What is it lately with me and cops? Yesterday afternoon, cruising at my usual self-restrained six miles over the speed limit, I passed a State police cruiser as we dipped at the hollow on River Road. I cringed. "Ugh, cop, oh no." I've been programmed, I can't help it. I have a long history of police wariness. You'd think, as a citizen, I'd be grateful for their service, and I have felt that way - at times. I am fully aware that police help many people, every day, in this country.
But my personal experience with cops has been tenuous, at best. There are not many more things that get my adrenaline going than seeing the blue lights flashing behind me. What did I do? Was I speeding? I hadn't meant to. I don't think I was. Wasn't I only going 40 miles per hour in a 35 MPH zone? (Is that grounds for a $185 ticket? I think not.)
When I lived in the country in New Jersey, I stayed home with my baby every day, so when the neighbor's alarm system went off, I quickly dialed 911. The police responded in moments. I felt safe as they stood at my front door; we assumed there had been a short in the alarm system, and the situation had checked out fine. All of a sudden, the younger cop became visibly upset and shouted, "your baby is bleeding!" "Beets," I said calmly. She had been eating lunch, and because she was not even one year old, she wore, as happens with most babies, some of her meal. That was the one and only pleasant exchange I had ever had with a cop.
Then there was the time I was driving home from work at mid-day. As I approached the intersection that led directly home, I saw my road had been blocked. Stymied, I hesitated and looked toward the policeman hoping for a suggested alternate route, but stopping was my first mistake. Face contorted, pounding on my window, this guy looked as if his head might explode. He assumed I had power windows. Which I did not. When I couldn't open the window, he ran toward my side of the car and kept the mean streak going, all close and personal-like until I shrank away, said I was sorry and figured out my own way home. All of the minor interludes and scrapes I had experienced over the years, such as speeding or getting stopped in Berlin Park for parking, flooded my senses, only multiply that fear by 100. I wondered where on earth did all of that rage come from?
As for yesterday afternoon, the young State policeman who pulled me over, regarded me kindly. He was nothing but respectful. He asked me if I knew why I had been stopped. I didn't, so I was honest and said so. He pointed to my expired inspection sticker. I offered no excuse, except that when he asked me if my husband usually took care of those things, I admitted yes, but my husband's retired, off the calendar, so to speak, blah, blah... so yes, maybe I did try to excuse myself, but he didn't shut me down; instead, he smiled. He walked back to his car to check my license and registration. While he did so, I looked at the trees and sky and breathed in the fresh Vermont winter air. He issued a warning because "It's not the crime of the century." I could have said "no duh," but I had no reason to go smart-ass on him. State Police Officer Friendly was a sweetheart, at least he was to me on this occasion. And I couldn't help but do the math. I was probably old enough to be his grandma.