So, the other day I was driving down the street thinking to myself, “I don’t normally drive on this street at this hour.” This causes me to do that thing where I think about quantum physics and parallel universes, how right now in theory there’s a me driving down Hillhurst, but there’s still a me back in the office, while yet another me never got out of bed in the morning, and one of the me’s is probably having the best day.
The Me in my current universe stopped being the one having the best day about three seconds later, when I got a ticket.
I’ve told about eight people that I’ve gotten a ticket. Friends, co-workers, my boyfriend. Some who have known me for a couple of weeks, some who have known me for about a decade. Upon hearing me say, “I got a ticket,” every single one of those jerks immediately asked, “Was it for texting?”
All smug and self-satisfied like that. Talking to me like I’m a baby. “Aw. Was it for texting?”
No, it wasn’t for texting! For your information. That was my last ticket. And that wasn’t even for texting, either, because the kind police officer gave me a warning, and instead wrote me a ticket for not having my drivers license address match my current home address. [Side note: Californians, if you haven’t done that, do it online immediately. The crap I went through to get that fix-it ticket dismissed ended up costing me more time, money and materials than if I’d gotten the fine for texting. It SUCKS.]
In this case, I was so surprised to have been pulled over by an officer of the law that I didn’t actually even have time to know I was being pulled over. I had parked my car and then saw the lights in my rear-view mirror.
Here’s what happened.
Okay, I’m driving, thinking about parallel universes, thinking about how I don’t normally drive down Hillhurst, thinking about how a butterfly flaps its wings and somewhere on the other side of the world chaos ensues, when I suddenly see an elderly man shuffle into the crosswalk. Now, my car is pretty much at the crosswalk, and this man is a good fifteen feet away from me. I have two choices:
slam on the breaks, stopping before or at the crosswalk, in order to wait for the man to catch up to where I am, but probably cause someone to rear-end me
just keep going, knowing that I’m absolutely no danger to the man who has just entered the crosswalk.
I thought, “Let’s keep everyone safe here and just keep going. Don’t cause sudden stops or screeching or panic. It’s best to just keep your speed steady and get right through this.”
I then pulled over, because the crosswalk was one block from my destination. That’s when I saw I’d been actually pulled over.
The thing is, I have NO IDEA why I’ve been pulled over, because I was POSITIVE I’d done the right thing. So when the officer tells me I’m getting a ticket for failure to stop at a crosswalk when a pedestrian has left the curb, I don’t even know how to process all of the emotions going through me.
“It’s okay,” my boyfriend Jason says on the phone to me minutes later. “Everybody gets a ticket.”
“I DON’T GET TICKETS!” I’m shouting.
There’s a small pause before he asks, “Didn’t you just get a ticket for texting a few months ago?”
“IT WASN’T FOR TEXTING!” I wail. “Not in the end!”
“Right. I’m sorry.”
“I can’t believe this happened. I can’t believe this happened!”
I can hear him stifle his laughter before he calmly says, “Look, I know you feel like your honor roll status has been removed, but it’s just a ticket. It happens. You said the officer said he was camped out giving tickets for just this thing. Maybe the old guy was a plant. But don’t beat yourself up over it.”
“But I’m supposed to beat myself up!” I say. “That’s why I got a ticket! Because I did something wrong. I got in trouble! No more honor roll for me!”
I had said to the officer (after I’d politely pointed out where he’d incorrectly written my old address on the ticket, as there was NO WAY I was going to go through the fix-it ticket fiasco once again), “The thing is, I really thought I’d done the right thing. I saw that pedestrian and tried to assess what would be the safest reaction in this situation.”
“Ma’am, you’re supposed to stop. No matter what. That’s why they have signs that are neon green a few feet back, to let you know that you might have to stop. No matter what.”
And that’s where I have a problem with this. “No matter what?”
“No matter what,” Jason said. “That’s the law.”
“But that’s ridiculous!” I said. “My car goes so much faster than an old man! Physics and science should come into play here! He can stop, he’s practically already stopped! He barely has to do anything to avoid an accident, but I’ve got to yank this two-ton machine to a stand-still in order to obey this man’s every chaotic whim?”
“It sounds like he was a few feet from the curb. Probably he was headed into the street.”
“Even if he broke into a run I couldn’t have hit him from where I was. I just don’t see how the pedestrian is never responsible. Me. Me in the big car. I’m the one who has to stop.”
“Yes, that’s… kind of how the law works. And why we have it. Because you’re in a big ol’ car that can kill people.”
That night I had a dream that I was in Alabama and I’d somehow accidentally broken a law when I went to order some Chinese food. I didn’t know what I’d done was against the law, and it was a law that most people didn’t even pay much attention to. So much so that nobody had realized the ancient penalty for that law was still on the books — death by lethal injection.
“I’m sorry, that’s what it says,” the woman at the Alabama courthouse said to me over the dream phone. “Our earliest available appointment for that injection is tomorrow afternoon at five. Okay? We’ll see you then.”
I’m sitting with my mom, thinking about how this is the last time I’ll see her, because after this I have to go turn myself into the Alabama courthouse to be given my lethal injection for breaking the Chinese Food Law. I don’t know if I should tell my mom that this is the last time we’ll be together, or if she should just find out later, after I’m gone, so that we don’t have a difficult goodbye, one that will hurt both of us.
I get a little upset in the dream world, because not only do I not know how to appeal such a thing, but nobody seems to be all that concerned that I’m going to die due to a law most people in Alabama don’t even care about. So finally, I tell my dad what’s happening.
He looks at me like I’m an idiot. “Don’t go,” he says.
“Don’t go to the injection. What are they going to do? Try to find you? Guess what? Every minute they’re looking for you? You’re alive and not dead, like you will be if you just go in there and let them kill you. Get out. Go home. Go to Los Angeles, where you live. What the hell is the matter with you? Go!”
And even then I was like, “But Dad, I’ll get in trouble. I don’t know. Let me think about it.”
After I told Jason about that dream he said, “Man, your dreams are so literal. Doesn’t that get annoying?”
“You have no idea. Because of this conversation, tonight I’m going to have a dream about you telling me my dreams are too literal. You’ll be doing this as we’re eating at the Dream Cafe. You’ll get to order a Fun Burger with rainbow dressing and I’ll be stuck eating a bowl of Scrabble tiles they call their Literal Salad.”
“You don’t always have to follow all of the rules,” he says.
“I do, though.” I say. “Me. I do. When I don’t, see what happens? I get in trouble. Dream Alabama wants me dead.”
Last night Cat says, “I agree with you, Pamie. Rules are good.”
“Thank you, Cat. See? That’s how people rule. With rules. We call them rulers.”
“Yes! I think. Wait. Hmm. But structure is good. I like structure because it makes other people do what I think they should be doing.”
“And chaos is that old man who’s currently gimping along Hillhurst Avenue, making you have to slam on your breaks, intentionally cause a several-car pile-up just to obey a rule that seems to go against the very laws of science, which should probably trump the rules of the road. A several-ton vehicle traveling at 35mph is the one expected to stop on a dime, not the elderly man who’s traveling at the speed of shuffle.”
Jason asks, “You know, if he was going that slowly, shouldn’t you have noticed him long before he was a few feet from the curb? I mean, isn’t that probably what the ticket was actually for? That you were supposed to have noticed him before you actually did, and that’s why you were expected to stop?”
There’s a silence long enough to stop a car at a crosswalk before I say, “Okay, well, you know what? At least I wasn’t texting.”