karin looked out the driver’s side window, back to us, then back toward the window.

Paula and Adrienne sat frozen in the backseat.

“Come out with your hands up!”

With that we all scrambled out of the van, and like we were in some movie, with our hands up. The van was surrounded. Four, white, unmarked police cars and several police officers in swat gear semi-circled around us with their guns drawn.

“What are you doing in this neighborhood?”           

I had noticed when we circled the block looking for the freeway that it was run-down looking neighborhood, and I saw some old black guys sitting on a porch as we passed by. A couple of the officers were wearing vests that said “Drug Squad.”

“We were looking for the freeway,” Karin said an edge in her voice.

“Why were you circling around?” The lead officer shouted still pointing his gun.

“We were looking for the freeway,” I said, pissed that the officer felt it was necessary for Karin to repeat what she had just told him. 

“What do you got in there,” the lead officer pointed to the back of the van.

“Musical equipment,” Adrienne said, sounding as cooperative as she could.

 “Open the back of the van please.”

 “Yes, Officer.” Adrienne walked the back of the van with slow careful steps.

 I wanted to ask if that was even legal, searching our van like that, but I didn’t, and Karin, Paula, and I stood still, avoiding any sudden movements, lined up just off the paved road, our backs to the guardrail. We watched as Adrienne opened the double doors and as the lead officer and another officer took a look inside. The other officers, kept their guns still raised, pointing right at us, ready to shoot.

 “Any weapons or contraband?” the lead officer asked before attempting to move anything in the back of the van. 

“No, sir, just amps and guitars and drums. We’re in band,” Adrienne said. “We played a show here last night.”

“Why were you circling around this neighborhood?”

 I was getting impatient with that question. 

“We told you that already. We’re not from here. We were looking for the freeway,” I said unable to hide my irritation, my arms now down at my side.

“Don’t get sassy with me, young lady.”

 I wanted to tell him to fuck off.

 “The freeway entrance is right there.” The lead officer pointed in the direction we were headed when they stopped us.

 “Yes, sir, we know that. That’s where we were headed when you pulled us over,” Karin cut in.

The lead officer looked at the other cops and nodded his head. They lowered their guns.

“Okay, ladies, you can be on your way now 

All the cops turned and walked toward their cars, and we got back in the van and waited until the police cars surrounding the van were out of our way so we could get on the freeway and out of New Orleans as soon as we could.

 We couldn’t believe we had been pulled over like that with guns drawn; still it didn’t stop us from smuggling merchandise into Canada. It was just t-shirts and records, not drugs, or people, or fruit, or non-native plants, and it was before 9-11 when you could cross into Canada with just a driver’s license, and we were American, so none of it felt like a big deal. 

At the service station near the Canadian border, we put our merchandise smuggling plan into action. Each of us put on as many t-shirts as we could starting with the smaller sizes on the bottom and layering with the larger sizes. It was either my idea to wear as many shirts as we could under our regular clothes or to repack our bags with as many t-shirt and seven inches as we could at the bottom and our dirtiest clothes on the top; I can’t quite remember which, but probably the latter. Both Karin and I had brought loose dresses to wear in the van, and so we put those on top. Paula and Adrienne put on sweatshirts.  We laughed when we looked at each other, each a much puffier version of her self. It was nighttime, so it didn’t look strange that we were a little bundled up.

 Since we looked weird with our different shades of different colored hair, because we were so young, and because we were driving a van, we knew we’d be searched. Waiting in a line of cars for that was nerve wracking. When it was our turn to hand over our identification and answer a few questions about where we were coming from and where we were headed, we were told to get out of the van. A male and female agent, wearing blue, opened the back of van and the side doors to have a look inside. They didn’t spend much time searching the back of the van after they saw all the heavy equipment, but they did look carefully inside the van, opening our bags, which we had left out in the open to show that we didn’t have anything to hide.

 As the four of us stood in a row alongside the van as we had done while getting pulled over by the drug squad in New Orleans, I could see beams from the border agents’ flashlights sweeping the van. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I waited with the other Spitwomen, imagining the male and female agent, opening our bags and finding dirty bras and blood-stained underwear, the dirtiest, sweatiest socks, and unused tampons spilling out, and imagined them thinking, “dirty Americans,” to themselves and talking about us once we had gotten back into our van, zipped up our bags, and drove off into Canada to play two shows and to sell a couple hundred dollars worth of merchandise, our feminine wiles and our cunning, used not to lure and seduce, but instead to trick and deceive.** 

**Want more Spitboy stories? Find three in the archives or you can order The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Female Punk Band here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/168699625/the-spitboy-rule-tales-of-a-female-punk?ref=shop_home_active_1

6 thoughts on “Come Out With Your Hands Up!

  1. esn36

    when huasipungo toured we had practice runs before hand about what to do if stopped by the police and/or border patrol (remember some of us were not “legal”) we mapped out our tour according to what towns to avoid, what roads were “safer” for us etc. During our first tour we did not even cross some imaginary (but very real at the same time) line where we though we would get a closer look by police/border patrol. Then when we ventured into areas on our third tour we avoided before we had all our “white americans” ride in the front. When stopped they did all the talking….. it still is like that for us.

    Reply
    1. michellecgonzales Post author

      Wow, thanks for this great comment! Spitboy definitely never had to deal with anything like that. Oddly, with my short hair, I was able to sort of blend in with the rest of the band.

      Reply
  2. Peter Benda

    Hey! One of my buddies just posted a link to your blog. The band I was in (Kops for Christ, I was the tall eyeglass-laden guitarist) played with you guys at Broncos in Toronto. We were very excited to open for you guys. I have often thought of Spitboy. Now to read the rest of your blog . . . . Cheers, Pete

    Reply
  3. Peter Benda

    Doh–we must have been called Decline of Reason then! Iza was singing. Just in touch with her on Facebook now apologising for assuming. The band transformed into Kops for Christ I think shortly thereafter, methinks. I am still in touch with everyone except for the bassist (even though I live in Australia now). Anyway, I would love to see the pic, and I would love to read more about Spitboy/find recordings etc if there are any available. If you have any Spitboy pics from that show that would be cool. There was a good photographer, Noami Freeman, who used to take some great shots but she is hard to track down. I would have suspected she took photos of that show.

    Reply

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