It’s two a.m., maybe closer to two-thirty, maybe past two-thirty, and I’m driving back to my parents’ house in my dad’s new car. What a responsible family guy car, I think whenever I drive it. A four-door sedan, an up-and-coming car maker (this is important), and—he won’t admit it out loud—a stylish exterior. The color is copper. It looks nothing like copper. He got a piece of marketing material from the car company that was personalized with his name. So intrigued by it, by its personalness, he opened it. I love this about my dad. He is so genuinely curious. He has held onto that lovable trait all these years, one of the few.
Anyway, he opened it and inside was all this shoo-shaw marketing garbage with glossy color photos. He pored over it. He read out loud a passage about how Magellan’s discovery of South America (side note, I’m pretty pissed the Wikipedia page for Ferdinand Magellan is not the first result for the Google search “magellan”) was really attributable to the hard work of a Basque captain—Basque things always being a point of interest for my dad, as our family is some ubiquitous percentage Basque at all times—as my mom rolled her eyes. What a success for marketing.
So I’m driving said new car home from a shindig for a friend’s graduation from film school and the city street is becoming the Diagonal Highway, and I work up to highway speed. I fiddle with the cruise control, a luxury I do not have in my own car at home in Portland. Ahead I see blue and pink lights.
I slow down. Cop must have pulled someone over who was accelerating too fast onto the highway. I get that. But I’m closer and I think, oh wow, he’s in the middle of the road. The cop has a guy pulled over in the median, and both cars are in the lane. I apply some brake–if it can be called that in an automatic–because I have to go around. I’m feeling nervous. Cops always make me nervous, unless I’m the one who called them. Everyone feels that way, nobody wants to admit it. You start to realize how we disobey laws multiple times a day, even the best of us, when you’re around cops. Jay-walking, not coming to a complete and total rocking-back stop at a stop sign. Makes you start to wonder if they’re going to just pounce on you at any time, should you drive over empty parking spaces. Appear out of nowhere, like in the movies.
I stop fiddling with cruise control. Maybe the cop and the guy he pulled over aren’t so far into the road. There’s been construction and I find multiple shoulder lines. I’m going too slow now, I realize, and as my eyes pass over the time I think, it’s pretty late, try not to act suspicious.
Bam. I immediately tense up, thinking suspicious suspicious suspicious. I have the power of suggestion over myself. I’m going forty and I’m passing the cop, and the speed limit sign now reads fifty-five. I speed up. Dad has some kind of “eco” setting on that makes the car act as if it has a much weaker engine than it actually does, so it makes a hrrrmrmmmRMRMRRRRMMMMM even just accelerating in an on-ramp situation. Or maybe it’s just that I’m all tense all over now thinking about not looking suspicious. I am still under the speed limit but making a lot of noise as I drive by.
Idiot idiot idiot. I look in my rear-view mirror. Lights still flashing. I’m still under the speed limit. If he saw me, he could be coming after me right now, and it’s late, a suspicious time to be driving. It was a good party. I’m sure my dad has all his papers but god cops terrify me, and would I stick my foot in my mouth and say something that comes out wrong and he thinks I’m a terrorist? And this whole night ends me up in Guantanamo?
Deep breath. But as I’m thinking about this I unconsciously drift into the middle lane. My eyes spring back to the rearview mirror. The lights have stopped flashing. That could be bad, or it could mean there’s a slope. No headlights moving. Just the mountains.
I take a breath and set the cruise control to something nobody could find fault in, fifty-four. One less than the speed limit. I check the mirror again.
Nothing was there. Nobody had cared what I’d done.
I turn up the extended, director’s-cut version of R.E.M.’s “No Religion” playing on the radio, and lean back.