Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thoughts on Tickets and Tears

As the belly gets bigger, I'm noticing the way people are nice to me.  Waving me across the street when I'm walking, letting me go ahead of them in line at the pharmacy, telling me I look cute.  (You might wonder if these things happen to me when I'm NOT pregnant, but I assure you that I had to gain 25 pounds and have a beach ball belly in order to get unsolicited attention from strangers).  In light of Infertility Awareness Week, (and I think in response to a couple of essays that I've assigned my students--at least someone is getting something out of my class!), I've been analyzing this behavior instead of taking it for granted.  Rather than accepting it as common decency or a form of chivalry or basic politeness, I've been looking at it with jaded eyes, and seeing this extra-nice treatment as more evidence of our culture's obsession with fertility, of continuing to value women based on the children they produce rather than the work they do.  To tell you the truth, I've been feeling kind of self-righteous and scornful of the preferential treatment, continually telling myself that I am making a kind of feminist statement by NOT taking advantage of it.  I will not use my pregnancy as an excuse or a handicap or a reason to complain.

And then I got pulled over for speeding.

Oh, how the self-righteous will fall.

{I just want to interject that this is only the second time in my LIFE I have ever gotten pulled over.  I set my cruise control on my commute and I don't typically speed (well, more than 5-7 miles over the speed limit, which totally doesn't count, right?).  I was on my way home from work, so I was driving in Illinois, getting ready to cross the river into Missouri.  I got pulled over on a section of road coming into the city where the highway speed limit changes from 60 mph to 45 mph to 35 mph.  I had hit the brakes to cancel my cruise control of 65, but I was letting the car sort of coast to 45 mph, rather than continuing to apply pressure to brakes.  I was SLOWING DOWN, but I was on a downhill slope, so, technically, yes, I was going too fast.}

I sat in my car and watched the police officer in the review mirror as he radioed in my plates.  (Fortunately, I was not driving a stolen vehicle.)

I pulled out my driver's licence and waited for him to come up to my window.  He told me he'd pulled me over for speeding (60 in a 45, ugh) and asked for my license and proof of insurance.

I flipped open the glove compartment and pulled out the little folder that holds an outdated map of Missouri and our insurance cards.  The insurance card in that folder had expired in May of 2011.  Oops.  So then I pulled out all of the other folders, envelopes, and pamphlets in the glove compartment.  Also two tampons.  (I was a Girl Scout.  Our motto is Be Prepared.)

I flipped through all the paperwork.  The officer waited patiently.  No insurance card.  I started to feel panicky.  Here's the receipt from my last oil change!  Here's my parking permit from two years ago!  Here's my owner's manual!  Here's the paperwork from getting our windshield fixed!  OMG here's a pantyliner to go with that tampon!  (See previous paragraph for Girl Scout motto.)

But I had NO insurance card that was not expired.  I gave him the expired card and asked if he could look at that because I still have the same insurance and I don't know where the card could be because I'm supposed to have one in my glove compartment and one in my wallet but neither one are there.

He said, very sternly, in like a super mean voice, "It is Illinois state law that you provide current proof of insurance."

It dawned on me that I was going to get not one, but TWO tickets.  That David was going to sigh and lecture me on driving safely, precious cargo, blah blah blah.  That we were going to have to spend a considerable chunk of money to pay these two tickets, AND that it could affect my insurance rate.  I felt like an irresponsible driver and terrible mother, (and I was annoyed because EVERYONE speeds in that little section but of course I'm the one who gets a ticket).

Also, I realized I was going to be seriously late for my hair appointment.

And so I did what any strong, independent, self-respecting feminist would do in that situation.

I started crying.

I didn't want to cry, but there I was, my voice cracking and my eyes filling with tears as I apologized (and felt like an idiot).

You know when you're a kid and you really want your tears to have a dramatic effect on your parents?  You hope that your outpouring of emotion will make them totally relent and let you out of whatever punishment it was that they were about to inflict upon you?  Only it NEVER works (at least not with my parents)?

Well, my tears TOTALLY worked.  

Suddenly Officer Mean Voice was all, "Calm down, now, this isn't a life or death situation.  I'm not going to haul you off to jail or anything."  He seemed surprised that I was crying, and a little nervous about it.

I said, "I know, I just feel so disorganized and I don't know why that insurance card isn't there, and I'm sorry, I'm just such a mess."  *sniffle, sniffle, wipe tears*

The officer glances at my belly and says, "Don't get upset.  I see that you're pregnant, and I really don't want to deliver any babies today."

(And now let's all just take a moment to collectively pray that this baby--as well as any future baby ducks--is NOT delivered by a police officer on the side of the road in East St. Louis.)

That idea kind of made me laugh and he said, "OK, good.  So we're laughing now."  I wiped my eyes and apologized again.

Then he said that that he was feeling especially good-natured, and taller than usual (?), so he was going to let me go with a verbal warning instead of TWO citations.  I nodded my appreciation.  He handed back my license and expired insurance card.  I was in the midst of thanking him profusely when we were interrupted by his radio telling him there was debris on the highway that was causing people to swerve dangerously, so he patted my car door and said, "Just go."

And so I went.

I know I got out of that ticket because I was pregnant.  And crying.  And also, probably because I was a white girl in a part of the city that is predominantly African American and known for high crime rates, unemployment, drive-by shootings, and the sort of neighborhoods where there are no grocery stores but a dozen liquor stores.

I've been having my students read essays about people who transform public spaces--a black man writes about the way he whistles classical music to help put people at ease when he walks alone at night, a wheelchair bound teenager writes about how he takes advantage of people's sympathy as a way to "even-up" the score since he's paralyzed.  It was not lost on me that my physical appearance had very specific consequences in this case.  In fact, I felt guilty about the way my pregnancy had so obviously shaped that encounter.  I currently happen to occupy a privileged position--white, pregnant, female--a position that is unobtainable for many, and a position for which a great number of people are willing to make excuses and give free passes.

My tears were genuine--hormonal, perhaps, frustrated and embarrassed, for sure.  But his response to me was predicated on a cultural mythology about pregnant women being crazy and emotional.  And I totally took advantage of that.

I am uncomfortable with the way my gender, race, and pregnancy manipulated that situation to my favor.

I am also really freaking glad that I got out of that ticket.

I'm not saying that if I had to go back and do it again that I'd do anything differently.  But I am really (uncomfortably) aware of WHY things went down the way they did.  And now I continue over-analyze the situation because I'm an academic and and this is what we do.

Have you ever gotten out of a speeding ticket?  With tears?  Or a clever excuse?  Or failed to get out of a ticket, in spite of crying?  Have you ever used a pregnancy to avoid something unpleasant?  Or resented people who did so?  Do tell.


  1. This is so interesting to read. And I am also really glad you got out of your ticket! Who are they to tell you to go 35 on the highway? That's crazytalk.

    One of the things I never enjoyed about pregnancy was that it is so prominent a feature of your body that it is sort of what you become in many people's eyes. You are a pregnant woman, not merely a person and not even the person you used to be. Sometimes, as in your case and others, this gets you special privileges. Other times, like when I just wanted to feel like a normal stressed out grad student at my qualifying exam, it is an unavoidable and incredibly conspicuous difference between you and your evaluators (and fellow students, who might be thought to be more serious as a student because they are not pregnant). I was fortunate to sit down during my qual, presumably for my comfort in the eyes of my three middle age white male committee members, but honestly I was much more comfortable being visible from only table level up, where I still looked like I usually do.

  2. You forgot to mention your giant boobs- surely they didn't hurt your chances! Ha!!

    I have an irrational fear of police officers... Like I get the overwhelming desire to know whether I could get their gun, which I hasten to add also terrify me, From their holster... Yeh, I'm a weirdo. Lol

    Anyway, the one time *knock on wood* I was pulled over as a teenager I legitimately started crying, bc I was scared. I got off with a warning, and it worked, I'm scared.. Lol.

  3. Can you please follow me around in life and write about my encounters? You. are. awesome.

    I agree with LJ-- the super knockers certainly didn't hurt your chances on that one either. ;)

    I would've been super nervous. For no logical reason, I start to sweat whenever I see a cop in my rear view mirror. I've gotten out of a ticket before for nothing more than just being nice. I used pregnancy (at least B's) to avoid lots of unpleasant things-- mostly being in public and not being able to drink to make myself feel more normal. Oh, I guess that's a BLM comment and not so normal. That's I'm aware. :/

  4. Glad you didn't have to pay -- but yeah, sometimes you wonder...!

    For some reason, this brings to mind an incident one summer when I was about 20, between university terms. My girlfriend & I were in the city and we decided to go to this bar we'd never been to before to check out a local band we both liked. We walked into the bar -- and holy cow, it was full of bikers. Big, tough looking guys -- a few girls, but mostly guys. We scanned the room, and my girlfriend said, "Ummm, let's get out of here."

    We were stopped at the door by a huge bouncer who looked just like the clientele. "What's the matter," he said, menacingly. "Don't you like our bar?"

    And in a flash, I made up a story. "Oh no," I said, smiling as sweetly as I could. "We were supposed to meet some friends here and I don't see them at all -- I think we've been stood up! Is there a phone I can use?" (This being at least 15 years before cellphones were common.) To my huge relief, the guy smiled and said, "There's a payphone over there." I made a great show of depositing my coin, dialing a (fake) number & carrying on a completely fabricated one-sided conversation.

    And then we got the heck out of Dodge. There were scads of bikes parked outside, we had gone in a different entrance & hadn't seen them. I still shudder when I think of that night, sometimes.

  5. I used to dodge tickets by being so damn adorable, but now I am tired and frumpy and ticketed. So, enjoy.

    I love being pregnant at conferences because my work centers on Planned Parenthood and abortion, and it's a total mindfuck for people. I think I am also able to make more blatantly liberal and feminist arguments because I embody pronatalism.

  6. I worked with a girl who was overly dramatic about how hard everything was because she was pregnant and so uncomfortable and used her pregnancy as an excuse to avoid working when she still should. Especially annoying as she was super ealy on. I hated this for two reasons. 1. The BLM part of me hated her bitching when she's was so damn lucky and 2. She made all pregnant women look bad by being so whiny!

    I think I would have reacted the same as you. In fact, it made me nervous thinking that maybe my insurance cards are out of date and oh my god I don't know so they must be and I better fix that before I forget, yadda yadda

  7. Five days after Teddy died in Portland, we were driving home & were pulled over for speeding. That poor police officer - I can only imagine what it would have been like to encounter two such devastated & shell-shocked souls, with our "personal effects" bag in the back seat. We didn't care about the ticket - speeding tickets didn't even register as a real thing - but of course he didn't give us one.

    It made me cranky when co-workers scheduled around me the semester before my due date - who were they to say I couldn't pull my own weight? Unfortunately, I did spend the last month of my pregnancy on bed rest, but that made it rankle more, actually.

  8. We got pulled over AS WE WERE LEAVING THE HOSPITAL, EMPTY-CAR-SEATED, after Otis died. Literally, like 9 hours after he died. There I was, still looking pregnant, sobbing; E, totally disheveled, and also sobbing, had just made an illegal u-turn and crossed over like 5 lanes of traffic or something. We were a block away from the hospital. E explained our situation. The officer asked if we were okay to drive home, and if we knew how to get there...we assured her we did. E was so distraught I actually ended up driving us the rest of the way. And no, we didn't get a ticket.

    The other time my tears got me out of a ticket I was on my way to see my dad in the hospital as he was recovering from a heart attack. And I was 16, driving a convertible, speeding, in a school zone. I started crying (again, not on purpose, but just because I was upset!) and explained that I was on my way to see my dad in the hospital and of course, the officer let me go, with a warning: "He'd probably have another heart attack if you got in an accident on the way there, miss, so you better slow down and drive more carefully."

    But there have been times that my tears haven't gotten me out of tickets as well.

    One time when I was in grad school, it was one of the first hot days of the year, I was wearing a little sundress and sandals, and I was about to get a parking ticket when I ran out of the cafe I was in, and told the metermaid (who was actually a meter-man) I was right there, and please could I not get the ticket....and that meter-man looked me up and down pretty lasciviously and said, "Oh don't worry about it, honey. It's your lucky day." And this part of me was so angry at him for implying (with his eyes and tone of voice) that my looks or my sundress were getting me out of the ticket that I almost said "Oh HELL NO, GIVE ME THE TICKET." But seeing as I could barely afford to feed myself on my grad student budget, I decided to accept his sleazy act of parking ticket amnesty.

    I did tend to revel in how nice people were to me when I was pregnant. I always was hyper aware of it once I got into my car and was no longer visibly pregnant, and people suddenly transformed back into rude assholes, cutting me off and being impatient with me. I kept wanting to get out of my car and flash my belly and make them feel instantly guilty for being so rude to a pregnant woman. But you're right, it does make you hyper aware of the privilege being afforded to you that is not to so many others.


  9. When we visited my niece in Dec, we had her and two of my friends kids in the back seat when I ran into a NYE-time traffic stop, and I'm pretty sure I got out of not having an updated insurance card because I had three sleeping kids in the back seat. Oh, and we had FL tags and I was in TN. "In TN we have a law...blahblah"

  10. nope. and when i was in hs i got a $500 ticket for speeding in a school zone. the school zone was 10 mins from being over and there were NO children around. and believe me i cried like a baby when he handed me that thing. he wasn't phased. but miami cops aren't really known for their caring nature.

  11. Not me. And I am never out of STL, where literally ever other car is already above the limit, making me feel like a sloth! So I manage to be just below the top 3 offenders! But, a friend of mine driving a 50 in a 25 speed limit, running over a stop sign has an interesting story.

    She gets pulled over by the cop who didn't even need a radar gun to find she was speeding, because her car so obviously had the ticket written all over it.(And this happened in Illinois, too). And her car had no current insurance papers - an expired one, as you had. So the cop asks the same question - reason behind speeding. And she rattles of "I want to get my hair done. I am late!!" The officer was cracking up at her urgency and was let go with warning. And no, she was not pregnant, Afro-American though.

    Cops in IL are infamously more vigilant.

  12. Erica & Sarah's comments reminded me that dh & I forgot to cancel our passes when we got on the commuter train en route home after finding out that Katie was gone. We normally buy monthly passes, which you don't have to cancel, just present on demand -- but we weren't going to be at work the entire month (two-week vacation planned) so we had bought the cheaper 10-ride passes, which you have to cancel before boarding the train.

    Wouldn't you know, they were checking that day. Fortunately, it was mid-afternoon, not yet rush hour, so there weren't a lot of people on the car. Dh pulled the guy aside & explained we had just found out our baby had died. "You can give us tickets if you want, but we'll fight it," he said. The guy looked at my swollen, tear stained face & my still pregnant belly and said, "Just cancel them on your way off the train." Thank goodness.

  13. When I was pregnant, I made darned sure that I stood near the people sitting in the seats reserved for pregnant people until they became uncomfortable enough to vacate them. Most of the time I didn't need the seats, but I felt like it was my duty to make them get up for me so that hopefully the next time a pregnant lady who did need the seat came around, they'd get up sooner.

    Strangely, since Gwen was born I've always gotten lots of people to offer to help right away with loading her stroller off and on the bus -- which help I don't actually need.

  14. I have, though, pulled the "ignorant foreign female tourist" thing a few times when I've had issues traveling by train -- for example, having followed the printed schedule and jumped on a train without double checking its destination only to find that it was going in the opposite direction...or the morning I was up so early and was so tired that I completely forgot my discount card isn't valid until after 9:00 and I bought a discounted ticket anyway...

    Both times I get off w/o any fees. :)

  15. Didn't work for me. I was on my way to work one morning and was going 8 over and got pulled over and being pregnant and hormonal I started crying and he sure did still write me a ticket!!!

  16. I totally hear you about fertility and being given special attention because of pregnancy. I remember thinking, "people are so kind when you are pregnant, than as soon as you give birth your just another lady with a crying baby" This became much more apparent to me during my second pregnancy. People want to help, open doors, be kind etc...
    But honestly I think it is awesome, for one, I need the help, I don't want to bust my ass doing trivial stuff when I am growing a human. Why lift a giant bag of groceries when the bag boy can do it for me. So thanks for the extra help...I'll take it. And that's coming from a femenist. You see I think it is really special and awesome be grow another human being and I am glad other people recognize the difficulty.

  17. Indeed I have. To cover your best friends butt. I will remain anonymous as I may need to cover her butt again. <3

  18. I was 7 months pregnant with lydie when I got pulled over for rolling a stop sign. Seriously, who doesn't roll stop signs? Don't know if it was my baby bump or not but I didn't get a ticket. Surprised I didn't cry but I probably would have if I couldn't find my insurance card!