I cussed as flashing blue and red lights splashed onto my rear view mirror.
“What did you do?” Mom asked. Her tone was concerned but without accusation. She had been reaching down to grab something from her purse.
“I don’t know! He came out of nowhere.”
“Michael, you better pull over.” Mom only used my first full name when she was serious.
I parked the car to the side of the road. As I lowered the driver’s side window, Mom gasped.
“That’s Officer Smith!”
My mouth went dry. Officer Smith was a living legend on the streets of La Canada, California. He was notorious for handing out the majority of my high school’s speeding tickets. Even our parents feared him. Getting pulled over by Officer Smith was a sure way to ruin your day. “FML” was not yet invented in 1995 but I’m pretty sure that was how I felt at that moment.
My mind was racing. I only had to wait a few more months to obtain my driver’s license. What happens to student drivers when they break the law? Do their driving permits get revoked? Would I have to wait another year for the chance to drive? And why me? Life was supposed to be much better with a car! I had been looking forward to driving to In-N-Out during lunch breaks and giving rides to friends to see the latest films at the AMC Burbank 14 (one of the best movie theaters at the time). My dreams and hopes of becoming a licensed driver were crushed when Officer Smith walked towards the car.
“Keep your hands on the steering wheel. That will let him know you’re not carrying a gun.”
I gripped the wheel so tightly, my knuckles had turned white. I heard the crunch of gravel on the road as Officer Smith walked nearer. My heart was beating so loudly. I could barely breathe.
Finally, I turned my head and looked at Officer Smith. He was standing over me with thick, brown sunglasses.
“Good afternoon,” he said.
“Hi.” That did not sound like confidence coming out of my mouth.
“Hello, Officer!” Mom exclaimed cheerfully.
Then I heard the last thing I ever expected. The man was laughing.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Officer Smith smiled. “I did not know you were there.” He turned to look at me.
“Sir, do you have a license or driving permit?”
I nodded my head. My hands were shaky but I slowly reached for my wallet. Officer Smith’s smile did not disappear. He just kept looking at me. I pulled out the rectangular paper permit and handed it over. He held it for a few seconds and then gave the paper back.
“Wonderful.” Officer Smith’s smile grew even bigger. “Sir, I’m sorry to pull you over. But I didn’t see your mom until now. I had to check. I apologize.”
“No problem, Officer.” Mom smiled. “You see, Mike? You’re doing great!”
Officer Smith nodded his head. “You two have a nice day now.” He walked back to his car, turned off his police lights and drove away.
I was one of the very few souls to have been pulled over by Officer Smith and NOT be in trouble. But honestly, I was more astonished this infamous cop spoke to Mom and me with kindness and respect. From that day forward, I enjoyed engaging with the police. I would smile, and they would smile back. When I waved, they waved back. Today, I encourage my 4-year old twins to greet and talk to nearby officers. I teach them that the police are here to help us when we need them most.
I’m fully aware there are some cops who abuse their powers. We must be wary of them. But for the local police men and women in my community, I intend to give them the same kindness and respect Officer Smith showed me.