Hopefully I’ve reached my quota for interactions with the police this month.
For the second time in a week my morning commute was delayed due to interaction with our local police force. Last week I got a front-row seat to a rather nasty accident — the car directly in front of me changed her mind in the middle of an intersection and made an unsignalled lane-change into the path of a speeding minivan, and between rendering assistance and giving the cops a statement I was a little late getting into the office.
This morning I was heading up Clonsilla in the right hand lane, and for the record I was well under the limit because at this time of day it’s impossible to do anything but the limit on Clonsilla. For non-Peterborough people, Clonsilla is a four-lane “major artery” which is far too narrow to accommodate the amount of traffic it actually gets, and it really shouldn’t be four lanes since they’ve shoehorned four lanes into the space that usually fits a single lane with a shoulder. The sharp turns and high curbs only enhance the experience; like many of Peterborough’s streets, the city has outgrown it and there’s no room, money or political will to fix the problems.
Anyway, I’m following a van which makes a sudden, unsignalled hard brake and turn to the right. Rather than stand on my brakes, I did four three things very quickly: I touched my brake, hit my left turn signal, checked my blind spot, and moved sharply into the left lane as soon as I was certain there was space. I was just breathing a sigh of relief when the SUV now thirty feet behind me turned on its cherries.
Yup. I’d just done that in front of an unmarked police vehicle.
Although to be fair it’s not technically an unmarked vehicle: The local police have several police cruisers and SUVs painted gloss black with the usual police markings in matte black on the sides. It’s a little unsporting, but I suppose it cleverly gets around any restrictions on using unmarked vehicles. Anyway, the big SUV behind me was one of those.
So I pull over into the right lane on Clonsilla, and then stop at the curb. We’re now blocking traffic, but there was no convenient side street nearby, and I’m not going to make the police follow me any longer than necessary. Despite Hunter S. Thompson’s hilarious advice on the subject, that’s not going to make the average officer feel any better about you once you’ve stopped.
So I put the car in park, turn off my stereo (because Tom Morello isn’t the best soundtrack for civilian/police interactions,) pull out my insurance and registration from my glove box, roll down my window and wait. And the officer strolls up to my car and leans over and says “You were driving a little aggressively there, sir.”
And Gods help me, I look him in the eye and say “No, I wasn’t.”
I didn’t mean to say it, honestly. But in my very limited interactions with the police I tend to default to the nonviolence and anti-aggression training from my activist days, and one of the things we teach is how to properly interact with the police at a demonstration: polite but firm. Be respectful of the police officer… but don’t let the cops push you around.
So my hindbrain, apparently, kicked up that response… which was stated politely but absolutely firmly, even while several other parts of my brain went ohshit.
The officer looked at me for a moment, and then said: “Well, I was following you and your lane change just there was pretty aggressive.”
“Maybe a bit, officer, but I figured it was better than hitting that van. I did signal and check my blind spot before moving over, but since that guy didn’t signal I didn’t have much time to come up with something better.” All this in a calm, no-nonsense, and above all polite tone of voice.
He looks at me for another moment. Clearly this was not how he was expecting our conversation to go. And then he says “Well, you were going a bit fast there, sir.”
And once again my hindbrain kicks into the conversation with the words “Actually, I was well below the posted limit, officer.”
At this point, the officer gave me the look that I privately refer to as the Official Stare With Associated Paperwork. Anyone who’s dealt with the police is familiar with this expression. It says the officer is mentally running through two lists: one of everything he can nail you with right now; and one of how much paperwork he’s going to have to cope with per option.
I figured I was going to get a ticket. At least.
And the officer says “Well, I’m going to let you off with a warning this time. But these are busy streets, and you have to be careful, okay?”
And I said — very politely — “Thank you officer, I appreciate that. And I’ll be as careful as I can.”
And he went back to his car. He never even asked for my license. And I finished the drive to the office very, very carefully.