I’d been thinking of what to do with the money I’d saved that week, since Lonnie’s boyfriend, his roommate and his friends picked up the tab for everything the whole time. The only money I'd spent was splitting the cost of gas with Margaret on the way down. M.O.B gave us money for gas on the way back, way more than it possibly could have cost, so I was better than good.
I heard the sirens and knew that extra money was going toward the ticket we were about to get in whatever East Neverwhere town we were about to be pulled over in.
We pulled over, of course, and the police car pulled up behind us. We were too naïve to panic, but smart enough to sit still. Lonnie rolled down the window as the officer approached.
“What in the hell are you thinking?” he asked Margaret in a thick southern dialect. He looks like the fat cop in every movie you’ve ever seen featuring southern officers.
He’d clocked the car going 106 in a 55. He asked Margaret for the license and registration, which she asked to pull from the hand rest. I let her finish, then asked to reach for the registration in the glove department.
The officer asked Margaret to step out of the car. She looked at me, I looked at her. I didn’t know what to do.
“Ma’am?” the officer prodded hurrying us up.
Another officer appeared to take her to the police car. The first officer asked me to take the driver’s seat. If we’d known that in the state of Virginia anything over 100 is automatic jail time, we would have driven 95 just to be on the safe side. But we didn’t know.
The officer’s explaining to me—quite nicely actually—what’s about to happen. Margaret’s being arrested, I will have to pay to get her out of jail and do I have enough money to do that? If not, I can follow the officers to an ATM.
He throws out a number. I can cover it.
Okay, then, well the police station is 10 minutes away. If I’ll just kindly follow the vehicle there…
My panic is starting to set in. This isn’t a routine stop. MARGARET IS BEING ARRESTED. “Okay, I say, I need to call my Dad first.”
Since long before I could drive, I’ve had rules drilled into me about what to do in any sort of police encounter. Answer every question with “yessir, no sir”. Don’t catch an attitude, don’t talk back. More important than anything, no sudden movements. Ask before you reach for your ID, identify where it located, wait for permission and move slooooowwwwwwly when you go for it. This isn’t to get out of a ticket or avoid arrest. It’s to save my life.
Oh, and call Dad. Not Mom. Dad. Whatever it is. However wrong I am doesn’t matter. Don’t argue. Don’t call anyone else. Call Dad.
My Dad has drilled this list of rules into me so hard I can ramble them off with the ease of reciting the alphabet. I get it, and then I don’t. Dad was born and raised in Mississippi in segregation. A police stop held the promise of much more than a ticket.
But it’s 2000 now, not 1941. "We’s free, man" is what I want to say whenever we’re doing these drills as he catches me off guard walking through the living room and he’s sitting in his La-Z-Boy watching The Game. I don’t know that he knows what the Socrates Method is—that dropping questions out of the blue and expecting anyone present to be called on for the answer at anytime—but he loves to practice it on me when it comes to this (and a few other subjects.)
So I call Dad while the officer stands at my window, but it’s Mum who answers the phone groggily.
“Mommy, where’s Daddy?” You can’t call your mother at 3AM, and bypass her with ease, but I tried. She’s immediately awake.
“Dad! I need Dad!”
“He’s not here! Where are you? Are you okay.” For clarity, my Dad traveled for a living and had taken a red-eye from wherever he was to get home. He’s still in the air somewhere, so his cell is off, but he should land shortly.
So now I have to explain this whole thing to my mother. That yes, I sat there singing along to Outkast with no cares in the world while Margaret pushed my car over 100mphdown some country Virginia highway, which I knew she was doing, and didn’t stop her. And now for living what was essentially a YOLO philosophy long before the phrase was coined, my best friend has been arrested. Only as I’m explaining just the facts of this scenario story to a third-party to I realize how incredibly piss poor my judgment is.
I expect her to flip out. She doesn’t really curse in general, especially not at me. But I’m bracing myself for it.
“Are you okay? Where’s Margret?”
“I’m fine. In the police car.”
“Where are they taking you?”
“Where is it?”
I ask the officer at the window and he rattles off an address.
“WHERE in Virginia?” Mum asks.
I ask the officer the name of the town.
“Dumb- what?” she asks.
“He said, Din- wid-eeee,” I repeat.
“Are you okay?”
“Is Margaret okay?”
“Did anything else happen?”
“Is your phone charged?”
“Call me when you get to the police station. I’ll find your father.”
My mother’s reaction gives away what potentially serious danger I—we—are in. I’ve just told her perhaps the dumbest thing I have ever done, and instead receiving a much due chastising, she only wants to know if I—we—are okay.
It will only dawn on me years later that through a series of incredibly bad decisions, I’ve created every Black parent’s worst nightmare. You give your kid some freedom to have fun, and they end up in a police encounter in the middle of the night. It doesn’t matter that we’re girls, that just makes rape a more plausible threat in addition to being harassed, beaten or killed. That we’re 2 hours from home in a deep South town no one’s ever heard is just fuel for a burning fire. Anything could happen and it could all be very very very bad.
Part 3: tomorrow.