Monday, September 23, 2013

Stealing a Wet Floor Sign story

Actual story part 1
I’m likely the only person in the USA that’s ever been arrested for the theft of a wet floor sign.
And there wasn’t anything special about the wet floor sign.  It didn’t even have the Spanish translation of Piso Mojado.  It was a typical wet floor sign sitting outside a McDonalds in the small suburb of Chattanooga, Tennessee where I grew up.
You read correctly: the sign was outside the store.
It was a boring day in May two weeks before I was to graduate high school.  My school had some weird privilege where seniors had the last two weeks before graduation off school.  It was some kind of reward for stumbling through four years of education, I guess.
My friend Jordan—who was also an enemy of mine, in some weird “Mean Girls”-esque kind of manner—was over at my house.   One of the coolest things about my parents’ house at that time: we had a band room.  The band room consisted of dozens of instruments (few of them mine, most of them still living there long-term) and was located over the garage.
The house was on a high hill we could blare music from the band room and no one seemed to care.  The room’s windows faced our neighbor’s 19th-century home, but they somehow liked our racket.
In years of rocking out at decibel levels that could rival a mid-70s Who concert, they had never once called the cops.
Jordan and I seized the day and decided to rock it hard, guitar-and-drums style, until our ears bled.  After several hours of what I assume were Rancid and NOFX covers (hey, at least we PLAYED our own instruments and it wasn’t any of this Guitar Hero, Rock Band crap) we decided to hit up McDonald’s, as 17-year-olds who are into punk music are wont to do.
We took my classy silver 1990 Buick Lesabre (which at the time was a 12-year-old car and the laughing stock even of my high school class) down to the local McDonald’s.  After we parked and started walking in, he pointed out the absurdity of the wet floor sign sitting outside the establishment on concrete.
“Why is it OUTSIDE the store?” he said.  “It’s on concrete, there’s no real need to put a wet floor sign on that.”
Struck by the absurdity of the situation, I turned to him and said “when we leave here, I’m going to steal that sign.”
“Whatever dude,” he said, assuming I was trying to be some kind of bad ass—as if stealing pieces of plastic outside of fast food chains paralleled the accomplishments of Jack Bauer or Clint Eastwood.
We got our food, sat down and ate.  During our meal I specifically pointed out to him that I once worked at McDonald’s and that we didn’t give free refills, which people often assumed we did since the fountain is out in the main dining area.
“They told us if we ever saw someone helping themselves to a free drink to call the police,” I explained to him, “you’re supposed to pay for it.”  He informed me he felt that was incorrect in a very colorful manner, and I insisted that it was true (it is).  “They consider it theft,” I said, “and you can technically call the police for it.”
He said he didn’t think any police officer would respond to that call.  I agreed, and promptly helped myself to another round of Mountain Dew.
As our meal wound to a close, I got up and threw out our trash as Jordan headed outside.  He held the door open for me and with the grace of a ballet dancer I swooped down, grabbed the wet floor sign, got my keys out of my pocket, opened my trunk, threw the sign in and slammed it shut—all in one fluid motion.
Jordan showed no expression until we were inside the vehicle, where he began cracking up immediately.  “I didn’t think you were actually going to do that!” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.  “I TOLD you I was going to.”  The amusement died off on the three-minute car ride home, where we immediately headed back up to the band room to keep playing music.
Roughly 30 minutes later my mother opened the door to the band room looking furious.  We shut down the instruments to figure out what she had to say.
“There are some cops here to see you,” she said to me.  I was instantly mortified—at this point in my life there were always at least three reasons why cops might be hunting me down so I got really used to having to sort through my outstanding crimes whenever confrontation was upon me.
But within seconds I thought to myself “OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH I KNOW WHAT THIS IS!!!”  and a wave of relief came over me.
I was just going to head down those stairs, walk out the garage and give my deepest apologies for playing music too loudly.  That had to be it.  We never rocked out this early in the day unless it was the weekend.  Surely they’d tell me not to do it again and let me go.  That’s the only reasonable response, right?
But for a brief second as I headed down the stairs I thought maybe someone at McDonald’s had called the cops on me after I took that Mountain Dew refill….
No.  No one would bother to come after me for stealing something cheap from McDonald’s.  My 17-year-old wisdom led me to that safe conclusion.
As I stepped outside I saw not one but two police cars parked in my tiny driveway, whose incline practically required harnesses and chains to scale.  I was caught off guard but I didn’t let it stop me.
Right as I was about to begin my sincere apology one officer cut me off.
“Are you Gregory Wood?” he asked, his southern accent requiring me to slowly re-process every word he said just to make sure I got it right.
“Yes, I…”
“Born 6/20/84?”
“Yeah…”
“Did you recently take a wet floor sign from a McDonald’s?”
I can only describe my next emotion as being a mix of embarrassment, humiliation, overwhelming pride, and some twisted thrill wherein I realized this exact experience has literally never occurred to another human being in American Society.
Calmly and honestly I said “yes, I did.”
“Do you know where that sign is now?” he asked politely.
“Yes, it’s in the trunk of my car.”
“Would you mind to get that for us?” he asked.  I said of course, as I had to borrow a set of the car’s keys from my mother who was standing nearby, showing a look of disappointment mixed with confusion.  I opened the trunk, pulled out the sign, and handed it to the officer, expecting a slap on the wrist and then an end do this wild incident.
“Thank you, son,” the other officer said in a potential effort to justify his presence at the crime scene.
“Now, the owner of the McDonald’s wants to press charges,” he said, not eliciting any response from me quite yet as I didn’t know what that entailed.  “Petty theft is anything under $15,” he said, giving me great hope of freedom, “but he says the wet floor sign cost $16.”
I literally laughed in his face, which might not have been the best move.  I’ve never valued a piece of yellow plastic at over $15, especially when it didn’t even have the Spanish Translation of its message on it.
“Now you’re only 17, so we can’t take you in,” he said, “but if you was over 18 you’d be spending the night in jail tonight.”
(I swear on all that is righteous and holy this very officer specifically outlined that if the crime had occurred exactly 30 days later, when I was of legal age, I would have spent a night behind bars for taking an 18-inch by 3-feet piece of plastic from a major corporation.)
“We’re gunna have to talk to sarge and see what we’re going to have to do about this.  Most cases it’s community service.  But we’ll have to get back to you in a few days.”
So there I stood, in the center of my own driveway on a warm spring day, two weeks before graduating high school, exactly one month from reaching a legal age, and I was just technically legally reprimanded for taking a wet floor sign from outside of a McDonald’s and driving it to my house.
Clearly, my life was going down a spectacular path.