Finding Common Ground on a Country Road
“What do you boys have planned for tonight?”
The question sounded innocent enough, but coming from a police officer at a roadblock it was definitely a bit more complicated. We had found ourselves sitting in an old Chevy with flashlights shining through the windows because we decided this night was perfect for going frogging. Our typical summer heat and humidity had settled into Kentucky and with July 4th falling on a Friday the guys all had three-day weekends. So the gigs were pulled from corners of our basements, flashlights given new batteries and coolers filled with beer. I yelled for my wife not to wait up as the car backed out of the driveway and we headed off in search of adventure.
Growing up, my dad would let us pitch a tent in the back of our small farm and after dark my friends and I would sneak over to the neighbor’s pond to chase bullfrogs. It was the kind of illicit fun that teenage boys live for. As we got older frogging only seemed right if we broke a few rules.
The night of our stop at the roadblock we had violated state law by cracking open a few beers for the drive out to the lake. We always observed a one beer limit but this was still worthy of a citation should we be caught. Country music was blasting and we were in jubilant spirits just as we crested the hill outside Mt.Washington. There, some 500 yards away, were parked cruisers with the lights on and several patrolmen standing around waiting for us.
Luckily for us the AC was broke in the car and all the windows were rolled down. With the kind of efficiency that only comes with desperation beers were quickly handed to a rear passenger to toss out the window one by one as the driver tried to take as long as possible to reach the roadblock. As we came to a stop hearts were beating faster and with the smell of cheap pilsner in the car and the cooler full of unopened can sitting on the back seat.
The sheriff’s deputy was young, with a thin mustache and retro sideburns. He politely asked for license and registration. Our driver was handed them over and answered a few basic questions. The rest of us sat perfectly still hoping for the best. As the officer circled the car he carefully inspected the exterior. Grateful Dead bumper stickers probably didn’t help our case but as he neared the trunk his eyes fell on one key piece of evidence. Protruding from the trunk were four frog gigs, ready for a night of action.
At this point I should probably explain frog ‘gigs’ to the uninitiated. In the deeper South some people like to catch frogs with their hands but my father always said that gentlemen use gigs. They come in various configurations but the basic model is a long metal pole with a sort of mini-pitchfork on the end. To successfully get a frog you have a buddy shine his flashlight along the bank looking for the glowing eyes of a nice bullfrog. When one is spotted he keeps the light on it while you sneak behind it with your gig at the ready. Once in position you slowly inch the tip forward until you are about a foot away from the frog. Then you strike. If successful the frog is speared and goes into the basket. You start dreaming about frog legs, rolled in flour and fried to a golden brown, served with some bass or bluegill and maybe some corn and tomatoes from the garden. A true summer feast.
As the deputy returned to the driver’s window he slowly handed back the driver’s license. We all waited for him to ask us to exit the car and place our hands on the hood. I was already dreading the call home to my wife. Instead, in a cheery tone he said, “I went froggin’ with some buddies last weekend and we only got a few. The ponds near the lake are all tapped out…if you were planning on going that way.”
We sighed with relief and thanked him for his advice, promising to try the low area by the river instead. He wished us good luck and we were on our way. There were laughs of relief and re-enactments of the events for the rest of the ride. The rest of the night’s events escape my memory, overshadowed by our brush with the law. I am sure there is a moral in that story about open cans of beer in a moving vehicle, however I like to think the true lesson is that just about anyone will give you a pass if you find something in common with them. On a two-lane country road in Kentucky, that just might be a love of chasing frogs.