Happy Tuesday, everybody.
The other week, I went to a local event in my area called “Coffee with a Cop” as part of an attempt at character research for a novel I’ve got cooking (I actually sort of chickened out then had to come back after being light-heartedly berated by a department clerk, but that’s a story for another time). Point is, it’s a really cool shin-dig wherein members of the local police department convene at a designated coffee shop and are available to the public for questions, conversation, and general hang-out.
Reflecting on it and my notes, it got me thinking about the, precisely, two times I’ve been at odds with The Law – both simple traffic violations.
The first was a simple speeding ticket, and not worth mentioning besides this note telling you it isn’t worth mentioning.
The second was a bit more fun.
For a bit of context, let’s rewind. You all remember Pierre, the roommate who ignited the apartment-wide Cold War? Well, maybe six years ago, he had a girlfriend who’s father had the following belief: “Eh, I just use the carpool lane year-round and whenever. Whenever I get caught, I just treat the ticket like my membership fee.”
As a 19-year-old, I thought this philosophy was goddamn brilliant.
So that’s what I did. For years, I was “that guy,” the one who blazed passed you losers caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. I did this as a renegade road warrior for years; and you know what? I was always on time (
sort of kind of not really not the point).
Well one day, I hopped on the freeway, scooted over to the fast lane like usual, and was on my way. Except this time was different. This time, I got a little funny feeling in the back of my brain. A little tingle like ESP that told me, for some inexplicable reason, today was the wrong day to do this. Some would call it paranoia, some would call it guilt, others might call it an impending sense of divine CHP justice (I’d probably side with the latter). But whatever you want to call it, in that moment I was certain I’d made a bad move. So I started trying to merge back in line. Thing was, my plan worked TOO WELL.
I was flying passed columns of barely-moving vehicles, making really good time to my next job (yeah, by the way, it was during a summer where I was working a second job to help teach an English class – well, tutor, but you get me), but all the while thinking that today it was a bad idea, and for the life of me I couldn’t find a spot to merge back into line.
Well, about five minutes into this master class of seeing the future, that’s when I saw him: Officer Powers.
And no shit, I’m not making his name up either to make him sound cool or ‘protect his identity’ or anything. His name was legitimately Officer Powers (like, I’m sure he had a first name, but you know what I’m saying).
Anyway, the freeway passes under an overpass and time…just…
Well, you ever have one of those experiences where you experience a single second of time, but it feels slowed down and stretched into fifteen? That happened here. As I drove under the overpass, I turned my head (slow-motion eyes blinking included) and saw a motorcycle cop that had been hidden on the other side of the barrier. I watch his eyes (behind his badass sunglasses) slowly rise from his radar gun and – y’all – I could feel the eye contact. With our eyes alone and all in an instant, we had the following conversation:
Me: “You see me, right?”
Him: “Oh, yeah.”
Me: “And you see me seeing you, right?”
Him: “Mmhm, most definitely.
Me: “And you can tell I’m seeing you seeing me, right?”
Then, just as quickly as it had slowed, time resumed its usual pace, and as it did, my heart started thumping. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap!” it kept saying.
Then OF COURSE a spot opens up in a regular lane, I scoot into it and start hoping, “Well, maybe that whole thing was imagined. Maybe that badass hawk-eyed cop lost track of me.”
A few seconds later I heard the ‘Whoop-Whoop’, saw the lights, and he pulled up behind lil’ old me.
Now, here’s the problem. Like I mentioned up top, I’ve been pulled over precisely once before on the freeway. That time, it had been a complete piece of cake. Freeway, nighttime with no other cars, just before an off-ramp that pulled directly into a gas station. Super safe, super easy, no mess, no fuss.
This time, it was on a hot, bright, busy day, with the Great Migration of Southern Traffic happening, and I didn’t know to/how to pull over onto the shoulder.
So…I…just kept driving.
Like, I was in the right-hand lane and trying to choose and exit to take, but couldn’t find a similar, utterly perfect one; so I panicked and stayed on the freeway.
I took so long to pull off that the car driving in front of me must have had a guilty conscience over something and pulled off to the shoulder themselves (or they were demonstrating for me, I don’t know). Point is, I take so long to pull over, the guy rides up to my window.
Him: “Hey, are you gonna pull over or what?”
Me: “Um, erm, I, uh, um…downtown exit?”
I can’t see his eyes roll behind his shiny-ass aviator glasses, but I felt it.
I finally pull off the freeway at the designated exit, but then I encounter another problem: where to park?
I come up to a stop light, and take a right because I know it goes into a neighborhood with, normally, plenty of street parking where I can proudly receive my traffic citation. Except today, the curbs are all super busy. So I come up to a 4-way stop intersection thinking this: “Well, I mean, there’s a little bit of space over there, but it looks like it’s a bit of red curb and, ho-ho, I don’t wanna double down. That spot looks open, but- oof, looks like a yellow curb…”
Meanwhile, Officer Powers has again approached my driver’s side window as three other cars have approached the intersection, but are all awkwardly sitting there since it’s my turn to go and nobody wants to go out of order while a cop is present. I roll my window down.
Me: “Hi again.”
Him: “Yeah, hi. You see that patch of curb over there?” -he points-
He holds his hands up to hold the three other cars back as a way to direct traffic for me as he waves me forward to my parking spot.
The [French accent] piece de resistance?
I smirk and nod at one of the cars I pass. Y’all, I felt like such a pimp getting my very own police escort that I chest-pumped at a stranger.
Anyway, once I park, it was nothing but a (further) pleasant experience. He told me I come off like I’m new to this sort of thing, to which I confess I am, to which he responds that he guesses that’s probably a good thing.
In the end, I was late to work, got my ticket and a story, and I haven’t violated the rules of the carpool/HOV lane since. #thesystemworks
Also, I told my mom about the whole thing, and she laughed with me. I told my girlfriend and got my ass chewed plum off for it. Learned a lot that day.
Catch you guys Thursday!
ALSO I HAVE MORE NEWS!!
My episode with the NIGHTLIGHT podcast dropped last Friday!! It features a horror story of mine: “The Scars of Eliza Gray“. Go, it’s free, give it a listen, and if you wanna, stick around after the 25-minute mark to listen to my interview with the podcast’s creator, Tonia Thompson. It was a TON of fun to do and I’m sure we’ll have more news like this in the future.