Day 11: Write about an experience you had that was so strange or incredible, it sounds like it could have been made up.
For almost the entirety of my time at college, I drove a white, 1988 Ford Mustang hatchback LX. She taught me how to drive stick and ferried me safely on my first solo road trip. I adorned her with bumper stickers that loudly proclaimed me to be a GLYSEN supporting, X-Rated Pleasure Kitten and lost more than one heat shield while bouncing her over rutted dirt roads in search of the perfect place to camp. She played only mixtapes and radio, and one time, in order to escape my company, a boy climbed out of her while she was still moving (true story). I’d had other cars before her, but as far as influence, experience and nostalgia are concerned, she was my first. I took her everywhere.
That car could tell the story of my late teens and early 20s, madly bombing up the Northway in blizzards and carrying carloads of girls around New York State on rugby Saturdays. She endured hours of Phish bootlegs (only because he was cute), and her carpets were heavy with sand from summer trips to the Hampton Bays and Dune Road K. I smoked in her and drank in her and made her use every one of her four cylinders as if they were eight.
And so, of course, was I pulled over in her.
On a late October Sunday, I packed my brother into the back seat and a good gentleman friend into the front (in this case, seating determined by size and limb length), and headed out on the 2 hour drive back to the homeland. Hermanito had been visiting, enjoying what had become my annual birthday present to him; an all-expenses-paid trip to college for a weekend of concerts (Rusted Root! Drop Kick Murphys! De la Soul!! Bosstones!), corner joint pizza with cold cheese and a lax attitude toward the presence and use of taboo substances. Friend had a load of stuff to bring home to his parents’ place. After getting gas, I pointed us south and fired up a joint, accelerating smoothly into the mountains. The weather was still relatively nice, sun beaming hard through the crisp air and over the last of the changing leaves, outlining everything in a rainbow-y gold glare.
About 15 minutes downroad, we settled in, all pleasantly elevated, and I lit a Parliament, watching the first blue curls of smoke slip out the crack in my window. I can taste that cigarette as I picture the action, recessed filter clamped between my front teeth as I fumbled with the lighter. The easy conversation of friends and family slip-slid between us and I’d just found the sweet spot on the radio dial
when I was jolted out of reverie by the flashing lights of a state trooper in my rearview. And of course, I panicked. I’d been doing the speed limit. I could only surmise that we’d been spotted disposing of the pre-ciggy, and so began envisioning the worst case scenarios:
Older sister (should know better) is caught smoking weed (supposed to be setting an example!) in a car and is promptly pulled over and arrested (jailed forever) while her little (not yet capable of caring for his poor, poor self) brother is left at the side of the road with her friend to await the parental minivan. Sister is allowed to rot in a prison cell, and forced to watch re-runs of her parents in the courtroom, their faces telegraphing that the are So Disappointed in her.
The officer strode up to the window of my car and I handed him my license and registration. I was petrified to ask what he’d pulled me over for, so I kept my mouth shut as he perused my documents at a speed of negative rotations per minute. After a length of time, he crouched a little lower, and with hand on gun, asked me a barrage of questions:
“How long have you been driving?” 15 minutes
“Where did you enter the Northway?” Exit 37
“How fast were you going?” 7-ish
“At any time did you exit the Northway?” No?
“Who are the people in your car?” My brother and friend.
“Where are you going?” Dropping my brother off in our hometown.
“And you’ve been in the car the whole time?” Yes?
After a second, the questions started to puzzle me. He asked the same ones about three times a piece in different orders, then he asked them of my brother and friend. I was shaking. Was he stalling? Waiting for back up? It was only a joint, for Gods’ sake, why the 3rd degree? I finally took a breath and looked him in the face:
“Sir, can you tell me what I’ve been pulled over for, please?”
He stopped and looked back at me:
“I’m going to my car to run these” (holding up my papers and license) “Please stop your engine. At no time, are you to start your vehicle. At no time are you to exit your vehicle. Do not open your doors, do not make as if to leave your vehicle.”
He gave each of these commands in a forceful and grave way, and I could hear the metallic clink of a metal door to a jail cell slamming closed. I was mortified and had no idea what was going to happen to me. In my tiniest voice, I asked him if was okay to smoke a cigarette while we waited.
“Certainly,” he said, “Just do NOT exit your vehicle.”
And he walked back to the patrol car. I was sweating. My brother was silent in the back, thinking who knows what and my friend and I were frantically making up legal facts.
“There is nothing else in the car” I said. “You weren’t speeding, there was no probable cause” he said. We must have sounded ridiculous and 3 years old. As I sucked to the middle of my cigarette, I saw the door to the cruiser open, and out stepped Officer Twilight Zone. As he leaned in toward my window, there wasn’t a thing written in his face. With his next words, my heart dropped into my stomach and if we hadn’t so recently been to a gas station, I would have lost control of my bladder:
“Miss, I need you to step out of the car. Please place your hands in my view and do not attempt to get anything out of your pockets. I am going to open the door.”
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe this was happening. What was happening? If I was at all high when he pulled me over, adrenaline took care of the remaining buzz, wiping my brain clear and sending itself WHOOSH! down into my toes. I stepped from my car and looked up at him with shiny eyes:
“Sir, I don’t understand….”
“Please step to the rear of your vehicle.” We did so, and he began asking me all the same questions again. I answered tremorously, seconds away from losing the contents of my stomach.
“Miss, are you driving this vehicle of your own free will?”
“Yes?” I said, my question evident in my crinkled brow. “I don’t under…”
He interrupted me: “Neither of the gentleman in there have a weapon? You aren’t being forced to drive?”
I almost laughed out loud. It was the most absurd question I’d ever been asked, and it threw me even further off guard.
“No sir. That’s my friend. And my brother. Really.”
“Well please stand here, I’m going to ask you to open the hatch and allow me to look through the things back there.”
And so I did, and he did, picking up my North Face fleece and my brothers backpack, my ice scraper, my first aid kit, a Chug-A-Mug, placing everything back where he found it. After a minute or so of rifling through my things, he closed the hatchback and instructed me to get back in my car.
“Please step back into your vehicle. And again, please do not attempt to exit it, or to start the vehicle.”
I collapsed in my seat, and we began round 2 of a frantic collection of facts and questions. What was with the questions? “Can you believe he thought I was being kidnapped?” What was happening? I smoked another two cigarettes before the office returned to my window. I almost startled when he handed me back my papers.
“Thank you very much for being patient, Miss. You are free to go.”
Huh? What? What just happened?
“Bu-but, sir? Wait? I can go? Now? Really? Well, then, can I ask you why I was pulled over?”
He paused for a breath and chuckled softly.
“Well” he said, “Your car fits exactly the description of a getway car used in a robbery at a sporting goods store in Keene, which is about 1 minute from the exit you passed back there when I pulled you over. Same number of occupants in the vehicle, male/male/female with a female driving. They just caught the guy though, so you are free to go.”
You could have heard a pin drop. I smiled and shook my head and started my car. The officer told me to be careful pulling out and walked back to his car while I accelerated the hell out of there. I lit another cigarette and tried to get my hands to stop shaking.
“Can you believe that shit?? How ridiculous is that?? Who does this happen to? It’s a good thing we didn’t have anything in the car when he searched….” And a rush of other random thoughts that my brain could no longer keep a reign on.
I looked across at my friend, and he had a greenish, nervous look on his face.
“What’s the matter? You going to be sick?”
“No” he said, “but I do have something to tell you….”
I looked at him and then back at the road, suddenly nervous again.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Well, you just really have no idea. No idea how close that was. And I’m so sorry, and I’m such an asshole and, Jesus, Jen. I was bringing home some weight for my neighbor. It’s in my bag right now. The one in the back, that he didn’t even touch. We were so lucky he didn’t touch it. I’m so sorry. Jen, I’m so sorry.”
Over the next five minutes, my friend told me how much he was carrying and it made me laugh in a sick way at the scenarios I’d been going over in my head 40 minutes before then. Had we been caught, we would have assuredly NOT been allowed to go anywhere save in handcuffs.
The verbal barrage that he received and the subsequent repair that our friendship needed is a story for another time. My brother made it home safely and we never spoke of it to our parents. Patting the steering wheel, I shook my head drove back up to school that night still jittery and disbelieving,