On my way to IKEA on Saturday I was pulled over by a Connecticut State Police officer. I had just gotten off the highway and I could see the Swedish store about 50 feet further up the road.
The trooper claimed there was a sign at the stop light that said “No Turn on Red” (In America you can turn right when there is a red light after you stop, unless you’re in New York City or unless there is a sign directing you not to). The state must have just put the sign up, because it’s never been there before, and nobody I talked to afterward remembered seeing this alleged sign.
The police have pulled me over four times before in the nine years that I’ve been here. It always makes me panic inside, but so far, I’ve never gotten a ticket. I credit it to being blonde and being Swedish.
I was pulled over in Bronxville, N.Y., during my first few months in this country. I was driving my host father’s big white Chevy Suburban and I had just turned left before a red light (it was unclear whether that particular light was for my intersection or just the intersection a little further ahead). A group of us were heading to Yonkers to volunteer at a Thanksgiving dinner. I had lost the person I was supposed to follow – the woman with the directions – and also the person who was supposed to follow me.
As I struggled to pull out my Swedish driver’s license from my bag and find some type of registration papers, the Bronxville officer knocked on my window.
“I’m supposed to give you these,” he said and handed me a sheet of paper with scribbles on it.
“Huh?” I said.
“They’re directions. From Valerie,” he clarified. “She told me to look for your big white truck with Vermont license plates.”
“Oh,” I said. “I thought you pulled me over because I turned left when it was a red light.”
He said I kind of did, but it didn’t really matter. He then preceded to explain the directions, making sure I knew where to go. In the meantime, the person who was following me had time to catch up. She just didn’t expect me to be chatting with the police.
About a year later, I pulled up in front of my friend’s house in Scarsdale in my blue pick-up truck with Vermont plates and noticed a police car pulling up behind me. When I got out, he explained that my tax sticker on my license plate could not be seen and therefore he thought the plate was expired.
“We get a lot of people living here who use expired out-of-state plates and think they can get away with it,” he said.
I assured him that wasn’t me, and that I would take care of the problem immediately. Of course, I never did. A few years later, however, I had a new car and it didn’t matter anymore.
Going to school one day on the Sprain Brook Parkway I passed a New York state trooper with a radar gun while doing 70 miles per hour. I quickly slowed down, but he had already jumped in his car and was chasing after me.
“What is the speed limit and the only speed limit in New York state?” he asked brusquely.
“55?” I replied, hesitantly.
“And exactly how fast were you going, miss?”
“Ha! Try 71!”
I looked surprised. He glanced over to the passenger seat at my friend Almut from Germany who was visiting. I believe I said something about school, and I may have shown him my license. Then he gave me a warning, and let me drive off.
When I started working in Torrington, Conn., I was pulled over again. It was a bad day at work, I was already crying, and I was dying to get home and just get the hell out of there. I almost made it to the highway entrance when I saw the blinking lights in my mirror and had to pull over.
The Torrington officer was appalled at my driving. He had been following me almost since the newspaper office and said he’d had a hard time keeping up with me. I had no idea.
My Swedish and international licenses and Vermont registration confused him.
“I’m a student,” I said, because if you are a student you do not have to change your registration and plates to the state where you are living “temporarily.”
He asked me about school and then he realized that I was crying. His voice grew worried.
“What’s the matter?” he wanted to know.
“I had a really bad day at work,” I sniffled.
I told him about my “internship” at the newspaper (you can’t both be a student and a temporary H1-B worker when it comes to license plates). He asked me where I was going, then he was quiet for a few seconds.
“Well, take it easy now,” he finally said. “And slow down, ok?”
I promised and drove off.
So from these experiences I’ve learned some stuff that I applied to Saturday’s incident:
1) Have all your papers in order (insurance, registration, license, international license)
2) Wear your seat belt so they have no other reason to ticket you
3) Be polite, but only offer what is asked
4) Cry if you must
Do I need to add that there was no ticket on Saturday, just a warning? The Connecticut trooper ran my registration on his laptop and it came back clear. I told him the student story and that I am from Sweden. After that, I was free to go.