Mongrel Girl Driving Blues
My first car was a 1965 Impala SuperSport. It wasn't just a car, it was an obsession. Driving this car was transcendent! It was loud, curvy, and classic--we were perfect for each other. Her name was Sophie, and when I wasn't working, I was doting on my car. It wasn't unusual for me to spend my weekend happily rewiring what previous owners had done to her, working on the engine, or making sure her chrome was polished to blinding intensity. I drove like a granny, not wanting to cause her any harm. I parked her out in the 'north forty' of parking lots to keep people from scratching her. We stood out a little parked out by the mid-life-crisis mobiles. Definitely a case of "One of these things is not like the other". Driving this car was a joy. Autumn with the windows down, and driving the road to the coast was the best drive. She powered over hills like they weren't even there, and sat down and hugged the corners.
There was one consistent thing intruding into my automotive Nirvana. It has blinking lights and it's not a UFO. Getting pulled over is just one of those things, but it would become a regular thing in my beautiful Impala. It had a rhythm and it went something like this......
A)"Do you know how fast you were going?" I never was speeding. As I said before, I drove this car with care. The officer would make some kind of oh, my mistake mumble, check my car over and send me on my way. No ticket, just confusion.
B)"Your turn signal is out" This one always amazed me. The officer would say my turn signal was out, I'd flip my blinkers and we'd be staring at the warm red blinking light reflecting off his car's hood. This also came with a side order of mumble and and sending me on my way. No ticket just confusion.
This was just strange. I'm a careful driver. What the hell? As the oddities became regular enough to be a trend, I slowly started to catch on. During this same period of time, if I was bombin' around town in my friend's car, I could count on one hand how often she was pulled over. When I say 'bombin' around town, that is less of an exaggeration than you would think. She owned a vintage MG and slammed around town in it. She was what you might call a "lane optional" girl. Rumble strips were there to remind her to look at the road. Parking, oh my God parking, ....however the car landed, it was parked...like automotive 'pick up sticks'. I was noticing that she wasn't having close encounters of the blue kind. I also noticed that if I drove her car, I was fine.
Long about this time the blue behavior became a little stranger still. Now when they would shine the light on me, they would start tersely asking me "Is this your car? Whose car is this?" over and over again, and I'd tell them politely over and over again, "This is my car." We would play a fun little game of twenty questions to prove who I was, and then the officer would play either the A or the B side of the familiar 'pull-over' record. Another piece of the puzzle, by day no problem. The cherries and berries only came out at night for me.
Then one night I was reading while my grandparents were listening to their police scanner. Normally, I just tuned it out, they left it on day and night (like the TV in Poltergeist). Something started to catch my attention crackling from the little noise box came something very familiar. I continued listening. An interesting pattern emerged, by day a random sample of names pulled over, but at night an unusually high number of 'hispanic' sounding names. The light dawned. My MG driving friend was a blond and blue-eyed pixie with a very anglo name. I am a mongrel girl with a VERY hispanic last name. The hullaballoo over 'whose car is this' made sense. My look is....unique. People never can pin down what my ethnicity is, but evidently officers considered me to not be brown enough to match my name.
Lets leap forward a little in time. Sadly, I had to sell my beloved Impala and buy a boring economy car. I also got married (ultimately also sadly). Curiously enough, as soon as I had a dull car and a German last name being pulled over, quizzed, and annoyed stopped. This wasn't by design, just an interesting coincidence. Life moved on, and so did I. To continue my education, I had to move to another part of the state. The state I live in isn't exactly metropolitan. That said, the town I moved to was even more rural. Basically it had my college, a Wal-Mart, and not a lot else.
As I alluded to before, the marriage was as big a mistake as the econo-car. My friend drove three hours to get to me, intending on having a little girl time to cheer me up. She didn't know my husband and I had been fighting the whole time she was on the road. I needed to leave and she was exhausted from driving. We piled into my car and left, my husband still yelling on the front porch. It was nine or ten o'clock at night, and I just wanted to drive and enjoy some quiet. So we are driving around and things are just getting nice and relaxing, when I see the lights come on.
While the officer is walking up, I'm sitting there wondering what is going on, I'm not speeding, not swerving, not doing anything?? The officer didn't play the A or the B side of the record. He didn't say anything other than, "License and registration." I handed it over and he just stood there taking his time looking at my I.D. and occasionally looking at us. Finally I just asked him, politely "Excuse me, officer why were we pulled over? After a long pause, he said dead-pan, "Because you are two women driving around after dark." I laughed, my friend laughed, the cop did not laugh.
"Seriously, why did you stop us?", I said thinking he was joking.
"Because you are two women driving around after dark." He wasn't dead-pan, he was dead serious.
I tried a different tack, "Well, thank you for the compliment, but we aren't under eighteen, so we aren't violating curfew. I'll just take my I.D. and we'll be one our way."
"I didn't say I thought you were under-age, I said you are two women driving around after dark."
"Which isn't illegal, so we'll be on our way.", I said evenly. Charm was no longer an option.
"I didn't say you could leave, you'll leave when I say."
"So let me get this straight so I can understand it, if we were two women driving around while the sun was up we would be fine?"
"If we had my husband in the car tonight, you wouldn't have pulled us over?"
My friend the pixie was gripping my arm telegraphing to me, 'this is bad, stay calm, please stay calm'. It was a little hard for me to listen to her because the pent up aggravations of being pulled over because of my name were swirling around in my head with this new found aggravation of being pulled over because I was a woman. Right...
The officer must have been confusing the momentary quiet with two frightened women quailing before his authority, he was smiling and enjoying himself immensely.
"I want to thank you for pulling us over officer, I simply can't thank you enough." What came out of me know was what my friends refer to as my lawyer voice, it isn't loud, but it is cold and firm. It was his turn to look confused.
"Until you pulled me over I was plagued with worry over how I would pay for my college."
He unhooked his thumb from his belt,"What does that have to do with being pulled over?"
"Everything! Because by the time I'm done suing your department for this sexist and illegal stop, I'll have no problem paying my tuition. We are living in America in the 20th goddamn century! I don't need a master, or a man to vouchsafe that I have permission to be out. What I do need is for you to give me my license, get in your car and scurry back and tell your boss what is coming."
I was expecting an argument or some intimidation, what I got was, "Now ma'am, there's no need to get upset, I was just..."
"Oh I'm ma'am now? I didn't rate that level of esteem or respect a moment ago, what is different now? I am still a women out driving after dark."
"Now just settle down, I didn't mean to upset you, I was just making sure everything was all right."
"Spin it anyway you like it, lawyers love it when you make them work for the money. You know and I know what you said and why you pulled us over. I bit if I shake this little town hard enough I'll find other women you've pulled over. I wonder what they'll say???
He shoved my I.D. at me and left. I just sat there absolutely pissed. Slamming the steering wheel, "Damn it!"
Everything that could be changed about me was different, and now harassed because I'm a woman! All I want to do is drive. I just want to enjoy driving and be left alone. Driving is the American thing, why is it just a white American man thing? This is the mongrel girl driving blues. Don't pull me over unduly unless you are ready for my 'license and aggravation'.