Friday, December 14, 2012

Mommy's First Near-Arrest, THE PREQUEL

 After my friend Astrid finished reading about my felonious speeding ticket, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of convincing her it was true.

 “No, really, Astrid. Each part!”

“Even the costume you wore for your school’s Crazy Outfit Day?”

“Um … no.  Let me put it this way:  did you read the reviews for the film, Cloud Atlas?  Visually stunning! You won’t be able to tear your eyes from the panorama. A triumph!’  My costume was more triumphant.  It induced seizures in multiple disabled students when I walked past their classrooms.”

 “And the part where you said that twenty years ago, you let your Subaru roll into a police car?”

“Technically it was 24 years ago.  And it was a police van.”

Astrid begged me to share this story with her.  But for me this exercise felt redundant.  Not only is it exactly like my charter school speeding-ticket saga:  it is plus’d up on every count.

It included a similarly disheveled appearance, only worse since this was how I dressed in real life.

The inspection sticker had not simply expired:  it was missing.

Instead of leaving my driver’s license in another purse, I did not, technically, have one. (Nor could I produce the vehicle’s registration.)

This story, indeed, ends with my unattended vehicle rolling backward of its own accord into the fender of the police van whilst the officer inside was checking my criminal history.

“I hear VERY blog-able differences,” stated Astrid flatly.

It took SIX FULL MINUTES for me to agree.  I recognized that being a redundant criminal is synonymous with being a ‘Repeat Offender’ and this was scintillating.  Blogging publicly about it was … the Clyde to my Bonnie.

But I considered that if the law enforcement industry got hold of my blog, they’d forever be on the look-out for me.  “I’ll be pulled over all the time, Astrid. It’s like being audited by the IRS.  Or eating pistachios.”

“Don’t be silly.  No one reads your blog.”

It's a pretty compelling story.  I drove off on an early Saturday morning in 1989 to help my mother move my Great Grand Aunt Harriet from her gorgeous antique home in Duxbury, to the assisted living complex located on the land she and my Great Grand Uncle once owned. 

My Mom and Harriet literally walked boxes and bags and clothing-on-hangers from her back porch ... through a path ... to her new home.

I only had three kids at the time: Nick was 8, Jake 6, Zach 4. They were all involved in weekend activities and no one was big enough to help with the moving process. Though we were strapped by kid / car / mortgage expenses, a road-trip could be handily covered by my new part-time job! 

Moreover, I was so happy being back in Massachusetts, after nine years as a military spouse living in Italy, Virginia and Fort Knox, that I was thrilled to volunteer to be ‘part of the family again.’ Driving from my town, deep in the Blackstone Valley, up and over to Duxbury, was the least I could do. 

Turns out, I did the least.

It had been more than a decade since I’d driven solo to Duxbury.  In that time, it seems that they had changed the terrain.  Some roads vanished completely. This was before the GPS. And dead reckoning.  LONG before the time I was medically diagnosed as Sense-Of-Direction Impaired.

When I say that I got tragically lost trying to get from Worcester county to Duxbury, it is an understatement.

I left my house at 7 AM and returned to it by 2 PM.  In between I managed to visit the majority of the entire Bay State, occasionally dipping into New Hampshire and one corner of New York.

This was also before the advent of cell phones, so I’d had to pull over at gas stations and diners and McDonalds to find pay phones and call my husband and my aunt.

No one answered their landlines.

So hopelessly lost was I that I finally bought a breakfast sandwich at one of the stops off some nameless highway -- perhaps the autobahn for Munich -- and after my pancake/ham rollup, I looked up at the McClock noting it was 11:15 AM.

I'd been driving for four hours -- although it was possible I was in a new time zone.

I asked the McWait-Staff if they knew how to get to Duxbury. 

“That’s an ocean town, right?”

“It IS!” I shouted hopefully.

“If you continue North on Route 2, you’re bound to hit the ocean.”

In retrospect, I’m fairly certain I was close to where my daughter now goes to college: Salem State on the North Shore.  Somehow, continuing ‘north’ did not feel right. Even to me.

I ordered some coffee to go, then tried to phone everyone one last time, and this time I got my mother.  She was befuddled.  Where was I?  Was I injured?  They'd already done all the heavy lifting ...

When I told her what 'route' I was on she gasped.  “How did you get on ROUTE TWO?"

"I do not know."

"Carolyn, you’ve been coming to this house your entire life!” then she launched into directions that mainly would get me from her house to Duxbury.

"Mom, I live on the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Duxbury for me is North.  I guess I just … kept going.  But I think I’m close to Salem!” 

 “In which state, Carolyn?  New Hampshire?”

“Very funny, Mother.   Oh, shit.  I don’t actually know.”

Finally, I sobbed a little into the receiver and told her I was getting directions to just go home.  We said ‘I love you’ to each other.  I hung up with renewed hope.

I was almost certain I could easily describe the town I lived in, some famous historical landmarks (Fat Man's Misery at Purgatory Chasm, Worcester County Jail.)  If needed I could recite my own address... from memory.

So I drove back home with directions rendered by smiling McWait-staff who saw my McStress. She was so sweet.  She wrote everything down on paper for me. It was the most compassion I would receive all day.

It was 12:55 PM when I rolled back into my hometown, eyes puffy from sobbing, no make-up because I intended to move powerfully dusty objects from one place to another during ragweed season. Mascara  would 'itch/scratch' off.  In fact, to my right on the driver's seat was my bottle of prescription antihistamines designed to preempt impending hives without fanfare.

After seven hours driving on every New England interstate and scenic road, gravel and dirt, frost-heaved and freshly paved, plus one historic cobblestone path, I was finally... FINALLY ... pulled over by the police, back in my very own hometown.

I was less than a mile from my house.  The one on which we had thus far made just sixteen mortgage payments.

I had literally driven the equivalent of a cross-country road trip. In all that time and on all of those roadways, I had passed or been passed by countless state and local law enforcement staff, of every ilk:  biohazard containment officers, sheriffs, county court officials, animal control, the FBI, secret service, campus police.

 Only the Intrepid Five-0 in my town noticed that my Subaru’s right-front windshield-space, reserved for an Inspection Sticker, was vacant.

My Subaru was not sporting an expired sticker.

There was no sticker there.

Five days earlier I had just bought this vehicle, and it was some oversight at the dealership.  Probably mine.  In nearly eleven years of marriage this was our first new car and it even came with monthly payments extended out to 2001!  I was apparently too excited to drive it…to get it … you know … ‘inspected.’

It seems ridiculous I could be in this pickle twice:  once in ’89 and again in 2009, but there are noteworthy differences:

This time, my car was so new I had NO idea where the registration was.

This time... there was no computer-search to validate that I possessed a driver’s license.  Not only did this police van not come equipped with a computer as they weren't invented, I did not have a driver’s license.  I'd failed to renew it.  But only because I believed I still had "Army Wife Time." 

Traveling from country to country, state to state, for military families means you continue driving on a MILITARY driver's license.  Renewals are waived as a courtesy to those who serve our country.

I'd been driving on a 'waived' license for years, and once we exited the military, I had twelve months to acquire a civilian license. 

All twelve had lapsed that spring.

When the officer asked for my registration, and it wasn’t in my glove compartment, he huffed off to his van to run a radio check back with dispatch on both me AND my ‘alleged vehicle.’

That’s when I began running the metrics in my mind:  Carolyn Given:  no valid photo ID, no driver’s license, no vehicle registration for a brand new Subaru wagon without an inspection sticker.  I was either a spook like Jason Bourne, or a fugitive from justice.

Either way, it sounded bad.

With renewed vigor I began rooting through the vehicle to locate the registration. Fortunately, the car was in my name so I knew I’d be home free if I found it.  Instead of hunting for the soiled, flimsy tissue I was accustomed to calling a registration, I started looking for something clean.  Perhaps in a CASE.

That is how I found it:  I looked inside the Subaru Car Manual where the registration was neatly ensconced in a pleather side pocket, adorned with business cards.

SO euphoric to escape arrest and put this unpleasantness behind me, I leaped out of my vehicle waving my registration in the air and raced to the police van, with the officer still inside talking to Dispatch on his radio and--WHAM.

My brand new Subaru – of its own accord – smashed into the cop’s front fender.

Manual transmissions were new to me.  I’d left it in neutral.  Without the emergency brake.  On a slight ‘grade.’

I still recall the officer’s surprise.

His hand went directly to his unholstered weapon and his lips formed the directive – at first without sound -- "Get back in your vehicle.”

Then with full voice:  “Do it NOW.  Place BOTH hands on the wheel and DO NOT  MOVE.

 He radio'd for two backup cruisers.  They were on-the-scene in seconds.

They all scrutinized me closely.  My eyes were red and blurry, I had an open prescription bottle leaking pills onto the passenger seat, my shirt and pants (carefully chosen Work Togs) were ragged and askew.  I was sweating and nervous.

It was clear what was happening.  I had to prove I was not a tweaking crack whore who'd just boosted a soccer mom’s wagon.

Nothin to do but use my BRAIN to find a way to avoid arrest in the town I'd come to love. A town so quaintly Rockwell-esque, I'd managed to wave at ninety per cent of its residents motoring by in the hour I was detained.

The spokesperson for the new troupe of officers at my driver’s side engaged me.  He asked for my name and my address. 

"Good afternoon, Officer.  I KNOW I failed to engage my emergency brake. I've owned this car less than a week and haven't figured out the Manual Transmission.  Plus, my dealership failed to get the inspection taken care of -- I'll be phoning them shortly. I couldn't INSTANTLY find the registration because the car is so new, no one told me it was located inside the Manual.  And yes, my Military Officer’s Driver's License expired since the medical-retirement. Time flies.

"I apologize for my appearance.  I just returned from Duxbury where I helped my mother move my 90 year-old aunt from her home to Assisted Living.  And by the way, I tried to tell the nice officer -- whose vehicle mine just 'kissed' -- that I have lived on this street for 17 months, number 92:  I am the Douglas Council On Aging Senior Center Director.  Carolyn Given.  Selectman Cheseborough can vouch for me, as can your Chief of Police.  Fred’s office, in fact, is located in the Municipal Center two doors down from my own.  Sorry about the fuss today. EXHAUSTED from moving those boxes.”

They offered, all three, to escort me back to my home less than 1,000 meters away, to ensure my safety. 

Not even a verbal warning.  For any of it.

You know, I see where Astrid was going with this:  the Subaru story’s way different.