Jessie Raymond: Police encounter ends life of crime

When I saw flashing blue lights in my rearview mirror one evening last week, I pulled over to let the cop go past.
But instead of flying by, he pulled in right behind me.
My first thought: Not this again.
I’m not proud to say it, but I have a history of run-ins with the law.
There was that time the summer after high school graduation when I got pulled over for going 35 in a 25 mile-per-hour zone. The officer let me off with a warning.
Then there was that time about 15 years ago when I got stopped on a lonesome stretch of 22A south of Benson for going 62 in a 50. That time I got a ticket.
This time, as before, I panicked.
The policeman did nothing to put me at ease. From the cruiser, he shone a light roughly the size of the Hubble telescope lens directly into my car. The sensory overload disoriented me. I started shaking and sweating.
As he approached the car I whispered to myself, “What do I do? What do I do?” The only options that struck me were “Fight, flight or freeze.” And possibly “drop and roll.” In the blinding light, I couldn’t think straight.
My mind jumped to the various town police logs the Addy Indy publishes each week, and suddenly I had a plan: I’d step on the gas and leave the scene with a squeal of tires, shouting “Take that, pig!” I’d lead the officer on a high-speed chase through the back roads of Addison County, ending up bogged down in a cornfield somewhere. After an attempt to flee on foot, I’d be tackled and cuffed and locked in the back of the cruiser, where I’d kick and spit and bang my head against the window.
I decided against it. Too dramatic. But such are the thoughts that flit through one’s head when under duress.
The officer approached my window, but I couldn’t lower it because in my agitation I had already shut the car off and removed the keys from the ignition. We both waited patiently for one of us to remedy the situation, until I realized it would have to be me. I fumbled around for the keys, which it turns out I had tossed under the passenger seat, and smiled nervously while the cop peered through the glass.
Once I finally got the window down, he leaned in and scrutinized my face. I tried to look like I hadn’t been drinking all afternoon. To be clear, I hadn’t. But knowing that he was looking for signs of intoxication made me self-conscious.
I prayed that, at worst, he’d ask for a breathalyzer test, so I could blow a 0.0 and be on my way. But what if he asked me to step out of the car? What if he asked me to recite the alphabet backwards? Do they do that? I couldn’t do it fully sober, much less after an afternoon pounding beers (which, I repeat, had not happened).
Instead, he said, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
I drew a blank. I hadn’t been speeding. So I ran through all the other crimes I could think of: bank robbery, inciting a riot, transporting exotic animals across state lines, racketeering. I was about to guess “securities fraud” but rejected that because I wasn’t sure what it was.
“No,” I said, truthfully, hoping he’d buy it.
“Are you aware that you have a tail light out?”
So many questions. What was with this guy?
My first thought was to get snarky: “How could I see my tail light from inside the car, Einstein?” My second thought was to go on the offensive: “I demand to speak to my lawyer.” Instead, I impulsively blurted out the truth again.
“No,” I said.
Then he asked for my license and registration, and suddenly I knew what was happening: While he had technically stopped me for defective equipment, he was taking the opportunity to run my license. Sneaky.
To my relief, he was only gone a minute; no outstanding warrants, I guessed. He gave me back my license and registration, as well as my RAV4 owner’s manual, which I had handed to him in the all the excitement. He advised me to get the light fixed, and encouraged me to have a good evening.
I drove away, still trembling. The incident had rattled me, all right. Before I even reached home, I had made a major life decision: From now on, I’m going straight.
I just don’t have the temperament for a life of crime.

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