It was a rare cloudy day in San Diego. The resulting atmospheric pressure was pushing down on my head and shoulders making my head feel heavy and fuzzy, like someone had taken a bag of marshmallows and pushed them, one at a time, up my nose and into my brain. Of course, it could have been the bottle of Californian red that I’d chucked down my neck the previous evening that was making me feel like I was wading backwards though potato soup but, being English, I prefer to blame the weather for everything.
I was driving along in Rodger-the-Toyota (don’t ask), one hand grasping my anything-but-Starbucks coffee because driving an automatic in the USA means that you are required by law to either have a doughnut or a coffee in at least one of your hands at all times, when, suddenly, my mate Google told me to turn left. Without thinking, I turned left. Three seconds later I heard the wuuuurp, wuuuurp of a police siren and glanced in my mirror to see a police motorbike behind me, lights flashing. OuuououoouuuOuuh Shuuuuuu-hit.
I pulled over and gripped the steering wheel as if my palms were super-glued to it, remembering the advice that the good old Lonely Planet had given me: if pulled over by the police, make sure you keep your hands where they can be seen at all times. The urge to lean over and reach into the glove compartment just to see whether he’d whip out his gun was overwhelming.
Officer Couldn’t-Look-More-Like-a-Giant-Stereotype-if-His-Life-Depended-on-it strode towards me as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast given his outfit. I could hear his trousers and his knee-high boots creaking from 10 metres away.
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked, doing my best impression of her Majesty the Queen of England (oh, and Scotland).
He stifled a cough of outrage or hilarity. I couldn’t tell which.
“You don’t know what you did?” he exclaimed, his moustache twitching.
“No,” I said dumbly, hanging my head in shame, which enabled me to see that my knuckles, still gripping the wheel, were turning a funny shade of purple-white.
“Well, when we’ve finished here,” he said slowly and loudly, articulating every word as if he was talking to a petulant five year old, “you can drive back up the street and take a look at the lights and you’ll see that you just turned left without using the ‘turn left lane’.”
Thank. Fuck. For. That. At least I hadn’t jumped a red light! Thank you marshmallow-filled brain for not being that stupid.
He took my license and jerked back to his motorbike to check my records and insurance while I sat slowly cooking in the car in the midday sun. Rodger was turning into a giant cauldron of slowly-roasted human. I wanted to turn on the engine and ramp up the air conditioning but was not sure if that too might cause Officer PulledMeOver to reach for his trusty (wo)man-killer and pump a few rounds into my back window. So I sat and sweated for what felt like ages.
He came back and explained my fine. $260 or a trip to the courthouse to stand in front of someone who absolutely must look like Judge Judy and plead my innocence, if indeed I did not think I had been rightfully pulled over.
“Here’s your licence back. You have the same birthday as my wife, ” he said kindly.
“Oh, is she a stubborn Capricorn too?”
It just spilled out of my mouth. Just like that. Yes. That’s right. I just insulted a police officer’s wife.
I think I actually heard his neck crack as his jaw stiffened in shock. He looked at me like I had just suggested I get out the lard and try to extract him from his boots right here at the side of the road. I felt my already roasting hot face start to melt.
“Have a good day,” he forced out. And off he creaked.