The political life of Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, flashed before his eyes Monday night when a Utah Highway Patrol officer appeared at the window of his parked car near I-15 - just as Owens had pulled off his pants.
As thoughts of a possible career-destroying indecent exposure arrest crossed his mind, Owens smiled at the officer and said, "You know, sometimes being a congressman is really complicated."As with most complicated situations, Owens' problem began simple but mushroomed - which he explained to the officer.
"I had been in Escalante during the day, riding horses and meeting with people about wilderness," Owens later told the Deseret News.
He wore cowboy clothes and boots for that. "And they were covered with . . . well, the stuff you kick around in horse corrals."
He flew back to Salt Lake City in the evening but was running late for an important reception in Sandy to open a new Discover Card operations center.
As he conducted business on his car phone, he began looking for a gas station with a restroom where he could change into the suit that he had hanging in his Blazer.
"But I couldn't find one, and it was getting late," Owens said. "So I pulled off to the side of I-15. I pulled way off - down the side of sort of a borrow pit there." He added, "I was sitting behind my steering wheel and pulled off my boots and kicked them to the side. I pulled off my Levi's and was starting to pull up my suit pants when I looked up at the window and there stood a highway patrolman - emphasis on patrolMAN."
Thoughts of scandal immediately filled his mind. "An indecent exposure violation would ruin the career of any politician in Utah," he said.
The patrolman asked, "What in the world are you doing?" Owens mustered his strength, "smiled as big as I could" and then told the officer his job can sometimes be complicated - and explained what he had done.
"We just laughed about it," he said. No ticket. No end to his political career. "But I'm never going to change my clothes in the car again."
As Owens' press secretary, Art Kingdom, listened to him tell the story to the Deseret News, Kingdom shook his head and said, "Where's a cop when you need one."