You see the stories on the news:
“Elderly Man Pulled Over On Trip Home from Naples Racquetball Tournament While Cranking ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth.’”
“Local Boulder Grad Ridiculed Mercilessly By Two Uniformed Cops for Singing Along to ‘Genie in a Bottle’ at Top of His Lungs.’”
You just never think it’s going to be you.
I was home at my parents for the weekend, taking a much-needed break from my stressful job in the city. Dad had finally pulled the trigger on a Tesla a few weeks earlier, and I was taking it out for a spin, really letting loose. The roads in my county are woodsy and pretty empty. You look out for the occasional deer, but for the most part you can open it up a bit and not worry. I was ripping 52 in a 40 when Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” began to play on the radio.
As the music played, I reflected on everything that had put me in the dumps lately. I thought about how spotty the Wi-Fi had been in the apartment. How last Tuesday my boss had yelled at me for taking too long of a lunch. And I wondered why girls weren’t responding to the unsolicited gin and tonics I’d been buying them at bars. I thought about these things, about all the things that had made my world feel a bit darker the last year or so, and slowly lost myself in the song, opening the windows, and howling out the words.
“AND I NEED YOU! … AND I MISS YOU! AND NOW I WONNN-DER …”
We launched into the chorus, Vanessa and I. Together. And right around when we asked again if time would pass us by, I caught the flashing lights in the rearview mirror and heard the dull wail of the sirens rush into the Tesla.
My heart began to gallop, straining against my Italian cashmere sweater.
Not me. Not here. Not today.
I knew I should reach for the dashboard and change the station, or at least lower the volume, but my hands remained on the wheel. I steered the vehicle to the side of the road and put it in park, hardly able to breathe.
The officer stepped out of his cruiser. He was tall, maybe a few inches over six feet, with a barrel chest and peppered stubble. He kept his eyes trained on a pad of paper as he sauntered over, and I scanned his upper half in the rearview mirror, noticing he wasn’t wearing a body camera. Vanessa continued to play, as if on a damning loop.
“Good afternoon, sir,” he said, peering through a thick pair of sunglasses into my car. “License and registration, please.”
I fumbled through my wallet, then the glove compartment, handing each document over. His nametag read OFFICER WILLIAMS.
He examined the paper for a few moments, then switched to my license, mouthing my name under his breath. He jotted a few notes before looking back at me, lowering his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose.
“Playing a little Vanessa Carlton today, are we?”
My legs wouldn’t stop shaking. I cleared my throat.
“Yes, Officer. Just a little.”
He nodded — a deep, slow nod — and stared at the radio for a beat.
“Nothing else on the radio?”
“No, sir. I mean, there is, Officer. I just.. I mean, this is what I…”
A smile crept across his face, a smile that threatened laughter, a smile that dared to rip my heart in two.
“You know … I’m a bit of a fan myself! But let’s try to keep the sing-alongs to the shower, okay? Don’t want to bother the all fine folks ‘round here enjoying their afternoons.”
I blinked once, then twice, stunned. A salty tear had formed in the corner of my eye.
“Of course, Officer Williams. Thank you. Thank you!”
He handed back my papers and patted me on the shoulder, whistling as he walked back to the cruiser. The tune sounded vaguely like the song I’d been singing along to. I drove home with the windows up and the radio off, deciding all that talk about police brutality was completely overblown.