Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Police action

My mom got pulled over on the way home from visiting my brother and his family today.

It was on a lonely stretch of road, in a dark, secluded no passing zone on Route 11 between Shickshinny and Nanticoke. My mom was already pretty rattled by having some idiot in an SUV tailgate her for miles from just a little past my brother's house. But after the tailgater finally got bored and wandered off, my mom spotted a pair of vehicles pulled off the road in the distance. One was pulled off all the way, and appeared to be a yellow Hummer; the other was a police car, and was parked partly in the driving lane, so that vehicles had to swerve around him to continue down the road. She gingerly steered around the pair and continued on her way home to Nanticoke, carefully keeping to the speed limit.

A few miles dow the road she saw flashing lights far in the distance behind her. What's this?, she thought. Maybe something was going on with the yellow Hummer. As the car approached her, she pulled partly onto the shoulder to let it pass - but it didn't. Instead it pulled up behind her, lights flashing but with no sirens.

Does he want me to pull over?, she wondered. If so, there was really nowhere to do it safely, aside from the narrow shoulder. Besides, this was the middle of nowhere, a dark, secluded stretch of road with a forest on one side and a river on the other. Fake flashers are easy enough to get, and there are plenty of psycho predators out there who like to pose as cops and pull lone female drivers over in secluded spots. This was exactly the sort of place and exactly the sort of situation where police advise you should never pull over, at least not until you can get to a safer, more heavily populated location.

Which is what she did. He did not turn on his siren until she was already pulling over, and he stopped his vehicle a considerable distance from hers.

Eventually a flashlight shone through her window. She opened it a crack, as police recommend in situations like this.

I won't recount everything that transpired. The cop accused my mother of driving erratically, and asked her if she was on drugs. He said that she had swerved while he was following her, and she pointed out that she had done this because she thought he was trying to pass her.

Then the backup arrived.

Every once in a while you will see a car pulled off the side of the road completely boxed in by four or five police cars. Usually I assume this is a person who was found with a car filled with hundreds of pounds of pure, high-grade heroin, or with a dead underage hooker in the back seat, or just an escaped criminal who is known to be armed and dangerous.

Not necessarily. Sometimes this is just a 74-year-old grandmother on her way home from visiting her family.

The cops questioned her in turn. They huddled and had conferences. One of them said to her, "Do you know how much commotion you've caused?"

In the end they decided to let her go with a citation to arrive in the mail detailing whatever the hell sort of charges they decide to make. She has no intention of caving in, of course, and will challenge whatever they choose to throw at her. But she has been deeply shaken by the incident.

Almost exactly the same thing happened to me over five years ago, after the second 3 Brix Shy show. I had been there to play photographer, and had had very little to drink - two beers immediately upon arriving, more than four hours before the time I was heading home. It was about 2:30 in the morning and I was supposed to be meeting some friends in Bryn Mawr* early the next day, so I was looking forward to getting home to bed.

I was about two miles from my house (on Route 29, a completely different road than the one where my mom's incident happened, though the two roads do in fact meet a few miles away from where both of these incidents took place) when I noticed a car pull off an on-ramp behind me (Exit 2, for those of you familiar with the road) and enter the highway. It pulled up rapidly behind me, and I could tell from its size and shape that it was an SUV of some sort. Quickly it was on my tail, and then just a few inches behind my tail, so close that his headlights were at the upper edges of my rear wimdow. I could see nothing else.

Pull around, asshole, I thought, but he didn't. Instead he stayed on my tail, and now he had his high beams on, blinding me. His lights seemed to be loose, because they were vibrating brighter and dimmer, brighter and dimmer. Great, I thought, a drunk asshole in a big badly-maintained SUV at 2:30 on a Saturday morning riding my ass a mile and a half from my house. I twisted my rear-view mirror to get the blinding glare out of my eyes, and started to curse and pray at the same time.

Then I passed a sign on the side of the road, and noticed that its outer edge was flickering blue and red.

Flashers? Where? I had to twist my side mirrors up to see that these flashers were coming from high above the top of my car, from the roof of the tailgating SUV.

I pulled over, for the first (and, so far, only) time in my life.

The cop was young and didn't seem to be full of the arrogant cockiness that a gun, a badge, and a big SUV with a light bar will give some people. He asked for my license and registration. I handed him my license and, I think, my insurance card.

He came back a minute later, and he sounded scared. "I pulled you over 'cause you were swervin' and drivin' reckless," he said, in an accent that suggested he wasn't from around these parts. (For the record, I had been neither "swervin'" nor "drivin' reckless", but I chose not to argue the point. Nor was I going to correct his atrocious grammar.) "I'm gonna let you off with a warning. Drive more careful."

I thanked him politely and went on my way. It's always important to be polite when dealing with people with badges and guns and big SUVs with light bars on top.

So what's the deal? We all know that cops have quotas. But why are so many dangerous drivers allowed free reign on the highways and byways, while innocent band photographers and grandmothers are pulled over for no reason at all?

Has anybody else had this sort of experience, especially on Route 11 between Shickshinny and Nanticoke? I'd love to know if there's a pattern here.

*Not King of Prussia, as I originally stated. Though we did stop over at the King of Prussia Mall to do some shopping.

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