12:30 a.m., March 19, 1994. Somewhere in Romania.
I was on my way to pick up a fellow Entrust staff member at the train station. Maybe the fact that it was late and I was sleepy explains why the policeman at the checkpoint fumed: “Why are you looking at me that way?”
“Car papers!” he demanded. I showed him my papers.
“License.” I showed him my South Carolina driver’s license. Even now, I wonder what was turning over in his mind as he tried to figure out that little card in small-print English.
“You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?” he gruffly asked. “No,” I replied. “You’ve been drinking a little bit, haven’t you?” “No.” “Come on. You’ve been drinking just a little, haven’t you?” “No.” I had thoroughly mastered the art of brevity in my dealings with the police.
“Get out of the car.” I got out, prepared to be asked to walk a straight line or something similar. Instead, he pointed to the other officer and said, “Breathe in his face.” Rather stunned, but nevertheless obedient, I went to the other officer and breathed in his face. The second officer turned to the first and with a blank, slightly pained expression intoned, “Nothing.”
It was only then that I realized the first officer was the “talking policeman” and the second was the “smelling policeman” (or Romanian breathalyzer). If ever you think your job is unpleasant, consider what it must be like to be a “smelling policeman” in a country where oral hygiene is not always the best and garlic is consumed in huge quantities.
“What do you do here?” “I teach.” “At the university?” “No.” “At the high school?” “No.”
By this time, he had caught on to my strategy of one-word answers and asked me a question that demanded more than a yes or a no. “Where?”
“I teach in different churches and train pastors and Christian leaders.” Then, as if a light had turned on in his penetrating, legal-analytical mind, he summarized, “Oh, you don’t even drink.”
I drove off, a free man.
Jerry Wells served with Entrust in Romania for 28 years, many of those years under communism. He and his wife Meda and their two daughters now live in South Carolina.