These incidents that I'm relating to you are not in order, by the way. I'm not trying to establish a story arc as much as I am exploring certain premises.
My departure for New York was met with both joy and sadness. My friends knew it was the right move for me, and that my plays would soon be scattered around the Off-Broadway landscape. It was a hopeful and endlessly naive time. It also ended up being the worst case of bad timing I had ever experienced, as those in the know can attest to.
But before that, there was a lengthy cavalcade of celebrations happening. I will go to my grave knowing that I had the best going away party that has ever existed in this history of time. Fight me.
But two days before, I was pulled over. On that day, I had started drinking at The Torch at around two in the afternoon. And did so until around midnight. Then I drove to meet up with the girl I was seeing at the time at her place of employment, which also served alcohol.
Full disclosure: Have I been drunk while driving? Yes, I have. Many, many, many times. Alcohol has served me well in allowing me to believe that I was untouchable, invincible, and perfectly capable of driving a metal missile down a road on which other people were also driving. I can only attribute me not having any DUI's to my name because one: my paranoia increased because I knew that if I were to get pulled over, then my life would be wrecked, and two: whatever tiny part of my brain was still somehow sober kicked in and made me focus with the same focus I used to write. And I am not condoning my irresponsible behavior; if anything I was lucky that nothing horrible happened, as are strangers that I didn't crash into. Don't drink and drive, I think, is the main thrust of this sidebar.
Moving back to the more pertinent event…
As stated before, I joined my girl at her place of employment, drank more, and we left at two in the morning, when the doors closed. For those of you into both math and masochism, that's twelve hours of drinking with brief intermissions. The plan became that I was to follow her back to her place in Clio, which was not that far away, maybe a fifteen-minute drive.
About less than a block from her place, we came to an intersection, stopping for a red light, both of us ready to turn left. No other cars at this intersection besides us. The light turned green and she went, and I followed close behind.
I didn't even get a chance to straighten my car out when I saw the lights flash behind me.
At that point, I hadn't been pulled over in perhaps seven years. Of course, the first thing in my head was, “I'm about to get busted for drunk driving two days before moving to New York. I'm going to go to jail, I'm going to have to cancel my flight… I'm not going to New York.”
I pulled into an empty parking lot. The officer approached and asked me how I was doing. He asked me where I was headed. I told him that I was following my girlfriend to her place, which was in view from where we sat. He asked me why I thought I had been pulled over. I was at a loss. He informed me that my left turn was a bit close to the car ahead of me, again, my girlfriend's. So, I was pulled over because I had made a left turn at an intersection where no other cars were too quickly. Now, no matter what you think of that idea, this is not really about that.
He very politely asked me to step out of the car and informed me that he was going to have me perform a few tests to determine my ability to operate a death machine. I'm not quoting.
First thing: he asked me to recite the alphabet, starting with E and ending with T.
And, because I'm inherently a man who has no problem commenting on things that I consider kind of ridiculous, I responded with: “Really?”
“Yeah,” he chuckled. He was a very amiable officer, just so you know. I was always told that Clio cops were not pleasant. That wasn't the case with him.
So, I did. E to T, I did it without a single hiccup. He asked me to close my eyes, hold my arms straight out, and then touch my nose. I did so. Both times. Without fail.
He asked me to walk a straight line. I did so. Without fail.
During all this it's important to note that the officer kept the conversation going. He asked me how my day was, and left me opening enough to let him know that I was about to go to New York City because I was a playwright. In two days.
I actually impressed myself with my ability to retain focus in that way. In the face of losing everything, I was such an experienced, or, as could be suggested, problem drinker, with a ridiculously high tolerance level, that I could pull off mundane little police exams with ease. I mean, honestly, cops suspecting that someone driving home at 2:30 in the morning is drunk… it's really a roll of dice and the odds are on the house. They could just as easily go straight to the breathalyzer, couldn't they? The strangely-fractured alphabet recitation, the touching-nose thing, the invisible line I walked could realistically be abandoned if…
Yep. He said he had one last thing for me to do. The breathalyzer.
As much confidence as I had built to that point came crashing down around me. I was about to be carted off to jail. New York was about to become the thing that I was once about to do but couldn't because of my own drunken bravado. I put up no argument. I simply followed him to his car and blew into the white straw as hard as I could, not knowing how it worked, or if my strength of breath might be the thing that saved me. I had heard somewhere that putting a penny in one's mouth was enough to obstruct the device, but I didn't have a penny, and I wasn't the kind of guy to try that kind of chicanery in the first place. Fair play to the officer for taking it to the round that I couldn't win.
And so I blew…
I don't know how to read breathalyzer. I know that I saw a 2. And it appeared before the decimal. I knew enough to know that 2-point-whatever was a bad number. I knew enough to know that 1-point-whatever was a bad number. A quick Google search reveals to me that intoxication is indicated after a reading of .08. So, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.92 over the legal amount, give or take. But at that moment, not knowing anything, I know I saw a 2 and that I was doomed.
“Okay. You're free to go,” the officer said to me.
Without a flinch, I thanked him and returned to my car, knowing that I had escaped something I had absolutely no right to escape from. I drove the short way to my girl's apartment. I can't say for certain that I gave it a second thought then, but since then I most certainly have.
Because there is an ad addendum to this story.
After I had moved to New York and managed to be involved in the thing-that-is-not-to-be-named by me yet will-never-be-forgotten by others, I needed to get an NYC ID card.
Because because BECAUSE my driver's license had expired. In April. It was October when I realized this. Six months had passed. I don't remember getting any notification regarding this. But when I realized that I had gone that long without proper identification, my mind instantly snapped back that that moment in Clio.
The officer let me go. True, I did my due diligence in regards to the weird little sobriety tests without fail, but I'm very sure that I failed the breathalyzer spectacularly. And, to top it off, my license had expired.
The officer let me go. As far as I'm concerned, he had me dead to rights. He could have arrested me and would nary heard a bad word from me regarding the law.
My idea of him paints a nice picture. One of empathy. I had made it this far, I was very close to my girlfriend's apartment, I was able to touch my nose and walk a line and say letters with complete accuracy. I was not belligerent, I was not sloppy. I only failed two rather important moments, the moments that would have very likely implicated me. What, I believe, he saw was some dude who was having a good day saying goodbye to his friends, following a girl home, about to move on with his life, anticipating a future for himself, and he had the ability to crush it all. He had the ability to change the course of my life. And he let me go.
There are two things you can suggest to yourself with this knowledge in mind:
Would things have turned out differently if I was not white? I have no real way of knowing in this case. Clio has a very small population and around 1% is black. It remains a possibility, of course. It is not completely improbable that this officer spent his graveyard shifts only pulling over drunk white people. Not much else to do in Clio besides go to the bar.
Was this just a cop who decided that nothing would be gained by carting me off to jail? And perhaps, just perhaps, he would have done the same for anyone given the circumstances I have described therein? Maybe before he was a cop he also did stupid things. In the end, maybe that's what policing is and always should be. Maintaining humanity and empathy while still doing the job. Knowing that while you can react in a certain way, you don't always have to. And certain situations deserve that kind of attention.
Cops get a bad rap. I get it. And I get angry at the cops I don't know and defend the cops I do know. The media doesn't report all the good they are capable of doing, because being good at your job isn't news. What is reported are the moments when you mess up in spectacular fashion. By way of a forced parallel, in retail, all the good customer service you provide goes for the majority of the time unheralded. You fuck up? That's who you are for months on end. You are branded by that incident, no matter the circumstance.
There are many other things that can be said in regards to this, but I will leave that to the commentary.