While I’ve always enjoyed driving, I can’t say that I love the driving culture. Coming from New York City where drivers licenses are used primarily to gain entrance to bars, pick up tickets at will call and travel within U.S. borders, I never gave much thought to what their primary purpose actually is. Until, of course, I needed to use mine for said primary purpose.
Last Friday, noon. Fifteen miles from home. Hungry.
I’m driving down a relatively major road in a relatively wealthy neighborhood thinking about what I am going to have for lunch when I get home. Suddenly, I see a police car in my rear view mirror. Sirens go on. Asshole tightens. Hunger stops. Immediately.
I start pulling over to the right, but there’s no shoulder. Up ahead is a on-ramp to a major highway, meaning my options are limited to stopping traffic or appearing to evade arrest. All this takes place at a stop light, with me at the head of the line and the cop directly behind me. Lights flashing. Yeah, I get it.
The light changes and a few yards up ahead I spot a bus stop. I pull in. A group of people are sitting on a bench waiting for the bus. I can’t tell if they’re shaking their heads because of the cop behind me or because I’m blocking their access to oncoming buses. Either way, I'm the asshole.
In my rearview mirror, I watch the cop exit his car and approach mine. Here is where I flash back to all the times I have gotten pulled over in the past:
Spring, 1997: I’ve only had my license for a few months when I’m stopped for doing 70 in a 55 on the east end of
Summer, 1998: After a fight with my girlfriend, I get pulled over driving stupidly fast on the highway at night. I use a PBA card given to me by one of the ferry captains with whom I worked to get out of a ticket. The police officer confirms the information and before sending me on my way says, “You’d better buy your friend a steak dinner.” I am shamed into driving safely for years, until . . .
Spring, 2001: On our way home from spring break in
More than anything, though, right now I am picturing all the times I have watched people get pulled over in movies. Not having a run in with the law in eight years kind of removes my consciousness from the situation. Is there something I’m supposed to do now? There was that episode of Friends where Rachel talked her way out of the ticket. Advisable?
Officer: “May I see your license, registration, and insurance card?”
This throws me, because on TV it’s always “License and registration, please.” I open the glove compartment very slowly, fearing he may think I am going for a weapon. Not knowing exactly what all these documents look like, I pull everything out and start going through it.
While I’m doing this, the officer is slyly scoping out the back seat. Suddenly I am irrationally afraid that I have something incriminating back there, like a gun or a kidnapped baby. Without turning to look, I run through a mental checklist: purple umbrella stolen from a fashion show, random items of clothing, sawdust from a trip to Home Depot, magazines, and a wine tote, all of which in my mind come together to cast overwhelming suspicion on me. Clearly I am a dangerous bank robber with a body in the trunk. This isn’t going well.
But wait, there’s more! Just about now I remember something: My driver’s license is expired.
[Cue losing sound from any major game show.]
Flashback to November, 2002: “Wow, this thing expires in 2009. That’s so far off!”
Flashback to November, 2008: “Ugh, I have to get a
Flashback to February, 2009: “I should find the local DM . . . hey, Friday Night Lights is on!”
Flashback to five seconds ago: “Fuck.”
The officer takes all my documentation just as a bus is pulling up.
Me: “Is it OK to be stopped here?”
Officer: “I’ll be right back.”
Here’s the part where you are left alone to think about all the things you should have done differently.
After renewing my license, Brooke and I went out for ice cream. I had a strawberry shake and she had a cone. That night we made love while it rained. The next day, I went out for a drive with the windows open. As the sunshine poured in, I maintained the speed limit.
Ten minutes pass of me sitting in silence (I fear that turning on the radio may look like I’m planning an escape) thinking about how this never would have happened on the subway, where you literally have to reach third base with someone against their will to get in trouble.
Finally, I see the officer exit his car again. Except he isn’t carrying anything. Not my license, not a ticket. Nothing. This can’t be good.
(Stay tuned for Part 2, wherein I give my dignity a swirly in the toilet before accidentally hitting on a foreign cocktail waitress.)