Shout out to the Po-po! One man’s recent experience in a time of very poor relations….
I knew right when I gassed the pedal to get around a hulking, diesel spewing pickup truck outside of Ranier that I was in trouble. Just as the opportunity presented itself to get around some very slow moving traffic I had been following for a few miles along Highway 30 out of Astoria, I accelerated very quickly hoping to pass multiple vehicles in what I assumed would be a short window of time. Even before I had cleared the truck, I noticed the Oregon State Highway Patrol car, and it noticed me. Cursing the timing of its presence and my luck, I quickly slowed to reinsert my vehicle into the flow of traffic after my pass, too little too late. I saw the shiny silver Dodge blink its lights, pull to the side of the road and cut a U turn quickly. My heart sank as I thought of the encounter to come.
I had struggled to justify to myself the extended stay out at Seaview in the Sou’Wester after continuing financial struggles with career transition via COVID pandemic and the closure of my restaurant. But I really needed the break from the noise generated by my heavy footed upstairs neighbor and her fussy schnauzer. With battles over noise levels daily hindering my ability to record Voiceover spots from home, a release valve for my frustration was essential. Now I would likely be adding to that sum, and the frustration, significantly. I thought of how reasonably I had driven for the last week despite being baited endlessly with rubber neckers and distracted drivers as I proceeded up and around the Olympic Peninsula. I thought of how ridiculous it was to be getting a ticket on the way home from a vacation intended to calm and revivify me. I felt myself a fool and acknowledged as much into the rearview mirror as the State Trooper pulled in behind to follow me for a few miles before finally dropping the hammer. I hoped that he might sense my acknowledgment of error and contrition.
The lights came on, and though I considered Hunter Thompson’s advice to give a little chase to earn my pursuer’s respect, I decided against the move, preferring to implement my diplomatic skills. I hurriedly tidied an interior disheveled by nearly a week of travel glamping. I worried that the state of my interior might provoke a search. The clothes, gear and grocery sacks littering my backseat after a week on the road could work for or against me. I might be seen as either a happy camper or a homeless vagabond. I’m ashamed that the threat of the blue and red lights cow me still into a need to justify my actions. Such is the game of authority.
Officer Kean, a younger athletic male in his 30’s with a close cropped hair and a tattooed arm sleeve, stepped to my passenger side window and informed me that our conversation was being recorded. I assented as he asked if I knew why I had been stopped. Calmer than expected, but still quaking a bit internally, I went on the offensive and apologized profusely for my error– I explained that I had been trying to pass the large diesel for a few miles and unfortunately chose an inopportune time to do so. As he requested my license and registration, I laughed nervously at my poor timing, him spotting me just as I began to execute the pass. No way I could deny my speed.
Although my insurance e-card in my iPhone Wallet was missing the vehicle make, and my registration form lacked the authorization signature because it had been completed online during COVID quarantine, I presented them as calmly as I could, remembering to inform the officer that I was reaching into my glove box. Officer Kean nodded, watching me closely through the opened window. I could hear the silence as I reached across to the glove box. He informed me that he would return shortly.
Officer Kean returned to his automobile to confirm my license, registration and driving record. Meanwhile, I attempted to find calmer breath, and I practiced accepting this surprise pitfall at the end of an otherwise glorious, spontaneous outing. My reward to myself for surviving privation in heavy isolation for the last year and more would not be lost despite this setback. I thought that perhaps I had deserved a cross check for too quickly forgetting the calm I had sought to achieve with the unexpected expenditure of my very limited resources at the moment. I munched on some dried cherries to distract myself, to regain my composure for whatever came next.
Officer Kean returned calmly and began with an admonition to practice greater care in passing on this road where there had been many gruesome accidents of late and to allow greater patience in passing when allowed a longer passing lane, as with this portion of the highway. I monitored his face to determine what his tone indicated, where he was headed with this. He acknowledged my frustration with slower traffic and the need to accelerate significantly when attempting to pass in a short distance, but he cautioned me to practice better judgment. I readily agreed, thinking it better to do so even if I still received the ticket. He warned of the high cost of speeding violations in addition the dangers it presented, some $265 for a ticket at my speed of 80 in a 55 MPH zone, honestly not too much short of the price tag for my 4 day stay at the Sou’Wester. My heart sank further as I began to rationalize the coming ticket as punishment for my irresponsibility for taking time off that I could not afford.
And then, having warned me of the potential dangers of both the roadway and my passing technique, while also apparently weighing the circumstances of my transgression (possibly mitigated by the bad luck timing of the maneuver), Officer Kean thanked me for my honesty and let me go with the warning he had just offered. He said that he rarely encountered such accountability, and he very much appreciated it. Tears nearly came to my eyes with gratitude for this Officer of the Law for allowing that my pass was justified though ill-timed, for responding to my honesty when I admitted my wrong, for interacting with me simply and straightforwardly like a human being. Given the ongoing hostility between the general public and the police stemming still from the continued murder of innocent black folks around the country, my heart is full with the experience of something different from this unfortunate narrative.
Although I well realize my privileged position as a white male in this encounter, I am nonetheless pleased to report a positive encounter with another human being, an Officer of the Law, who really did protect and serve me. I might have reached 5 miles above the speed limit for the remainder of my drive, realizing with renewed regard the pleasure of my freedom and the beauty still all around me as I regained perspective:) I was fortunate enough to enjoy this and still am. I might have lost it with the pass, with a misstep in communication with authority, or by any other means really. I’ll take my medicine with a smile this time, and thank you for a clean getaway, Officer.