By Sarah Pridgeon
This week, I sheepishly present the tale of my very first brush with the law. It never ceases to amaze me that the tiniest gaps in one’s knowledge can have such pointed effects.
The fiasco began as I made my way back to town after spending a lovely morning interviewing Tanja Miller and her baby goats. Full of the joys of spring, I pulled off the interstate, coasted down to the stop sign, looked left and right as usual and pulled out to continue on my way.
So far, so normal. Except, when I glanced in my rear view mirror, I saw a white truck so close to my rear bumper that we may as well have been attached like a commuter train.
I experienced an instant of utter shock, as you might imagine. This was by far the closest call I’d ever had and I simply couldn’t compute where that truck had come from – I would have sworn to you under oath that it wasn’t there when I pulled out.
Obviously it was, but I couldn’t figure out how I’d managed to miss it. I could only thank my guardian angel that it hadn’t been three inches farther down the road.
It was precisely because I was so overcome with the desire to understand how I’d been so unobservant that it took me several more seconds to observe the truck had lights on it. Red and blue ones. And they were flashing.
Oh right, I thought – it’s a police car. Does that mean the lights are for me?
In order to excuse at least a small portion of the achingly slow thought process that followed, let me take a moment to explain that I had not once, in my whole life, been pulled over by a law enforcement officer – not back in England, and not here in the land of the free. I knew it would probably happen eventually, so I’d been careful to brush up on the basics, but I’m not known for good reaction times in new and stressful situations.
I thought it through (which, again, took me a little while). License, registration, insurance – check. Aware of that need, I had cunningly placed them in the recommended easy-to-reach locations. I could do this, I was sure of it.
But what now? I suddenly realized that I had no idea what happens around the main body of such an engagement. Does one pull over regardless of location, or wait for a safe place? What exactly constitutes a safe place?
By the time I figured out that there were nothing but safe places on that road, many more seconds – and yards – had gone by. I eventually did pull over and began the process of deciding what to do next.
Engine off, window down – that much I knew. Seatbelt? Not sure, let’s take it off just to be safe. Oops, nearly forgot the radio was blaring, that’s unlikely to meet with approval.
I was still in the throes of panic (and now wondering exactly how serious an offense it is to ignore the existence of a vehicle) when I spotted the officer walking towards me, confusion on his face. I could hardly blame him, as this was surely one of his more unusual encounters for the week.
I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m a foreigner still learning the ropes or because I have such a propensity for getting myself in pickles, but I’ve found that simply looking at my face is often explanation enough for the poor souls who must cope with my mishaps. Such was the case this time: happily for me, I am well acquainted with the officer whose truck I nearly ruined.
A different officer in another town might have interpreted my failure to stop and the terror in my eyes as suspicious. I know I would have. Not to mention that, from his perspective, it appeared he had just taken part in the most sedate car chase of all time. But this officer took one look at the occupant of the vehicle and suddenly seemed to understand.
He didn’t know it was the first time I’d attracted the cherries and berries, of course, but he graciously accepted my apology and the ridiculous explanation for my behavior. He’d pulled me over to make sure I wasn’t drunk or otherwise incapacitated, but I explained that the goats had been selfish about sharing their whiskey, so I hadn’t touched a drop all day.
Almost done, just one thing left – was I supposed to pull out first, or wait for him to leave? The polite thing would be to wait, but what are the rules? Once again, time ticked by as I figured out the protocol.
I crawled back to town, clutching the steering wheel, the truck still visible in my mirror. It wasn’t that I was planning to get up to anything naughty, just that I know from many years of experience that, if something odd is going to happen, it’s probably going to happen to me.
Finally, knuckles white, I pulled in to a parking space and let out my breath…but the truck had stopped behind me. Fearing the worst, I opened the door to hear what I’d managed to do wrong.
“Your brake light is out,” he chuckled, and drove away.
The officer who had the questionable privilege of pulling me over for the very first time has kindly given me permission to recount this tale – and, of course, was nothing but kind and professional throughout. I can only thank those lucky stars of mine that it was a familiar face willing to give this funny foreigner the benefit of the doubt.
At least, if there’s a next time, I’ll have a better idea of what’s expected. But to all the wonderful peacekeepers in this region, I apologize in advance – whatever it is you need me to do, it’s probably going to take me an embarrassingly long time to do it.