The perils of owning a Chevy Camaro

My first pull-over

When I'm in a foreign country, I like to immerse myself in the local culture, and so when I moved to North Carolina for 2 years, I decided that I should get a truely American car. I soon came across a "small block" 5-litre Chevy Camaro Berlinetta, and didn't hesitate - it was beautiful, drove like a dream, and only cost $500. I loved that car, and it behaved impeccably, not needing a single visit to the mechanic in those 2 years. What it did necessitate was visits to police stations and court houses, because I quickly learned that I had to drive much more slowly and carefully than my American colleagues who were invisible in their Honda Civics and Toyota Camrys.

If you have ever watch an American thriller, you'll know that the bad guy always drives a Camaro, and the police seemed to have watched the same films, and made the assumption that even if I wasn't commiting a crime when they saw me, I probably just had or just would, so they might as well give me a ticket now.
The first thing I did was buy a radar detector, but I got so jumpy from all the false alarms that I stopped using it and just watched my speedo carefully. But still they stopped me, and my first pull-over was one of the more interesting :

I was on my way to the airport, in plenty of time and driving at the speed limit on a country road, when I came up behind a Sheriff's patrol. Just to be sure, I slowed down some more and stayed well behind him. After a few minutes he pulled off the road, but predictably started following me at a discrete distance, so I kept behaving myself impeccably. Eventually he got impatient waiting for me to make a mistake, and surged up behind me with lights and sirens on. Now in Britain my instinct would be that he was on his way to help someone in need, so I would make a fast evasive move so that he could be on his way. Only if he still followed me would I stop, and then I would jump out to greet him, whilst reaching into my coat pocket to find my licence. But having watched those thrillers, I suspected that doing any of those things would make my life considerably more complicated, and possibly shorter. So I carefully pulled over and sat with my hands in clear view, and soon learned that Hollywood portrayals are a lot more accurate than I'd hoped. I suppressed an incredulous smile as an overweight, middle-aged cop wearing a disturbingly tight brown uniform and droopy sunglasses swaggered over to my window and drawled
"You know I pulled you over, boiyyyy ?"
"Errr, no officer, I thought I was driving slowly and carefully. What was I doing wrong ?"
"Well, you came up a bit quick behind me back there, and you were a bit wide on some of those bends"
"Oh, I see, you mean I was driving a Camaro"
I said that to myself, in case you're wondering why I still have access to the internet.
"Oh, I see" is all that came out loud. He took my licence back to his cruiser to call it in, and came back bewildered :
"You have a clean licence"
"Yes sir, I try to drive very carefully"
He looked at my car as if to check it wasn't a Honda Civic, and grudgingly said :
"Well I could write you up for any number of things boiyyy, but you're lucky this time and I'm gonna let y'all go. Now just you drive carefully, boiyyyy"

And I was free. But by this time late, and so when I reached the highway I had to put to use my V8 and radar detector as I screamed down the empty road at over 100mph. Until I reached an advertising hoarding when my detector started beeping madly, and I stood on the brakes and fell in love with my 8-inch tyres as they brought me down to half my speed under complete control. Still, by the time I got to the hoarding, another cop was waving me in to his hidden patrol car. But this one was young, friendly, and professional, and his blue uniform fitted him.
"We're talking 62 in a 45 limit, please come to my car so we can fill out the paperwork"
"And you had a fuzz-buster, didn't you ?"
"It's OK, they're legal, but there's no way you could have seen me and slowed down like that without one"
We chatted a while, and he seemed to be a car guy, just doing his job. He pointed out that more than 15mph over the limit meant automatic loss of licence, and that he's like to write me up for 60 to avoid that, but last time he did so the guy had reported him for making a false report in the hopes of getting off completely. Instead he advised me to plea-bargain with the DA to keep my licence. I was starting to feel like I was in one of those movies.

My day in traffic court came, and I watched as a highly-paid judge dispensed trivial fines to local farmers who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The DA was equally incredulous that I could have a clean licence, and happily traded 2mph for a confession. I was about to milk my apparent innocence for all it was worth by saying that I was shocked to learn that I was over the limit, when the judge turned over the ticket and said :
"Ah, it says here that you had a detector, so you were obviously intending to speed"
I shut up, amazed that I still got away with a $5 fine and $20 court costs, although I later found that my insurance would triple because my broker was no longer constrained by the limits for innocent drivers.

My first police chase

I really did try to behave myself in my Camaro, but there were times when it was difficult, like when the traffic light ahead controlling our left turn was changing to amber just as my colleague said "I thought you said this was a sports car". For the last time.

And then when I was listening to a particularly boppy Pat Benatar song on the radio as I took a right turn in town. I think I was actually under the speed limit, but the efficient power steering may have caused my big radials to squeel a little more than was optimal. Still, it never occured to me that the flashing and beeping police cruiser that came sideways around the corner a few hundred yards later could possibly be connected with me, a well-behaved academic enjoying some harmless soft rock. At least until he started lining himself up to follow me into the next left-hand turn, when I started to think about my last experience with American police. Since I still had a good lead, I thought my best option was to park behind a shop and quickly get away from my car. In that way I could act all innocent if they caught up with me, but maybe, maybe, they wouldn't bother to pursue the issue if they couldn't immediately identify me. As it was, they couldn't even work out what had happened to the car, and screeched to a halt when they realised that I'd disappeared. But then they backed into a driveway and sat there, arms folded and waiting. I tagged on to a passing family, and took a long walk around the shops until the cops finally gave up and left. So it was rather short, and I missed most of it, but technically I've been in a police pursuit and gotten away. That's probably a felony, but I suspect the statute of limitations has gone out on my squeeling-tyre offence.

© Mark Harris 2007

(More true stories)

(MRH homepage)