S. Fla. traffic saves couple during attempted tree heist
“We’re kind of held up,” said the message from Paul Bunion, well-known lumberjack of the North Woods. Naturally, we supposed he was texting about traffic congestion.
It didn’t occur to any of us that the holdup might have been a comical hijacking attempt. Not in Florida, anyway.
You recall Paul Bunion, right? He’s the one with sore feet who drives down here every year from Canada, right after Thanksgiving with his wife, The Statuesque Patina, and their team of 18-wheel tractor-trailers full of Xmas trees for sale. They bring one of their best trees to the Fish or Cut Bait Society clubhouse and then hang out and fish with us until ice-out in Quebec.
After carrying the club tree inside, we gathered around the tackle rigging table to hear about the Bunions’ highway adventure.
It began Up North when Paul decided to give their 18-wheelers a festive holiday look. He wired bright red light bulbs to the noses of the bulldog hood ornaments because replacing the dogs with chrome-plated reindeer would have voided the warranty. That’s not all: The trucks are festooned from end to end with jingle bells — real ones, not painted on.
Highway motorists love the merry noise, which reduces the tension of motorism and creates a wintry holiday spirit in the land of endless summer as Patina and Paul motor happily down the road.
That’s clever marketing, but this time it was too much of a good thing. The trucks were way too conspicuous.
As almost everyone knew, there was a bad shortage of good fir trees and prices were going up the chimney, bypassing the ceiling and roof. People overpaid anyway, and a lot of retailers ran out of trees two or three weeks before Christmas.
The Bunions, whose tree-cutting grounds are out of cellular and wi-fi range in Canada, found out on the way down. Tree dealers were calling Paul up, guys he never heard of offering prices he never thought of asking.
It’s too bad he couldn’t round up a few more truckloads and drivers. They could have made a lot of money and spent the winter fishing and carousing in Florida. Instead they’re freezing their rears off, fishing through holes in ice thick enough to support a skyscraper.
Then again, they might rather hear and read about the Bunions’ adventure than experience it themselves. “As soon as we got to Florida, people in cars started honking horns and waving at us with hands full of cash,” The Statuesque Patina told her audience at the clubhouse. “Whenever we stopped for fuel or food, convoys of them followed us off the Interstate, begging to buy our trees.”
Paul said, “They had such touching stories, like they needed trees to cheer up freezing orphans and abandoned kittens.”
The Bunions had to tell everyone sorry, but the trees were committed already to retailers in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Archie Obispo, the club chaplain, was moved to tears. “You could have sold our tree to the freezing orphans. We would have forgiven you,” he sobbed. Someone slid him a box of tissues and a beer.
Anyway, because of all that, Patina and Paul weren’t too alarmed when they were cut off by a couple of pickups that slowed down in front of them until they had to pull over and stop.
They should have been scared when several desperate-looking men wearing hoodies and Halloween pixie masks jumped out and ran up to their tractors, yelling “Happy holidays! We are desperate men! Give us your trees! Give us your trucks!”
All of them had both hands in the pockets of their hoodies, pretending to point guns at Paul and Patina, who hollered insulting phrases at them in Canadian French that the desperados couldn’t have understood.
“OMG! How did you know they were bluffing?” Tiller cried.
“It’s easy,” Paul said. “We watch all the crime and cop shows on the teevy. Crooks are dumb. I was about to holler ‘Bang bang!’ at them when we heard sirens going whoop whoop, yowyowyow. The villains ran back to their pickups and took off but then they got stuck in traffic.”
Paul and Patina hadn’t even dialed 911 yet. It turned out that the sirens were an ambulance and a highway patrol car responding to a fender bender just down the road. That’s what caused the traffic jam.
The hijackers didn’t know that either. When a young highway patrolman stopped behind them with his flashers flashing to ask them to please move over and let the ambulance through, they lost their heads.
Without being told, all of them flopped face down on the road with their hands behind them and asked for their rights to be recited.
That’s when Patina and Paul walked up to the scene.
“Move along, folks, nothing to see here,” the young policeman said. From watching all those cops and robbers shows, they knew he was bluffing too.
“Wow, it’s great that you busted these grinches all by yourself,” Paul said.
“I did? What for?” said the cop.
“For trying to hijack our Xmas trees,” The Statuesque Patina answered.
(I interrupted to say she should have said they “allegedly” tried it. Patina said shut up.)
“Freeze!” the cop shouted at the crooks, who hadn’t moved. “Y’all under arrest!”
Paul, with the keen instincts of a man who watches all the cops and robbers shows, sensed insecurity. He asked the young officer if he’d ever arrested crooks before.
“Not really,” that one admitted. “I mostly write traffic tickets.”
Paul took over and spoke to the bad guys in Canadian French. They didn’t understand a word. Neither did the cop, but he asked, “I told them they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say can be used against them in court, and if they can’t afford lawyers you’ll get them some. That’s called the Miranda warning,” Paul whispered.
“Are you a police officer?”
“No, but I watch all the cops and robbers shows. I think now you’re supposed to tell headquarters you need some backup.”
The cop did that and drafted the Bunions to help guard the villains until more cops came. While they waited, Paul asked about fishing the fenced canal between the highway and the street alongside.
“It’s infested with fish — bass, peacocks, some other exotics,” the cop said. “About half a mile south of here there’s a narrow gap in the fence where an accident happened. You can slip through it sideways and walk the bank for a mile in each direction. Also, you’ll find big ones in the ponds at the next three exit ramps south of here. No room for your semi, but you can park a car just off the shoulder and walk downhill to the water. You’ll see some signs. Walk behind them so you won’t know what they say. They all begin with the word No.”
Paul said thanks, but he didn’t want to get into trouble.
“It’s okay,” the cop said. “All those spots are on my patrol route. I’ll cover you.”
When the applause stopped, I told Paul that’s a great story. I said I guess he owes that officer one.
“No, we’re even,” Paul said. “Before I left, I taught him how to recite the Miranda warning in Canadian French. I bet he’s the only cop in the state who can do that.”