the right to remain silent

14 June 2007 at 7:40 (Uncategorized)

One and a half weeks ago I decided to take a vow of silence for a fortnight. There are several reasons, some which you’ll get a glimpse of now and some which I’ll elaborate on in a future post. So far it’s been going pretty well, I’m on the home straight now, only 3 days to go.

Anyway, at about 0030hrs this morning, Kent emails me wondering if I’d like to meet him for a quick unicycle. We agree on a route and set out on this path in search of each other. It’s always nice to unicycle in the middle of the night, regardless of how cold it is. Unicycling with a friend is always best when you have a little more room than a footpath allows, and during these wee hours of a Thursday morning you only see the occasional taxi or police car so we pretty much had the streets to ourselves.We roll along the streets like a pair of hoons. Well, not exactly.

One of the many beautiful things about unicycling is that it keeps your hands free, so while we cycle I’m busy scrawling comments to Kent with my notepad and marker. Now, I’m not very talkative at the moment, and the marker/pad/unicycling combination results in a rather slow conversation, so Kent’s keeping himself occupied with a Rubik’s cube… (and they say men can’t multitask!)

We were on the way back to my place at about 0140hrs when we see a police car on the side of the road. Kent is pretty legal, he’s got a helmet and is holding a front light.. but no rear light. I’m not so legal, no lights and only a beanie hugging my skull, so we decide to detour down a different back street. As we’re riding I start to write this message. We continue to trundle down the silent streets and are only a few blocks from my house when I see a car approaching from the rear. Naturally I want to get off of the road, I don’t like to mix cars and unicycles especially late at night when I’ve experienced some of the worst driving behaviour.

But kent is consumed in the task at hand. This is why you don’t solve a Rubik’s while on the road kids! I can see the car approaching and I’m waving at Kent as I make my way onto the footpath. However, as I’m unwilling to speak I’m not able to get his attention.The car was travelling at a very slow speed and Kent was as far to the left of the road as he could practically ride. Sure enough, it’s a cop car holding a single policeman. He rolls down his window and starts asking some pretty straightforward questions, what we are doing, what we’ve been up to, where we’re going, isn’t it a bit cold for this sort of thing…

I go and stand next to Kent and use my best body language to try and divert any suspicion. Moments later another cop car pulls up in front of the first (I’m thinking: WTF did this guy just call for backup: “Do you copy? 10-30, I’ve got two unicyclists; west bound! One appears to be doing a Rubik’s cube, requesting immediate backup from any available units”). Two cops appear from this vehicle and as they approach us they also start firing questions. Meanwhile, Kent’s busy handing over his ID while I turn my pockets inside-out… I’d left my wallet at home.The female cop from the second vehicle is asking more questions and so far I’ve responded using gestures but Kent and I can both see that eventually she’s going to ask something which requires more than a nod or shake of the head. Kent helps me out, explaining, “He doesn’t speak, he’s taken a vow of silence”.

The police woman doesn’t sound overly impressed in the slightest. “I don’t recommend you try that when talking to the police” she advises, “how about you show a little maturity.” I don’t really like her tone, and I decide to play the religious card*. I pull out my pad and write: ‘it’s religious, but I’ll talk if it’s a problem for you.’ She’s still not impressed. “Oh yeah, what religion would that be?” she scoffs, pulling out her own notepad. I flick to the back of my pad and point to the word ‘Buddhism’ showing it to her younger side-kick. He conveys this to her.”Oh right, are you new to Buddhism?” she asks with a mocking tone. I’m shaking my head, conveying a firm ‘No—well-sort-of’. I ask using body language what they want from me and the younger guy says they need my name and address and date of birth. I write down these details and, although she still isn’t happy she’s at least content.

Kent’s still talking things over with the other police officer, but my cops have realised they’re not going to get much more out of me.Regardless, the woman soon starts asking questions again.. “what about helmets? lights?” over the years I’ve encountered several groups of police officers while unicycling. About half have ignored the issue while the other half have spoken without any certainty about the matter. I do my best to cooperate with them, but at the same time, I’m more than happy to discuss the finer technicalities of the law. After all, I was on the footpath when the cops came along, should I be allowed to ride on the footpath? It’s illegal for me to cycle two wheels there, but a unicycle’s too slow to be out amongst daytime traffic. What about brakes, am I road worthy without them? Reflectors? The list goes on. The people working the phones for TransportSA are useless when you ask them this kind of stuff.But I’m not in a position to discuss any of this. Instead I just stand there nodding, trying to manipulate the force to inspire harmonious thoughts of approval from within her.It either worked or she was just getting cold because soon our little street party ended.

As the duo headed back to their car her side-kick turns to me, chuckles and says, “Good night, and good luck with your vow of silence.”Kent and I walk our wheels back to my place, still not quite believing the events that have just unfolded. We really hope that they saw the Rubik’s cube, but regardless, we think it’s going to make for fantastic conversation back at the station. Thus ends the story of the cuber and the mute, who went unicycling one cold dark night.

–* It’s dishonest of me to play the religious card (discussed on page 21 of The God Delusion which has been reproduced 2/3 down this page, the paragraph beginning with “Here’s a particular example…”). I consider myself agnostic, and although I respect Buddhist philosophy and I’m interesting in the teachings, I distance myself from the religious interpretations. I wasn’t phased by this act of dishonesty because I felt the police officer should’ve used a little more tact than openly voicing prejudice against someone’s lawful actions. I guess she just assumed I was being an ass.



  1. Kent said,

    I should add something.

    While on my way to meet M, I came to a T-junction with a major arterial road I needed to cross. I was just going to cross it because idling on the sensor is not yet within my unicycling capabilities, and traffic is very light. Alas, a car was coming. I thought it was a taxi and was going to pull in behind him but it was a cop. My version of thinking better was probably a mistake – I slewed around to get on the footpath.

    A unicyclist would think nothing of such a maneouver but I think the cop thought I was doing a getaway. He didn’t do a U-turn, but a right-hand turn, and I didn’t see him again, so thought he’d dismissed me.

    But in retrospect, there may have been a unicycle manhunt last night!

  2. monototo said,

    they probably do have a ten code for delinquent unicyclists.

    It was fair enough that they pulled us over, because we didn’t have adequate lights, however this didn’t seem to be their concern, merely an afterthought. The idea of pulling some unicyclists over and asking them what they’re doing still cracks me up… I mean what did they think we were up to? “Yeah officer, we just rolled some houses, broke into a few cars, did some graffiti, and now we’re going to inconspicuously slide on home via unicycle. You know, retain a low profile.”

    How funny would’ve it been, (hypothetically) if they weren’t happy with my (lack of) responses and I stood to my guns and they decided to offer me a bed for the night. It would’ve all been worth it just to hear her say “you have the right to remain silent…”

    I think next manhunt we should aim to get that chopper with the spotlight chasing us.

  3. Kent said,

    A black chopper, naturally

  4. R3P1N5 said,

    can I come? :D

  5. R3P1N5 said,

    Looking at one of your twitts reminded me that the first 5 tiny URLs are quite important:

    Unicycles for the win.

  6. monototo said,

    of course you can join us. We’ll probably restrict it to 24″ or bigger wheels because when that chopper is gunning down we’re going to need some speed.

    nice collection of tinyurls.

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