Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Before last night, it had been a long time since I had been in the backseat of a cop car.

My Tuesday evening began as all good Tuesday evenings do. Leah cut my bangs, then we drove to the seaside town, Nio to eat at Cafe de Float. This cafe is a dinning gem. Alongside YRG cafe in Tokushima city, it fulfills the stylish fantasies I had about Japanese cultural before arrival. An interesting young couple owns and cooks at the restaurant. The specials are written in chalk on a small blackboard mounted on the wall. The collection of English reads are geared towards those who enjoy traveling. None of the tables look the same. Other young people always come in. And international music plays at just the right volume.

We left around 9 with the sweet and innocent intention of finding the nearby mall before closing time.

I took the left turn that the hip man at Cafe de Float had told me to take and I then drove over train tracks. Moments later police sirens wailed behind me and Leah and I laughed as we realized that I was being pulled over.

I had always felt invincible driving in Japan. Perhaps it is because others drive like maniacs. In Japan, no one slows down for yellow and speed limits are rarely real. I knew I had not stopped before the train tracks as the law suggests you do. But, I did not know that traffic laws were ever enforced.

The police men pulled up in front of my car and as they walked toward my car it continued to be comical.
The police in the States are frightening. They will always pull up behind your car. And they will wait about 10 minutes, with their lights flashing in your rear view mirror as they run your plates, before they get out of their car. As they approach your car their gun and billy-club stand out, no matter how dark it is.

As both a younger and an older police officer stood at my window I began with the "wakarimasen" (I do not understand). I thought they might just grow tired of this quickly and leave. They kindly told me to get out of my car and invited me into theirs.

The inside of this police car was clean and warm. The seats were large and soft. There was no glass that separated the backseat from the front. They began to take my information and I continued to suggest that I did not understand anything that they were saying.

The older man then began to write out a number on what appeared to be a ticket. I realized I did not have anytime to talk myself out of it.
I took a deep breath and collected all the tears I could. I began to sniffle and speak in a soft voice. I wiped my eyes with my shirt sleeves. I told them, "gomen, gomen" (sorry, sorry). They continued to write out the ticket and these tears only made them feel awkward. They then asked me how long I had lived in Japan. I told them (in Japanese) that I lived in Japan for one year. I said I came August. Twenty- Seven.

As they checked my license and wrote out my ticket they told me how good my Japanese is and said that they think I study.

I put my head on the back of the older man's car seat. It felt soft and new. They asked me my phone number and after I gave it to them (in Japanese). I leaned up into the front seat and pulled the sheet of paper towards me to double check the numbers.

They handed me my $90 ticket and I gave them a finger print. I felt as if I had sat through that process as a favor to them. I felt as if I could have told them that I was actually busy and I needed to go, anytime during that interaction.

They did not make me do a field sobriety test, they did not even ask if I had been drinking and there was no k-9 unit threat.

Neither cop attempted to intimidate me in any manner. Getting back in my own car I was disappointed that the dashboard is not fancy and the heat does not work as well as the police officers car.

As I walked from their car to mine they called out "take care, take care" till I shut my door. There was no concern from the pits of my stomach. Only a dent in my wallet. That being said, I hope you have enjoyed reading this because it cost me about $90.


Anonymous said...

Interesting cross cultural perspective...Mom

Caitlin said...

It always is ...

Leah said...

I seriously thought they were going to drive away with you. Or give you omiyage.

rose leda ehler said...

Oh the memories . . . being stopped on the way to a Phish concert w/ beer in the back of my car by that scary cop from Moon Twp. who held a grudge against Mt. Lebo cuz we beat them in football in the 80s?

- Sylvia's delinquent daughter