I was driving home late one night from my boyfriend’s house after our video game/Big Bang Theory/Go to Target and Get Ice Cream night. He was on my speakerphone and I told him, “It’s really eerie out here. Usually when I drive back from your place there are people all over. I haven’t seen one car the entire time I have been driving out here. I saw a bicyclist and that was it.”
I was about ten minutes into the drive with about five minutes left when I finally found my first car. It was at a neighborhood intersection, and I was going straight and this car was coming from my right and the person had a stop sign. The vehicle had such bright lights that I had to turn my head away.
As I continued driving straight, and when I glanced in my rear-view mirror, my heart jumped when I realized the person with the bright headlights was tailgating me dangerously close. I sped up a little bit to put some space in between us and the person stayed so close to me that it seemed like our cars were attached by magnets. I considered pulling over and letting the person pass, but then I noticed we were approaching an intersection that had broken stoplights that flashed red. I figured that would put some space between our vehicles. I would stop, pull forward through the intersection, and then that person would have to stop. We’d finally have a little space. Then I could safely change lanes and let the person pass.
We pulled up to the flashing lights and I completed my stop, but to my great frustration and slight horror, the person behind me did not stop at the light and rolled right through, continuing to tailgate me very closely.
“Maybe I should take another route,” I thought. “I could drive near the police station or someplace very public. What is a public place around here?“
Just as I was finishing that thought, two blue and red lights turned on behind me from the top of the vehicle, and I thought, “Holy crap. A police officer was following me. What is going on?“
I told my boyfriend I needed to go. I was being pulled over. I worried it was for using my speakerphone. I thought speakerphones were allowed. And how would I be able to prove it was my speakerphone I was using? Does AT&T track whether or not you take your calls normally or on speaker? Somehow I didn’t think so.
Then I thought, “Maybe I have a brake light out! I bet that’s it. I haven’t checked those in forever. I bet I have a light out. That will be an easy fix.“
I remembered some of my friends telling me that they had been pulled over by officers while driving anywhere from 11-2 am and had the officer simply ask them what they were doing out so late, ask them where they were headed, and then they let them go off and do their thing. No particular reason, just a safety check I guess. I thought maybe the police officer was going to ask me that too, and I felt relieved.
But then, as I began to roll down my window, I thought, “It was weird I didn’t see lights for like a quarter of a mile. Why would he follow me and then finally pull me over?” I remembered an article about several girls who had been pulled over by guys in fake uniforms and fake police cars and then they’d been raped and murdered, and I thought, “Oh my gosh. What if he is a fake policeman?” I remembered that I had pepper spray attached to my keys that were hanging from my ignition that I could use. Oh yeah…and I’m a first degree black belt, for whatever that’s worth…
I rolled my window down about a quarter of the way until I could clearly see his badge and the city’s police symbol and my heart sunk. I rolled my window down all the way. Is it bad that I wished in that moment that he really was a fake policeman who wanted to rape and murder me and then I could get away? The fact that he was a real policeman meant something was wrong. Brake lights, out late, speakerphone….maybe was I going too slow for the speed limit? Can you get pulled over for that? Maybe something about my license plate was wrong? Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have been driving with my brights on? Panic was setting in and my thoughts began freezing up.
He stood outside my window and gently and calmly said, “I’m pulling you over because you ran a stop sign back there.”
That was not what I expected at all. I was really confused. What stop sign?
I think I managed a pathetic “I did?” followed up by a dumbfounded, “Oh,” when I realized the full ramifications of what this would mean for me, my family, our finances, my driving record, taking an online class and rearranging my schedule for the next few weeks to make time for that.
I began beating myself up inside. “Why hadn’t you seen the stop, you retard? What the heck is wrong with you? You just messed EVERYTHING up. Now your family is going to have less money, your next paycheck is going to be spent already, you are a horrible, horrible driver.“
“Do you know which stop I am talking about?” he asked me, identifying the street name that I apparently missed the stop on. I pretended like I did. I have no ideas about roads around here. I just drive them based on landmarks because I have lived here my entire life. The particular road I was on that night is one I have driven probably the amount of times I could count on one hand, despite my twenty years in this city, just because there has never been a need for me to drive it. I was house-sitting, though, so I was taking a different route home at night. I must have just missed the stop sign because I was unfamiliar with the road or something. Puzzled, I simply nodded, and gave him an affirmation that I knew the road he was talking about, so I didn’t look so dumb.
“I’ll need to see your driver’s license and registration, please.” Right. Well, that was one thing I could do correctly. I was eager to obey and I began to turn to grab my purse, but I realized that my boyfriend had loaded up my purse in my trunk along with my laptop case, martial arts gear bag, and some groceries. Dang. I didn’t know rules about being pulled over, because I had never been pulled over. Was he going to tackle me or shoot me if I got out of the car?
“Am I allowed to get out of the car to get my license from the trunk?“
I got out, nervously went to the back where I had already popped the trunk, dug through my purse, and for a brief moment, I thought, “I bet this is the night that my purse got stolen or somebody took my license and it has been gone for days and I just didn’t notice it, just like I didn’t notice that stop sign.” Will he take me to jail? Does this even have a jail? Will my dad or boyfriend get a call saying I was apprehended for….for all the laws I broke? It dawned on me, “Oh my gosh. Maybe I am a criminal now!“
I found the wallet, opened it, and there was my driver’s license. I handed it to him. I am under 21, so it was one of those vertical ones. He studied it, and I waited, and wondered why it was taking so long, and then I exclaimed, “Oh, you need that other thing…the uh…the uh…” I thought back to movies….”Driver’s license and registration…” “You need the uh….registration, it is called?“
He nodded and followed me back to the front of my car. I remembered my dad telling me that he put my registration in a black book in my dash.
I opened the dash, not realizing that the previous female owner had stocked my dashboard compartment with tampons and pads, all of which came spilling out on the floor right in front of the male officer. I was so embarrassed. I threw them below the seat, and then suddenly I thought, “I hoped he saw I just threw tampons, and that he doesn’t think I am a druggie too now. Oh my gosh. Jail really is inevitable.”
To my dismay, there were two black books…oh wait, three….and it occurred to me that I had no idea what a registration looked like. Was it a card, a slip of paper, maybe it was in between business card size and pull printer size paper…would it be folded if it was full size? Would it say REGISTRATION in all caps? ….
I opened the black books in my lap, sifted through them, not really reading any words because I was so nervous, and then I finally admitted, “I don’t really know what I am looking for. My dad says he put my registration in one of these books. Is it like…a card?“
“It should be a DMV card,” he replied, not taking any initiative to help me look. I was sinking fast. “If I can’t find it in one of these books, I am going to have to tell him I need to call my dad.“
Then I played that conversation out in my mind:
“Becca? Why are you calling me so late?“
“I got pulled over. Where is my registration….? I can’t find it.“
“Why are you pulled over?“
“I am a criminal and I am going to jail. I ran a stop sign. I was talking on speakerphone. I pepper sprayed the fake policeman in my imagination because I didn’t want to be murdered. I got out of the car because my license was in the back. I threw tampons under the seat. I can’t find my registration. What is a registration?“
Ugh. I shook that imaginary conversation away. I looked at the police officer helplessly, about to ask if I could use my phone to call my dad, and then he asked me, “Are you on probation?”
I thought for a moment. Was I on probation? What was probation? I must have heard this somewhere before. A movie, a textbook, a friend? I have heard of license probation. I have heard of people being on probation. But what was probation, and was I on it? I figured I would know if I was on probation. So I guessed.
He paused, examined my face with his calm, slightly amused expression, and I wondered if he was using humor. But then I thought, “No, he is serious, because he is about to arrest me for not knowing where my registration is in these black books and he will probably put me in prison now for lying about being on probation.” Was I on probation or not…? Could I ask him if I was on probation? That might look bad.
“Are you an ax murderer?” he asked.
I didn’t hear the end of the sentence.
“Am I a what?” I repeated, in defeat. I already knew the answer was probably yes. I had already spilled tampons in front of the guy and didn’t know if I was on probation or not.
“Are you an ax murderer?” he repeated.
I was confused. Did that have double meaning? Was this standard questioning by police officers? What kind of ax murderer would answer yes to that question? And of course, me being me, I took him very literally and very seriously.
“I….I….” I stuttered, not knowing if it was a trick question. “I….I don’t think so,” I finally managed.
I was so stressed out. Was I an ax murderer on probation who was running stop signs and spilling tampons and thinking real policemen were fake policemen and considering using pepper spray for self defense and forgetting to ask her dad what a registration looked like?
How bad would jail be? I wondered….
“I’ll tell you what,” he replied, his voice taking on a reassuring and calming tone. “Keep an eye out for those stop signs and have your dad show you what the registration looks like, and I’ll let you go with a warning tonight, okay?“
I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t going to jail? Thank goodness.
“Oh…Oh…thank you so much.“
I collapsed in my seat as he walked away, and I shoved all the tampons back in the glove box. I turned to wave goodbye to the policeman and realized there were two cars now, and I think I waved at the wrong policeman.
Then I wondered, did the first guy bring in back up in case I was an ax murderer or on probation, whatever the heck that was….?
I called my boyfriend to tell him I was okay, that I ran a stop sign apparently, and I got pulled over, and the policeman was kind enough to give me a warning.
Then I asked him, “Am I on probation?“
“Are you what?” he replied, laughing.
“Am I on probation?” I repeated, very seriously. “Because if I am, then I accidentally just lied to that policeman and I need to tell him the truth.“
“No, Darling…You are not on probation. Did he ask you that?“
“Yes, and then he asked if I was an ax murderer and I said no. Did I answer him right?“
I heard laughing on the other end of the line. “He was using humor, Becca. He probably saw you were nervous. It was just humor.“
Oh…humor. I shall go study this social construct now…..
Anyway, I am very grateful for the grace that police officer gave me. I wish I could have thanked him better.