My alarm chirped at 5:30am. I made coffee; dressed in yesterday’s clothes; snacked on a Clif bar and drove out of the Holiday Inn parking lot at 6:00am.
By the time I exited Des Moines, I had driven the interstate through urban, rural and highway construction areas across Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa – all with varying speed limits.
I have always had an irrational fear of being pulled over by a policeman, so I adhere to the speed limit. Sort of.
Heading east out of Des Moines, the posted limit was 70mph. I set my cruise control at 77mph.
Conventional wisdom says 5mph is the maximum “over-the-limit” to avoid being stopped by the speed cops, but it was 6am with virtually no traffic, and I was headed to see Dad.
Suddenly – the sky pitch black – flashing red lights filled my rear view mirror as a car loomed behind me.
My first thought wasn’t a ticket; it was, “I can’t even see if that’s a real cop car.”
A man in uniform approached the passenger side of my car. I lowered my window just enough to see half his face and hear him speak. He bent towards the window and flashed his light at me.
Uniform: “Hi, may I see your license and registration please””
Me: “Yes” (in process of retrieving them).
Uniform: “Do you know the speed limit?”
Me: “Yes, it’s 70.”
Uniform: “Do you know how fast you were going?”
innocently lying): “I believe I was going 74.”
Uniform: “You were going a little faster than that.” (slight pause) “Do you know the second reason I stopped you?”
Uniform: “The tint on your windows is too dark.”
Uniform (holding up gauge gadget): “There is a federal statute limiting the amount of tint on car windows, but states are allowed to set a more restrictive limit. Your tint meets Colorado limits, but it exceeds Iowa limits.”
Uniform: “I need you to come back to my car while I run your registration through our system.”
Me (thinking): “Get in his car? Police don’t say that, do they? I don’t know my exact location. I don’t know who to call. I KNOW I shouldn’t get into his car. He’s got a gun. I don’t.”
Me (meekly out loud): “OK”
Yes, I should have driven to a lighted area or a mile marker or asked for his ID card and called 911. That’s what you always hear on the safety messages.
Have you been in my situation?
When the flashing red lights came up behind me, was I supposed to keep driving and trust that the person behind me knew I was driving to a lighted area and not trying to escape? When he came up to the window wearing a gun, was I supposed to ask him if he minded waiting while I – uh – called the cops? When he instructed me to come back to his car, was I supposed to refuse when he was the one with the gun?
I admire and appreciate our police. I trust them. I want them out catching bad guys. And I don’t want to be prey to a bad guy pretending to be a cop.
I couldn’t think fast enough, and I was very scared. I prayed he was a real cop and this would have a happy ending – not me dead in a shallow grave.
When I entered his car, I saw a computer on the arm rest between the seats.
He typed information from my license and registration. We waited a few minutes during which he asked me where I was going. I explained about Dad. Finally the computer spit out a therma-fax printed paper. I was still holding my breath, not knowing whether this was on the up and up or some kind of scam.
Once he read the printed paper, he handed it to me: “I’m not issuing you a speeding ticket, but I am issuing you a warning for the tint on your windows. Keep this paper with your registration. You are likely to be stopped again in Illinois because of your window tint. If so, this paper will confirm you have already been run through the system.”
Me (looking dumbfounded): ?!?!?!?
He finally explained the I-80 interstate is THE MAJOR drug corridor for drugs that come across the Mexican border into Texas and Arizona. The drug traffickers outfit unadorned cars and minivans with tinted windows and California or Colorado license plates. They drive the drugs north to I-80 then east for delivery in Chicago and Detroit, trying to stay ‘under the radar’.
My bland car with tinted windows and Colorado plates fit the criteria.
I had been profiled as a drug runner!
Stay tuned for Part 3: Drug Running – The Sequel