Saturday, September 10, 2011

this night is a bust

“I heard the cops are trying to give lots of cell phone tickets before the 19th,” Nicole warned me at lunch.

It could have been something she read on a news site or the seed of an urban legend; either way, I stayed off my phone on the long drive to Burbank, where the plan was to meet Sara at the mall (like middle school!) for a little shopping followed by a mojito (not like middle school, unless your middle school was much more advanced than mine).

Sara had forgotten her cell phone that morning, so we came up with a very specific meet-up plan over email: Macy’s entrance to the mall, first floor, 7:30. If traffic slowed me down, she’d just shop in the general vicinity. I was just a few minutes late, but Sara was nowhere to be seen. I hung around house wares, craning my neck at all blondish heads.

Various sales people asked if I needed help, and it occurred to me that I looked like a terrorist nervously casing the place. I’d just heard an NPR report about all the people stopped at the Mall of America for “suspicious behavior,” which included things like taking notes (while black) and accidentally leaving a cell phone in the food court (while Pakistani).

My white self went un-harassed, but I never did find Sara. After texting later, we realized that we’d probably just missed each other by a few feet. Also, since different floors open to the street, there may have been some confusion about what the “first floor” was.

At least Old Navy was selling things for dirt cheap. I bought a sacky sweatshirt dress which I just learned is technically exercise gear, but I think it will look good belted, with heels. And hey, it was less than the price of a mojito. Then I headed home, and was promptly pulled over.

Last weekend someone rammed my back bumper and taillight while my car was parked on the street, so I was expecting a fix-it ticket. But the bald, blue-eyed young officer who pulled me over informed me that the month part of my registration tags was faded.

“I’m not even really sure what you’d do about that,” he said as he looked over my license. “When you renew your registration, they just send you the year sticker, so…. But, anyway, you might want to try to take care of that.”

I did not ask the obvious question, which was, If you’re a cop and you don’t know what I should do about it, how am I supposed to know? I mean, I guess I could go wait in line at the DMV, but…no.

He asked me where I was coming from and where I was going and let me go. A few months ago, AK was pulled over in the northwest part of South L.A. while she was parked and asked why she’d pulled the hood of her sweater down as soon as the cops came by.

“I didn’t, actually” she said.

“And you’re wearing sunglasses,” he said.

“Because the sun is bright.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I go to school at Antioch, and I pulled over so I could eat a snack.” She held up her baggie of almonds.

Later she told me, “I always get really defensive, like, Could I be more innocent?! I’m a grad student eating a healthy snack!

He asked to see her student ID and then let her go. She went home, confused and outraged. What if she’d been a bum eating a cheeseburger? What the police want is a story that makes sense to them. Stories that don’t add up are a good way to tease out crimes, but it’s also legal to be weird. What if I’d driven to Burbank just so I could sit in traffic on the 405? What is my narrative debt to society?

Let me say here that I don’t hate cops. My favorite uncle was a cop for years and now works as a psychologist with the police department. I think cops have a ridiculously hard job, and they’re prone to making mistakes that any human would make while doing a ridiculously hard job. When I’ve seen hit-and-runs, I haven’t hesitated to call them.

I wrote an angry letter to the LAPD when my mentee told me that they were overturning the food carts of street vendors like her mom. (Yeah, didn’t hear back.) But I also did not exactly take her side when she got a ticket for drinking on the street. (“I’m gonna fight it,” she said, “’cause I was just holding that beer.”) Still, sometimes I feel a strong sense of why don’t you go investigate some real crimes?!

I’m sure most police officers are thinking about their fallen comrades of September 11, 2001 this weekend. Listening to a firefighter who barely made it out of the second tower speak on the radio, I was as full of love as any straight woman gazing at a fireman beefcake calendar.

These are dirty jobs, and I’m glad I don’t have to do them. I don’t blame people for being a little jumpy this weekend. Sure, if you see something, say something, but I don’t think my faded registration tag counts as “something.” Although you could say the deal I got on that sweatshirt dress was criminal.


Tracy Lynn said...

I have no idea why, but cops pretty much never hassle me. Maybe I seem like I'm harmless.
More the fool them, if so.

Nice dress, btw.

christine said...

I got a phone ticket in the car last Thursday! I forgot *both* my headsets at home/work and was trying to let someone know I was running late. Argh.

Cheryl said...

T: Probably because they don't think spoons are weapons. If only they knew.

C: Argh is right. I guess it's not an urban legend.