I’m riding my 2006 Honda VFR up north, out of Seattle. This is around 2013. It takes a good sixty miles or so to get out of city traffic and finally past the last straight stretches of highway 9, a final thirty tedious miles of four-lane stop-and-go heading north, broken into seemingly endless intervals by the same intersection, over and over. But, as I approach Lake McMurray I’m ready for the fun to begin. I’m heading to Mt. Baker for the day, a peak visible from my first apartment in Seattle on a clear day if you stood on a stool and peered through one small window. From shortly after the town of Arlington here, HWY 9 turns twisty and lonelier, and it’s what we ride up this direction for, through this first 60 miles of aggravation. We being motorcyclists, and there are quite a few of us out on this beautiful spring day. Eventually, later today I’ll climb a loneley, twisty, poorly surfaced road to the parking lot at the trailhead for the Mt. Baker summit hike. And then I’ll turn around, and head home. No hike, just the ride.
At Lake McMurray the road climbs, and the feel completely changes. I pass by Big Lake far below, a long, sparkling lake which I see from a vista, climbing along the rise to the lake’s east. On both sides of the lake, near and far, the land rises. Swimmers, boaters, folks fishing, jet skiers and wake boarders dot the blue lake. It reminds me of a road trip through the Finger Lakes in New York when I was younger. I look, but my eyes are on the road. I approach the crest of a rise, and another motorcyclist approaches from the other direction. They are on a cafe racer, a vintage Honda CB750, and they pat the top of their half-helmet a few times with their left hand, a signal alerting me to the presence of police in the area. I wave back by pointing my left hand more or less toward the yellow line separating us. I check my speed and slow down to 5MPH below the speed limit.
In very short order I see two cops lurking in the shadows around a bend, standing, aiming radar guns. Then, I pass a police car with two motorcyclists pulled over to the shoulder. I know on the first nice weekend of spring, many people take their motorcycles out for their inaugural rides of the year, and it’s not uncommon for police to use the opportunity to make a day of it, to pull motorcyclists over and check registrations and licenses and such, since many folks might not have their paperwork all in order yet for the season. I don’t pay much attention to them, I know I’m approaching a roundabout at the Big Rock Roadhouse, and I want to be paying attention.
The roundabout is large, and has three entrances/exits, if you will. HWY 9, which I’m traveling, approaches from the southeast, and exits to the northeast as two of those three exits. HWY 538 enters from the west as the third. As I approach, and enter the roundabout I see a black Chevy Suburban also approaching the roundabout, not yet in the circle, and to my left on HWY 538. I continue through and leave the circle on HWY 9, signaling both my entrance and exit from the roundabout, and traveling well below the speed limit.
Almost immediately I see the flashing red light of police in my mirror. A motorcycle cop. I signal to pull over, and there’s really only a sandy bank where the shoulder ought to be, so I wait just a bit until an approaching right turn and pull over immediately there. When I do, I see a police car across from me, with another motorcyclist pulled over, a cop writing a ticket, or writing something at his car. It’s bright and warm. We are on a patch of high ground surrounded by tall blonde grass shining and swaying in the breeze under a bright blue sky.
Kickstand down, I turn off my bike and lift my visor. I consider taking my helmet off so I can remove my earplugs and hear better. But I know some cops don’t like seeing you take the helmet off as they approach, and some more don’t like seeing that you’re wearing earplugs either, so I leave the helmet on and hope I can hear well enough. Plus, I’ve done nothing wrong so I just need to show my valid license and registration and I’ll be off quickly anyway.
The motorcycle cop takes note of my license plate and approaches me. I’m still sitting on my bike, I know my registration and insurance info is under my seat, but I’ll wait until directed to access that.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the cop asks me once he is by my side.
“I assume you’re checking licenses and registration and such. Mine’s under my saddle.” I say, pointing.
“You made a dangerous entry into a roundabout about a quarter mile back.”
“I doubt you saw, but you cut off an SUV that had entered the roundabout before you. They had to slam on their brakes to keep from hitting you. You obviously weren’t looking.”
I chuckled, confused, and then, “Umm, no, that’s not what happened. Officer. I saw the Chevy Suburban you—”
“Are you saying I’m lying to you?” the cop said.
I chuckled again, this time much less confused. “I’m saying that not only did I enter the roundabout first, but also to the right of the Suburban, it was a black Chevy Suburban, by the way. So being first and to the right, I clearly had the right of way in that situation, is what I’m saying.”
Across the road, the other cop was walking from his car to the motorcyclist waiting for them, leaning against their red and white Yamaha YZF-R6, dressed in full, matching red leathers.
“Let me see your license and registration.” the cop said.
“My license is in my pocket, I said, patting my chest pocket. He nodded. As I was reaching for my license I said, “My registration is under my saddle, I’ll need to get off.” I did so, after handing over my license. The cop stepped back and watched me unlatch my saddle. The cop across the street handed over a ticket, or what might have been a ticket to the motorcyclist who had been watching me and my cop do about the same.
My cop took my info and walked back to his bike, a Harley Davidson. The cop across the street walked back to his car. The red and white motorcyclist zipped up, threw his leg over his bike, nodded at me, and took off. He headed north.
My cop came back and handed over my license and registration, then tore a page from his little book and said, “I’m only going to give you a warning this time. Be more careful in the future.”
“A warning for what?” The ticket was a warning against my supposed failure to yield to traffic in the traffic circle. “Are you kidding me?” I said.
“Sir, you shouldn’t argue with a police officer,” the cop said.
“You know, y’all could just be honest about your motives here? You’re obviously checking licenses and registrations, and none of us care, I mean none of us who are legal would really care. Just be honest about it. Jesus. What the hell man?” I shook my head. The cop told me to have a nice day before he walked away in his tall, stiff boots.
3 thoughts on “Getting Pulled Over Up North: An Anecdote In Which I am as White as I can Be”
Yeah, maybe if you weren’t white and said, “A warning for what? you might have had a problem. I’ve been pulled over under the pretense of doing something I know I didn’t do and… I don’t say anything about being ticked off behind being pulled over. These days? I wouldn’t want to say anything to a cop that they might find provocative and a reason to really roust me.
Just a warning? Thanks, officer; I’ll keep a closer eye out – have a good one. Or the one time I got a ticket for running a stop sign that, ah, didn’t exist, all I said was, “See you in court.” I won but that’s not the point. You don’t argue with someone wearing a gun. Ever.
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I’ve been trying to go through anecdotes from my life to find relatable stories of how white privilege works, at least how my own has manifested. Mouthing off to cops is certainly one way I’ve taken advantage of, and/or shown my own privilege.
I know white people who’ve done it and got away with it and, well, that’s insane. They said that I should give them grief for pulling me over for no real reason and, hmm, yeah, nope – I know what happened to my Black friends who tried that one and it didn’t go well for them. Or trying to do the “Brother!” thing with Black cops… that doesn’t usually work either.
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