Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day (It's a Holiday)

Ahhh, Puritanical Americana!

This weekend my brother and I planned to see a movie. The evening went like this: dinner with Mom at a Japanese restaurant, an hour or so of chilling out at home, and a quick drop-by at a bowling alley, where our sister was having a get-together with some friends from school. At the bowling alley, I had a beer. Gasp! After saying our goodbyes, my brother and I hop in the car, movie theater-bound. Closing in on the theater's intersection, the road goes down to two lanes, then to one. A lighted sign informs us that we've hit a sobriety checkpoint roadblock. Great. Somehow in the last three years I've spent in Chicago I'd managed to forget how uptight the Colorado Springs police force is. It being the Labor Day weekend and all, they've decided it's a good expenditure of time and taxpayer money to quiz every person who happens to drive by a certain part of town -- one that's actually fairly remote. Did I mention the checkpoint only stops drivers headed north, but not south?

I groan and glance at my watch. 9:55. The movie starts at 10:15. We're literally four blocks from the theater. I'm thinking to myself that we can probably make it to the movie on time, or even just miss the commercials beforehand (anyone else irritated that now they have commercials before the previews? Maybe I should write a post on that sometime). For those of you who have never had the good fortune of being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in Middle America, it goes something like this: the lanes are whittled down to one, possibly to prevent the possibility of escape(?). When you hit the start of the checkpoint, you're blinded by overhead lights that could put an outdoor movie set to shame. Before you're actually stopped, you're waved along by officers standing near the orange cones. I'm not sure why they get paid for this job. They literally just stand there, waving their orange flashlights like a bunch of retired runway traffic workers. Because, you know, if they weren't there to direct us to keep going in the same direction, we might decide to jump the ten-foot-wide cement median and go the other way, in spite of the fact that we need to get to the north part of town. By the time you finally get to an officer who appears to be doing something marginally useful, you're directed into one of the three lanes the road actually accommodates. In each lane, a wall of officers eagerly awaits the chance to hope that a driver travelling at 3 mph will give some indication of his inability to operate his vehicle in a safe manner, perhaps by weaving and hitting one of the precariously perched officers. Not that an irritated sober person would ever think to do that.

We get to the checkpoint, where an officer directs us into the middle lane of traffic. No choice of lines here. I'm not sure if that means I should be more or less irritated when it turns out that the middle lane is the slowest moving of the three lanes of checkpoint "traffic." Finally, we're invited by yet more retired runway workers to pull forward until three officers bear down on my vehicle, which I take as an indication that I should probably stop, as much as my brain reminds me that if there's no vehicle with lights on, I'm not technically being pulled over, and that these officers standing in the middle of a busy road are jaywalking, or something. But -- damn my parents for raising me so goody-two-shoes -- I acquiesce and lower my window. My eyes are greeted by a blinding flashlight that eventually softens into a face with -- get this -- an honest-to-god sheriff's hat that makes me want to chirp, "only YOU can prevent forest fires!" Sheriff Smokey launches into something that sounds suspiciously like lawyer-speak, informing me that this checkpoint is part of a multi-jurisdictional cooperative effort to prevent drunk driving. He tells me about 17 times throughout the course of our encounter that everything I do or say is "completely voluntary." The law student part of my brain wants to argue that actions taken under duress don't count as voluntary from a legal standpoint (and the threat of arrest almost certainly qualifies as "duress"), but the part of me that wants to get to the movie theater in time wins over, and I just smile and nod instead.

Then comes the fun part.

"Ma'am," (MOTHER*#^$ER!) "have you consumed any alcoholic beverages this evening?"

I have to interject here that I'm physically incapable of lying. Say what you will about lawyers, I'm just not a dishonest person. As much as I might wish I was, as hard as I might try, it's like the lie can never form in my mouth. I'll start to lie, and then somehow the truth ends up coming out instead. Dammit.

And, so... here it comes...

(shrug) "Yeah, I had a beer a little while ago."

"How long ago?"

"I dunno. An hour? Hour and a half?"

Sheriff Smokey shares a Look with the four other officers who are needed to ensure that my car is stopped -- not pulled over, mind you -- and pieces of brightly colored paper appear out of nowhere. One of them winds up on my windshield.

"Ma'am," (AGAIN! I hate Colorado Springs) "can I see your driver's license, please?"

I hand him my license.

"Is this your current address?"

What am I supposed to say to that? I've had the same driver's license since my twenty-first birthday (literally, the DAY, since in Colorado you have under-21 and over-21 licenses, and when I went to buy liquor the morning of my birthday, the clerk informed me that, in spite of the fact that my actual birthday qualified me to purchase the alcohol, my license itself said I was under 21 and, therefore, not allowed to buy it. Um?). I had planned to change it when I moved to Chicago, but every time I went to the DMV something prevented me from doing it ("we need a copy of your lease to prove your address" was one visit; another day it was randomly closed). So I kept my Colorado license and registration, since as a full-time student you're never required to have a local license and registration anyway. At this point, I don't really have an address. I guess my new place in Los Angeles is my address now, but I'm not actually living there for another week or so. So you can imagine the confusion with which I approach the officer's question.

"Well," I say, again quite honestly, "it's my parents' address. But I'm moving to Los Angeles."

My brother blames this particular exchange for ruining our evening, though I personally think we were screwed when I admitted to drinking my single beer. Next time, he gets to drive.

"Ma'am, will you please put your car in park?" (grrr)

I put the car in park.

"Would you step outside the vehicle please?"

Now I'm a little bit confused.

"Do you want me to turn the car off?"

Sheriff Smokey shakes his head. "That's not necessary."

I don't worry about it because my brother is sitting in the car, and I trust him to watch my things. Such as the car itself and my purse, which contains my money, my credit cards, my cell phone, my apartment keys -- basically, most of the ingredients someone would need to steal my identity. So I get out of the car and notice right away that it's freezing cold. Great, I think, I'm gonna be shaking like a leaf.

Sheriff Smokey then starts delivering a series of instructions, reminding me several times that this is all "voluntary." Seriously, most sober people would have trouble following this guy, so I'm not sure how his little tests are supposed to demonstrate sobriety. Thank God I do yoga. After his sadistic balancing games, he tells me we're going to do a "voluntary" Breathalyzer test. At first I'm worried that I'm going to breathe into some machine that's been who-knows-where, but to my relief he pulls out a sealed plastic bag with a clean mouthpiece in it. He then tears the bag open with his teeth. Yup. Gotta keep his other hand free to keep shining his flashlight in my face, you know.

After I blow into the creepy white tube, he checks the screen and closes the Breathlyzer device, motioning for me to walk over to a table with him. I look at him funny and ask him what the screen said. "Triple zeros. Just like a thought." Which begs the question: if I'm clearly sober, why waste my time and taxpayers' money just to prove it?

When I'm finally released, I see that they haven't even bothered writing my full name on the papers they're using to keep track of everything they do -- only my last name and a shortened version of my first name. I think, anyway. Most of whatever they wrote was less legible than a doctor's note. Nice to know this is a job worth doing thoroughly. I find, to my distress, that my car has been moved and left, unlocked, with my purse and entire life inside of it, on the side of a street nearby, and that my brother has been forced out of the car, unable to guard my purse, which contains my entire life, let alone my car. But, hell, at least dangerous criminals like me are kept from killing children who run into one of the busiest main roads in the city at ten o'clock at night -- or, at least, kept from killing them while drunk.

And of course now everyone I know takes great pleasure in teasing me that I got "stopped" to do a roadside sobriety test, ignoring the fact that the sole factor in my being "stopped" was that I was driving at all. My, but my friends are clever.

That's the last time I tell the truth to a freakin' cop. Missed the damn movie and everything.

Happy Labor Day!


At September 9, 2005 at 2:21 PM, Blogger lakhawk said...

I got stopped at one of these lovely little pow-wows when I was in high school. I was driving my mother - yes, MOTHER - and one of her best friends (whose family was visiting for the weekend) out to Donutland at 11:00 on Saturday night so we would have doughnuts for breakfast before church the next morning. I was scared to death, seeing as how I was still on a learner's permit (I was 16, but hadn't finished driver's ed yet). They, of course, thought it was hilarious.

In Iowa, though, they call them "safety checks" and they make you do fun things like turn on your windshield wipers, turn signals, high-beam lights, etc. I guess they figure if you can find all that crap in the dark, you're probably sober.

At September 11, 2005 at 4:31 AM, Blogger CM said...

Is it a crime to lie to a police officer?

At September 11, 2005 at 6:22 AM, Anonymous jca said...

Awww, you should have started hollering about generalized suspicion and the Fourth Amendment. The cop would have been instantly convinced of your sobriety if you started hollering case names at him: "Martinez-Fuerte! SITZ!!"

I'm impressed that a little wee slip of a thing like you can register triple zeros after consuming a beer. Burke just does amazing things to one's tolerance, I guess :)

At September 11, 2005 at 8:18 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

lak -- there must be SOMETHING behind those tests, I guess. But what if they get a blonde behind the wheel? :)

cm -- only if he's also a lawyer who's questioning you in court, under oath. Actually, I think that's the only time it's a crime to lie to *anyone*. Mmmmm, I'm feelin' the power...

jca -- I love intimidating people, especially when they're trying to intimidate me. But I also wanted to get to my movie, which I didn't anyway, and not get thrown in jail, which I fortunately also didn't. You never know when you'll run into some power-abusing asshole. Much as I might be able to take him for all he's worth eventually, I'd still have to spend the night becoming someone's Bitch. So I guess it's a toss-up.

And I'm not so slip-y lately :( Damn vacation bingeing!


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