I was moving out of NYC (no, not Manhattan, but lousy Queens, which is as good as being in a corner of Andheri. But that’s a story for later) after two and a half wonderful years spent it traveling by super efficient trains. Which means I needed a car. Which means I needed a license. Which means I needed driving practice. Which means I needed a car.
For those who aren’t familiar, let me explain how the process of obtaining a driver’s license works in New York state. You write a written test(for which you basically mug, like you did when you were 12 and studying Indian history), which you can easily clear by learning the sample questions from the online brochure. This gets you a learner’s permit. Then, you practice. Later, you attend a mandatory, five-hour classroom session that shows you the distressing effects of drag racing, drunk driving, and texting while driving. The session shows you extremely graphic and depressing videos and pictures, depressing interviews of people who have been affected, coupled with depressingly screechy violin music like the anticlimax of Karan Johar movies, and is so majorly gruesome and depressing that you want to give up driving altogether. Now, you are all set for road test. In the city, they invariably fail you the first time. In small towns, you have better chances of emerging from your car victorious.
I only had the learner’s permit. Like I said, I needed a car. My fiance, being the gallant knight he is, popped to my rescue and volunteered to lend me his car. After determining that I wasn’t a life hazard to himself and others around me, he declared that I was free to drive whenever I wanted. I drove his wonderful Mitsubishi Eclipse day-in and day-out, every weekend. I would drive in the evenings into the scenic sunsets, I would drive around parking lots, drive to help him take out his trash, drive to get food, and soon enough I was driving him nuts with my theories about life, driving him ballistic with my inability to sleep, driving my roommates crazy with my cooking.. I was basically doing a lot of driving. I only had one problem though, I’m a woman, I can’t park. I’m a little better now, I can park if the spot is on my left, but I miss the spot on my right by several feet and meters. Anyway, that’s not relevant. The important part is that I could parallel park well.
The road test was upon my head. Everything went great on the day of the test. The test center was in the middle of a neolithic, remote town of Fishkill, which was close to Poughkeepsie, the jungle-with-no-humans-that-has-the-giant-IBM-office-standing-right-in-the-middle-for-no-apparent-reason, where the fiance lived. I was a little apprehensive when my ‘tester’ was a lady, but she was sweet, and sweet ladies usually don’t flunk me. I was asked to drive at an intersection, switch lanes with laser like precision, make a K-turn, reverse, and of course, indicate exactly the right number of times for each action.I was even lucky enough to have a fire hydrant stand in for the car that I was asked to parallel park behind. I cleared the test with flying colors and was given a slip of white paper proclaiming as much(they mail the license to you a week later). The next day, I was hooting away to happiness on the interstate with the fiance in my passenger’s seat. (Notice my use of ‘my’ now.)
On the way to New Jersey to visit relatives, we encountered a dark black car in front of us on the interstate. This car was being driven steadily between two lanes. After about ten minutes of inability to switch lanes in traffic or speed up because of that car, we were frustrated.
“Just pass the car,” fiance said.
“I don’t want to. I saw a couple of cops some time ago, I’m scared.”, I responded.
“Don’t be silly. It’s not like you never speeded earlier when I asked you not to. Just go already.”
“No really, I’m scared.”
He played his trump.
“Bet it’s a woman driving that car.”
Now, fiance has a habit of labeling most bad drivers as women. I call him sexist, but real world examples tell me he’s almost always right. About everything. But hush.
My inner pseudo-feminist jumped in defence. We argued a bit. My reasoning was that it could not be a woman, as the car was dark, bulky and brooding. Normal women don’t drive cars like that. His reasoning was that it was in the middle of two lanes like some giant colossus, so it had to be a driven by a woman. Naturally, I had to verify to prove him wrong.
I decided to pass.
I moved to its left as I speeded, and both of us turned to see who was driving. I looked directly into the cops eyes- a man. (I was too busy getting to grips with my situation to tell fiance I was right.) I knew what would happen next. I indicated to switch lanes and stop. Predictably, he pulled out his siren and highlowed mellifluously at me. Suddenly, every single car slowed down, leaving us feeling deserted on the road. I hadn’t been able to switch one lane for five minutes, and I switched four in under five seconds to pull over on the side.
As I saw the cop pull to a stop behind me, I debated for two seconds between Rachel-style Officer-Handsome flirting and saying I was sorry. Fiance suggested I appeal to his kind heart and apologize.
Cop from the unmarked Hercules of a car walked up to me. I didn’t remember his face from the previous 101 with him, so I was hoping now that he would at least be cute. Maybe I could revel in silent joy in the middle of my misadventure, but no – he was a middle aged man. Kind heart it is.
“Young lady, do you know how fast you were going?”
I did. I was at 82mph when I was passing him.
“No, officer,” I said, “I’m sorry!”
“Can I see your license, please?”
I rummaged in my purse and handed him the slip of paper, making my best puppy eyes.
“What is this?”
“Actually, officer, I cleared my road test just yesterday, so I don’t have my license yet. I have my permit though.”
“You cleared it just yesterday?!”, he asked, ridiculously.
“And you’re already speeding?!!”
“Do you know that if I give you a ticket now, your license would be suspended for six months?”
I did not know that.
“No officer! I’m really sorry!”
I was worried now. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I made my Puss in Boots from Shrek eyes.
He looked at me, then back at the paper, and debated for a minute. Stony silence.
Then he came up with, “Who’s in the car with you?”
He bent down to peer at the fiance.
“Tell me, does she do anything to make you mad?”
Fiance is in a bit of a spot. If he said the truth, I might get a ticket and get my license suspended. I would probably get a good lecture as well, and we were already running late. I suspect he was nervous too.
He settled with, “Umm.. naah.” . He’s such a liar.
The cop remarked as much. “You’re such a liar!”. But he was laughing. I applied my logic of hansi toh phasi to the situation and smiled.
He straightened up. He scrutinized the slip for another minute intensely. Then,
“I’m going to let you go this time, but I’ll keep an eye on you! Make sure you drive carefully, I’m right behind. And don’t get pulled over in the next 24 hours, okay?”
Aww, how sweet.
“Yes officer! Thank you so much!”
I was overjoyed. I waited for him to clamber into his car, and I was off. But within limit this time. I had a clear road, the other cars were still keeping a safe distance, and my good friend, the middle-aged cop, was right behind me. As he slowly smiled, and got ahead of me, I got lost among the flood of cars again.
The traffic cop turned out to be yet another knight. Such wonderful people these men are, I tell you. This damsel-in-distress idea does a lot of good in the world.
After much animated and excited discussion about what had just happened and how lucky I was and how I will never speed again, we calmed down. We idly chatted for a while, and soon enough,
“Look at that car. Pink. And infringing in other lanes. No indicating. Driving so slow and making people honk. Bet it’s a woman.”
This time, I had no need to speed to pass the car. It was evident the Chinese lady was driving so slowly and horribly because she had been applying lipstick, using her rearview mirror to look at herself rather than the many people behind her, two of whom were giving her the finger.