Friday, April 20, 2012

I've Only Been Pulled Over Once. This Is What Happened.

They know my name because I told it to them,
But they don't know where and they don't know when
It's coming or when.
Is it coming?
Keep the car running.

"Keep the Car Running," The Arcade Fire

Not long after I started college, my parents and sisters moved away to South America. This was a mixed blessing: on the one hand, I was forced to become more independent than I might have become otherwise, in a variety of ways. On the other hand: no free laundry.

At all events, when I was in my last year of college, my parents moved back to this country. They moved into a town home in a northern suburb of Chicago called, in true suburban cut-down-trees-and-name-streets-after-them fashion, Rolling Meadows. So far as I've ever seen, it doesn't really have meadows, rolling or otherwise. It does have the thing that makes many suburbs truly aggravating: bad urban design. The streets are pretty much all either (a) little windy curvy confusing block-long things that blend into each other and end in culs-de-sac* or (b) multi-lane highways. And Heaven help you if you want to walk anywhere on a sidewalk: there are none.

After they came back, I visited my family in their new place as much as possible. It was great finally spending time together again after three years on different continents. They would pick me up somewhere in the city, and I would ride in the car to their house; I don't own a car myself, so they always drove.

Not long after their return, my family left town for a week and asked me to house-sit for them while they were away. I agreed, and they lent me the car so I could drive to Rolling Meadows after class and check in on the house. The first night after they left, I stayed out late at a party for a friend, and I didn't get going until well after midnight.

I rolled into Rolling Meadows, dead tired. I had never driven this car before, and, it suddenly dawned on me, I had never had to drive myself to my parents' house before. I didn't have directions or anything, just vague memories in a sleep-addled brain of having seen that sign, that restaurant, this stoplight. I drove in circles, slowly, trying to get my bearings and figure this out without giving up and going to sleep in the car or, worse, calling someone. Keep in mind that, mostly, this meant driving on the four-or-more-lane highways that cross through the Chicago suburbs, only occasionally stopping at stoplights. When you're tired and lost, this is not fun.

After some 30 minutes or so of this, I finally tracked down the street that would lead to the street that would lead to the street that my parents lived on. Just before I turned, blue lights flashed in my rear-view mirror: I was being pulled over, just a couple blocks from my destinationalmost within sight of it. 

A female police officer got out of her squad car and made her way to my window. As she did so, I did my best not to panic and to keep my hands on the wheel so I didn't get shot because I looked like I was going for a gun like I'd been told in sophomore year Driver's Ed class. Where are the papers for this thing? They always ask for license and registration on TVwhat's registration, is that insurance or something else? This is awful.

After the cop checked my driver's license for my (I think?) non-existent criminal record (is that what they do with it? I only have "The Blues Brothers" and "The Net," that nineties "the Internet is terrifying" movie with Sandra Bullock to go on, since those are the two movies with scenes where you actually see cops check licenses that I have seen) she came back and told me I had been traveling at under 20 mph on a 45 mph road, and looked at me with an expression demanding explanation for this most unusual of activities. I explained that I was a little lost and was looking for my parents' home, which had been true until right before I was pulled over. I also said that I was very tired, which had been true until I woke up with terror because I had been pulled over. She pointed out the street that I needed to turn on, which would have actually been very helpful at any time in the last 30 minutes but which was now useless. I thanked her, waited for her to leave, and made my turn. A few moments later, I was, finally, home.

*Yes, that's the plural of cul-de-sac. No, it doesn't make me happy to put it into writing.

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