It wasn’t too different from any other Sunday. We had a good time and church and were now all headed home in our beloved automobiles. I drove on ahead in my Ford Taurus, with my parents in their Toyota Sienna and not too far behind me. I always try to drive as carefully as possible so I tend to check my rearview and side mirrors every couple of seconds, but that day, an inner voice within me convinced me that I need not worry, that I should just crank up the music and drive. My head was empty of distracting thoughts and the open windows welcomed in a cool breeze that helped make the California heat bearable. I checked my car’s dashboard from time to time just to check that I was only going five miles over the speed limit, but other than that, driving at that moment was virtually an automated activity.
It must have taken me at least ten seconds to notice the blinking lights in the rearview mirror. There was no mistaking the alternating blues and reds; it was a cop car behind me. My mind still on auto-pilot mode, and it didn’t occur to me that the police siren was intended for me. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, driving according to the speed limit and strictly following the traffic laws. That’s why I automatically came to assume that the police car behind me must be pursuing another car, probably the car ahead of me, which was going quite quickly, noticeably over the speed limit. So I courteously switched to the lane left of me.
Just as I completed the lane switch, an irritatingly loud wailing noise accompanied the cop car’s flashing lights. I checked my rearview mirror and saw that the cop car followed me into the lane. That’s when I realized, oh, the sirens were intended for me! And I had unintentionally initiated a police chase.
Feeling like an idiot, I pulled over and stopped the car, and the police vehicle behind me did likewise . Through the rearview mirror I saw that the cop had gotten out of the car and was walking toward me. Knowing what he’d ask for when he comes up to my car’s window, I reached out to the glove compartment and prepared my driver license and registration. I pulled the windows down and waited anxiously.
When the police officer had finally reached where I was, I was already making the motions to hand him the required documents. I was hoping to make this process go a lot smoother, glad to comply even before being asked to do so.
“Sir, stop!” the police officer yelled suddenly. “Put your hand back in the car!” I obeyed his order immediately, noticing the look of fear on his face, and how quickly his right hand moved to touch the holster of his gun. “Sir, do not do anything unless instructed to do so please.” I gulped and nodded. “Now, if you’ll please hand me your license and registration.” I did as I was told, wishing my face could turn red to show what I was feeling. Already I had made two very silly mistakes. I’d be extremely lucky if I got out of this without being ticketed, and I still didn’t know if I actually did anything wrong.
“Okay sir, now you can show me your license and registration, thank you.” I handed him the papers, not as eagerly this time of course. He calmly looked over them and jotted information down on his notepad. In my nervous state every second felt like a never-ending minute. I tried to keep a faint smile on my face, but then what suddenly appeared in my rearview mirror made it impossible for me to do so. I could see that my dad’s van had just parked behind the cop car. Things were undoubtedly going to get even more embarrassing.
“Now, you haven’t been drinking, right?” the police officer asked me.
“Uh, no,” I answered, taken aback by the surprise of such unexpected question. He thought I had been drinking?
“Okay. Then can you tell me why you switched lanes and ran away from me?”
That question stumped me. I had no idea how to explain to the officer that I thought the sirens were intended for a car in front of me. The more I thought about it, the more such a statement sounded stupid and illogical. After all, if indeed the cop car had intended to chase down the car in front of me, it simply would have switched to a different lane and passed right by me. No matter how I put it, I was going to sound like a total idiot. But I had to answer something. “Yeah, I didn’t know you were following me.”
“You didn’t see that I was behind you? Don’t you check your rearview mirror?”
“No, no, I mean, yes, I saw you behind me. I just thought that you were after some other car.”
The cop came to look more and more confused. And me, I was starting to panic, particularly because my dad’s van was still back there, and if my dad decided to do something, getting a ticket was the least of my worries. By that point, the cop asked me to step out of the car. I nodded, opened the car door and walked out. I was then asked to stretch my arms out horizontally and then to walk in a perfectly straight line, one foot ahead of the other. I had no problem with doing that, that is, until I saw in the distance my dad getting out of his van.
My dad yelled loudly, “He’s okay! That’s my son! He my son!”
If the cop looked confused before, then the expression on his face now displayed the epitome of what the word “confusion” can possibly mean. My dad was pointing his finger at me and yelling in English, but masked by his thick Korean accent and extremely incorrect grammar, whatever my dad yelled out did not get through to the police officer. He looked back at me with that look on his face, asking, “Do you know him?”
My face still not red, I bit my lips and replied, “Yeah, that’s uh, that’s my dad.”
“Well, you better tell him to quickly drive away from here. It’s illegal to park behind a police officer like that.”
“Oh yeah, of course.”
I waved my hand to dad frantically, yelling as loud as I can in Korean, “I’m okay! Just go home! Right now! Go home, dad!”
Eventually, my dad got the point and got back in the car. I wished that the van would just instantly teleport back to our house, but in my reality time moved as slowly as it has always done.
After the van finally returned to the traffic and vanished, the cop told me that one of the break lights on my car was out, and that I should get to fixing that as soon as possible. That was all he said before he bid me farewell. Still not knowing what to say, I simply said, “Have a good day, officer,” as I got back in my car. I wasn’t pushing my luck by saying anything more embarrassing than that.
In hindsight, even though my face never got red, perhaps the police officer noticed just how embarrassed I felt, and decided to let me off the hook. Ironically enough, though, the fact that I got away from all that with just a warning leaves me more embarrassed when remembering that event.