K’s story about her run-in with the law reminded me of my own.
About two years ago, my buddy Ron and I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. Ron had gotten our company to sponsor a bunch of us from work, and bought several boxes of pizza for all the volunteers. By the end of the day, there were a lot of half-empty boxes, so Ron decided to take them home.
So we plop into the car for the drive home, me with my baseball cap turned backwards, Ron, many boxes of pizza on his lap. As we’re approaching our exit on the freeway,Â I notice a cop car behind us. My immediate thought was “I bet you he’s going to exit with us” and, sure enough, he does.
But then, he pulls ahead of us several cars and I think, hey, it was just a coincidence, no ulterior motives.
We turn onto Ron’s block and park, Ron is getting out and I notice, hey, there are flashing lights behind us. Ron looks back, his hands filled with pizza boxes and asks, somewhat incredulously, “did he just pull us over?”
Yep. He sure did.
The cop gets out of his car, strolls over to us and asks for license and registration, which I hand over. A well-trained question crosses my lips.
“What seems to be the problem, Officer?”
His explanation will go down in the annals of justification: “I noticed your front license plate was missing.”
“I know. Is that a problem?”
“There are people who steal the front license plates from cars, and put them onto similar vehicles. If you do a plate check, it seems to match.”
“So you wanted to warn me that my front plate was missing, in case it had been stolen and used on another stolen car?”
“Well, I only have the one,”Â I lied with a smile, knowing full well the second one was on the back.
“Sometimes they come stuck together from the DMV, and you end up with both on the back.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that. I’ll have to check that when I get home!”
At some point during this conversation, I’d gotten out the car and was standing with Ron. I don’t remember why, but somewhere in here I felt compelled to explain to the cop, in my best “I’m your worst nightmare: an educated black man” voice, that we’d just come from volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, that we’d bought a dozen pizzas for the crew and were taking the rest home.
I thanked him for his concern and assured him that my front license plate hadn’t been stolen, and that I’d be sure to check my rear plate for a second one stuck to the first. I asked if there’s anything else we can do for him, and bade him farewell, and watched as he returned to his vehicle and pulled away.
There we were, two intelligent, well-paid, well-spoken black men, in somewhat shabby clothes and several boxes of pizza, pulled over by a cop because my front license plate was missing.
If only we didn’t have those pizzas.