Saturday, January 9, 2010

Living In A Police State

Los Gatos and Monte Sereno enjoy a low crime rate. That is unless you count the delinquents like me. In the past few months I’ve had a few tussles with the law and managed to become public enemy number one. I got a ticket for talking on my cell phone. I got a ticket for having my front tires in a cross walk. I had Animal Control leave me multiple warnings for “allowing” my dog to jump our fence. Tonight, I almost ended up in the slammer.

I had to pick my son up from a friend’s house one mile from my home. My 12 year old was watching TV, his 5 year old brother napping beside him. I grabbed my cell phone and told my eldest I would be back in 10 minutes.

The play date went well and my 9 year old was telling me all about it when the flash of blue and red lights caught me by surprise. What in gods name did I do now? I thought to myself doing a quick inventory. The phone had wrung but I opened it “hands free” using the speaker phone. I wasn’t speeding. Ryan was sitting in the front seat (for the first time ever) but no way could the officer determine he was a half inch shy of the 4’9” requirement in the dark. The flashlight glared at me interrogation style as I rolled down the window.

“Can I see your license and registration,” he said.

I reached for my purse. It wasn’t there.

“Oh no, I left my purse on the kitchen counter,” I said. “I just live down this road if you could follow me for a minute?”

“I can’t do that,” he said.

“I do have my registration and proof of insurance,” I offered fumbling through the glove box and handing him the documents. “Can I ask why you pulled me over?”

“You’re registration sticker isn’t up to date,” he said.

“Oh, it really is,” I explained. “But I made a mistake and put it on the front plate instead of the back and haven’t moved it yet because I don’t have the proper wrench.”

He wasn’t interested in my registration sticker. He had bigger fish to fry. He went back to his car for a moment and when he returned said, “You aren’t a licensed California driver.”

“Yes, I am. I have the license in my wallet,” I said, mind racing.

“You aren’t in the computer system. And if you are driving without a license I will have to tow your car,” he said.

““We could resolve all this if you drove up the street with me,” I offered. And as he went to do another computer check, I explained that my son was home waiting for my return.

“How old is your son?” he asked.

“Twelve,” I replied.

“It’s illegal to leave a child under the age of 14 alone Ellen,” he said in that “Mighty Oz” tone. “It’s a misdemeanor and I could report you to Child Protective Services.”

“Twelve year olds babysit where I come from,” I offered.

“Well it’s against the law in the state of California,” he reiterated. “Penal code blah blah blah blah.”

At that point panic began to set in. My car was going to be towed. My unpaid cell phone ticket was going to land me in the slammer. My kids were going to be taken from me. And the lawyer bills would be mounting. I could feel the tears welling up inside me.

I called the kids father. He was a good 40 minute drive away. I called home and assured my responsible 12 year old that I would be home shortly.

The officer returned to my car window and handed me my paperwork. “You need to have your license on you at all times and you need to go home and take care of your children,” he advised me. “I’m going to let you go with a warning.”

I think I nodded. I don’t remember much other than the tears streaming down my face and the mix of fear and indignant anger burning inside me.

According to the local police department’s website, their officers “work hard to provide a full range of services often beyond what other communities are able to provide.” Perhaps a nice bank robbery, once in a while, would help put their world in perspective? Then again, that’s the thinking of a criminal mind and a neglectful mother.