Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Arrested For Driving While Blind

I've received a lot of tickets in my driving lifetime. A few for speeding (thanks, 301!) , a failure to come to a complete stop which was totally made up, and a stack full of stuff on my last night in Bradenton, including driving without shoes, dim taillights, failure to produce license, and probably driving while being too much of an outlaw for the Man to deal with.

For the most part, I've accepted that I've been at fault, paid my debt to society, moved on, and wondered how many more points I can afford on my license before my insurance skyrockets.

But it came as quite a surprise when I was going to have my car searched on my way home from Atlanta earlier this week.

I was driving back to Jacksonville after another successful trip to see my girlfriend. I was keeping it around the speed limit, even though I feel that these unnecessary rules cramp my style.

I was probably doing about 76 when I saw the two cop cars up on an overpass. I was able to slow down without making it too obvious, and continued on my way, nervously checking the rearview mirror every few seconds.

After a few miles I figured I had it made. "Sorry, suckers," I thought to the cops. I was still under the speed limit when I passed another cop on the side of the interstate.

"Can't do anything about driving 3 miles under the speed limit, copper," I said in my best '30s gangster voice, as I mentally flipped the double bird.

A few miles later I saw that the cop had his lights on and was chasing some poor sucker. Hey! That sucker was me!

I pulled over, confused.

"The reason I pulled you over is because I think your windows are darker than Georgia law allows."

What the hell? I bought the car at a Honda dealer, not a crackhouse. They would have told me if it was illegal, right? And besides, I lived in Florida. Your Georgia rules don't apply to me.

He put some sort of weird device on the window.

"Yeah, see, this reads an 11 and Georgia law requires a 30."

"Wait, so I'm lower?"

"No, you're higher. 11 is less than 30. Do you have anything illegal in the car, like drugs or weapons?"

"No. No. Just some clothes and trash."

"Well, I have to ask you, do you consent to a search?"

Aw, crap.

As an ex-journalist and current librarian, I'm a firm believer in America's civil liberties. I mean, what else is gonna stop some English king from quartering soldiers in our houses or telling us what to print in our broadsides or searching our taverns and public houses for bootleg tea? I also think that the drug war has opened a whole can of worms involving quasi-legal search and seizure, asset forfeiture, and a host of other bad stuff. But thinking about how much I wanted to get home, all that ACLU stuff flew out the window.

"Yeah, sure."

He took my license. Shit, I wonder how long this is gonna be? Hey, I've only had this car for like three years. What if someone stashed a bunch of cocaine somewhere and forgot about it? I could have been driving around in Tony Montana's car all this time and wouldn't know it til I got searched and ended up in prison. Hey, what if the cop plants something in the car? He seemed like the type to do that. I mean, I am in Georgia. Do they still have chain gangs here?

He walked back and asked for my registration.

"Now, I'm not gonna find anything illegal in here, right?"

"Just clothes and trash. How long will this take?"

"It'll take as long as it needs to."

He studied my registration. "What year car is this?"

"'98. Oh, wait. '09." Shit. I was thinking of the old car. I'm totally going to prison now.

He walked away again and came back again after what seemed like an hour, but was probably more like 4 minutes.

"You know, if you have any sort of misdemeanor stuff in there, you can just dump it out here on the side of the highway, no harm, no foul."

What the hell sort of trap is that? Does anyone actually fall for that? He's totally gonna plant some cocaine in the car. That's how they got Dolemite in that documentary.

It was totally gonna escalate like this if I had been there a few more minutes.

"I don't have anything," I said, mentally preparing for hours in the Georgia sun watching my car being taken apart and waiting for my spot on the chain gang.

"Well, I thank you for giving permission for the search. Here's your license and registration back, along with a written warning. We just have to check every now and then with all the suspicious characters out there, you know?"

Yeah, you mean because I'm white, right? I thought super-aggressively at the cop. That showed him.

Whether it was institutional racism, my non-criminal wussy looks, the cop's laziness, or some combination of the three, I got let off with a warning. A really kinda bullshit warning, but at least I didn't have to wait while my car got taken apart, and was able to keep off the chain gang.

So if you're driving to Atlanta from Florida, watch your speed, make sure your windows aren't tinted too much, and don't fall for that misdemeanor trick. That's gotta be a trap, right?