On Friday afternoon, I was driving past The Lawyer’s office on my way to his condo in the city.
As I have been known to do, I called from I-395 and asked if he wanted a ride home. It was, after all, nearish to the end of the day and sometimes I’ve been known to do nice things like pick my boyfriend up at work, so that he doesn’t have to walk home and get coated in pollen.
As I exited I-395 at 12th street, though, traffic was heavy. In fact, at the intersection before his building, I got caught as traffic slowed to a stop from a red light in the distance. Usually this isn’t a problem because traffic starts moving soon enough that if you’re caught in the intersection, you can inch through while the light is still green.
Occasionally, though, something worse happens.
Just as traffic is clearing and your turn to roll through is perilously close, the light changes and a hundred pedestrians pour from the sidewalks right in front of your car. Then, you’re trapped just outside of the crosswalk—not necessarily blocking traffic behind you, but also not fully clear of the intersection.
Well, this happened on Friday.
Also, because of road closures that I couldn’t see from the highway, The Lawyer had texted me to say that he’d be standing on a different corner than usual, but I didn’t see that text message, because I don’t text and drive.
So, there I was trapped behind the masses of pedestrians when I noticed that The Lawyer was standing on the opposite side of the street from where I was stopped. I suppose that I could have waited for the next light, made a series of right turns in the midst of the road closures and one-way streets and then, just tried to loop back to him. But, anyone who lives and drives in DC just rolled their eyes and cussed out loud when I made that suggestion.
I didn’t do that.
Instead, I rolled down my window, yelled The Lawyer’s name, and motioned for him to cross the street quickly, while he had the crosswalk to do so. I mean, I wasn’t going anywhere—being blocked by human bodies crossing in front of me. He saw me, ran across the street, and hopped into the car. Shortly after he got in, the pedestrians cleared, and I proceeded forward.
Then, I heard police sirens.
Again, the people who live in the District are all, “Woman, say something interesting!” because there are always sirens. There are always dignitaries and road closures and random police activity that you have to move out of the way for. So, that’s what I did.
I stopped in the right lane to let the police car with sirens in the left lane pass me by. Except, it didn’t. The police car pulled up next to me and motioned for me to roll the window down.
So, I rolled the window down and a heavily accented Indian officer yelled for me to pull over. In rush hour. On a one-way street with lane closures.
(Do police not pull up behind people with their sirens on anymore? I’m confused.)
I’m sure the people who were trying to get home on a Friday afternoon were so grateful to have me further limit their passage by blocking one of the only two lanes open. Unfortunately, I’m a law-abiding citizen up in here and I very politely pulled over and waited.
When the police officer got to my window, I had my license, registration, and insurance card ready.
“You were blocking the intersection!,” he barked.
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry, it was because the pedestrians started walking before the traffic ahead of me cleared and…”
“Ma'am!,” he interrupted. “You failed to clear that intersection!”
I started to talk apologetically again, but was interrupted by,
“And, you picked him up!,” he said, motioning to The Lawyer sitting in the passenger’s seat.
I already know that as a brown person in this area, I never get let off for anything. I was born in this country, am a cautious and law-abiding person by nature, and am training to be a doctor (Aren’t cops and doctors supposed to get along because of the mutual benefit? No? OK, nevermind.) Yet, I’ve actually missed flights because I’m held up by an 18 year old TSA agent who wants to open every single cosmetic bag in my carry-on at security, as I get paged by my airline for final boarding.
I’ve had cops come to my window with $200 in tickets already written because I’m missing a registration sticker (True story. If you move to Fairfax County, you will need THREE—one for tags, one for state emissions, one for COUNTY inspection. If you miss one, neither your inspection facility or the DMV will tell you and then you will not know, because nothing is clear or integrated online. But the cop will totally fine you and then call you a liar when you are genuinely dumbfounded and ask which sticker you’re missing. I fought in court and got all charges dismissed, though.)
I’ve also been randomly yelled at by police while parking my car in The Lawyer’s neighborhood and questioned by the secret service when I was two blocks away from the medical school.
Anyway, I digress.
I knew I was going to get ticketed, but the most annoying part of this encounter was the other number of flagrant traffic violations that were happening around me at that very moment. In fact, while we were sitting in the car waiting, a taxi cab REVERSED ON A ONE WAY STREET to pick up a passenger. During rush hour. On a street that already had lane closures. Right in front of the cop who had stopped us.
In the car, The Lawyer and I started making guesses as to how much the fine was going to be. Then, to cut the tension, The Lawyer matter-of-factly announced,
“I bet it’s because I’m white.”
I mean, in an airport or on a DC street, I am clearly the one who will land us in jail because of my skin color. But, say we’re at an Indian social gathering full of clucking aunties looking for a wife for their socially awkward computer programmer son?
Well, the reason that there is violence and hatred and everything wrong in the world is because a respectable Indian girl of marriageable age and education is disrupting the natural flow of the universe by dating a white man.
I suggested that I should have pointed out to the Indian cop that we’re not married, and had a birth chart or headshot, at the very least, ready. We were so pleased with ourselves and our hilarious jokes until the officer came back to the car.
This time, he had a big grin on his face and was much more jovial.
“You know, I really would have let you go,” he said, as he approached the car. “Except that you stopped and picked him up.”
Again, there was an accusatory finger point and a glance of dismay at the white man seated in the car next to me.
Like usual, I didn’t get let off, and was handed a ticket. This time, though, finally--it was the white guy's fault.