Long ago when the world was new and I was a flighty young thing with no one depending on me for anything, Annie’s little brother got married. Annie had been my roommate in college, and we spent a lot of time thinking up nicknames like Cute Sweater Boy and Toothbrush Guy and trying to sneak out of her parents’ house at hours that would now make me either weep or laugh hysterically. We were (technically) adults, so the sneaking was less about permission and more about not waking anyone else up at the hour we thought was an acceptable start to the evening. (For future reference, I am a terrible sneaker. I kicked a brown paper bag, which doesn’t sound that bad, but it makes more noise than you’d think. Then there was a lot of giggling, which didn’t help.)
So it’s fair to say that Annie and I have a history of hijinks, though in fairness, our hijinks have always been pretty low-key, if low-key hijinks are not a logical impossibility. Still, her mother has, since we were 18, considered me the responsible one. One time Annie told me that if she told her mother the two of us were going to rob a bank, she’d say, “Oh. Well, I guess if Carol’s going. Do you need any masks or guns or anything?”
Which is a wild exaggeration. Probably.
So when Annie’s brother got married, I was invited to stay at the groom’s parents’ house for the weekend. The morning of the wedding, Annie’s mom put me in charge, half seriously and half tongue in cheek. I was to make sure we got to the ceremony on time. I was not to let anyone get lost on the way to the reception. And I was to drive the both of us home safely.
“Yes, Mama M.” I said. “No problem. I will do all these things.”
And I did the first two things, and we had a lovely time and there was a lot of laughing and hooting and dancing, and then it was very late and our feet hurt and it was time to go home. And there was still no problem.
Except perhaps one.
Did I mention that this was a long time ago? Well, it was. It was long before the days of GPS on your phone and voice prompts and hands-free calling. And I realized that we had followed Annie’s dad from the house to the church, and then followed Annie’s uncle from the church to the reception, and I had no earthly idea which direction home was. And Annie was no good to me.
There’s a tradition at wedding receptions known as The Family Shot. I think it’s only a tradition at their family wedding receptions, but it’s tradition nonetheless. And … it doesn’t happen just once at a reception. As a result, Annie, who once navigated me out of a scary neighborhood in Detroit when I took a wrong turn trying to cross into Canada and never even turned a hair, had been rendered useless in the direction department.
But really, how hard can it be, right? I knew if I found Route 8 I’d be fine. So I went off into the night, mostly ignoring Annie, who was talking amiable nonsense in the passenger seat. It wasn’t long before I was feeling pretty lost and pretty nervous about ever figuring out where I was headed. Directions are not my best thing. (I love Google Maps. Love.)
BUT THEN. Then I saw a road up ahead that had one lane closed off, and I was happy. So happy. Because when we’d been following Annie’s dad, we’d gone on a road that looked just like that, and I was suddenly sure everything was going to be fine. I turned down the road, and nosed along. And it was a lot bumpier than I’d remembered, and I was starting to worry a little, but then another car turned onto the road behind me, and I breathed a sign of relief, because surely if another car was coming down this stretch of road, I was golden. Yes? Surely yes. So the car followed me – slowly – until we cleared the bumpy part of the road.
And then … the light bar went on.
This is probably a good time to mention that when I’d arrived late Friday, Annie was in a bit of a rage. She’d gotten a speeding ticket some time before, paid the fine, and forgotten about it. And that day at 5:00, she’d checked her mail on the way out the door and received a notice that there was a bench warrant for her arrest. There was no record that she’d paid her ticket, or appeared in court, and that’s what happens, I guess? This was later revealed to be a paperwork glitch, and it all came out in the wash, but there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that kind of thing at past 5:00 on a Friday evening. I couldn’t even blame her for raging.
So I looked at my happy, chatty, pickled friend who thought it was pretty funny that I was being pulled over, and who had a warrant out for her arrest and I said, “SHUT. UP. Do not speak. Not one word. Do you understand? Shut up.”
And, for a wonder, she did. I’m not even sure she looked up from her lap during the entire encounter.
And an encounter it was. It started by the cop doing that thing with the flashlight that totally blinds you. Hardened criminal that I am, I squawked and put my hands up in my face. Then things went something like this.
Nice Young Policeman: Can you step out of the car, please, ma’am?
Me: Yes! Yes, of course, sir!
NYP: Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?
Me: Umm, no? Not really?
NYP: <eyes drift to my feet, which are bare>
Me, weakly: I, um, had heels on. My feet were hurting.
NYP: Did you know you were driving on a closed road?
Me: NO! No, sir!
NYP, incredulous: Did you not see the HUGE ORANGE SIGNS?!?
Me: <long pause> Well, I mean, I did, but isn’t it just the one side of the road that’s closed? Because we went on a road like that on the way when we were following Annie’s dad, and I thought it was the same road. But I guess … this isn’t the same road.
NYP, blinking: No, I guess not. Where are you going tonight?
Me, pointing: To her parents’ house. We were at her brother’s wedding.
NYP: Ahhhhhhhhh. Have you been drinking in the past few hours?
Me: NO SIR!!! (Absolute truth, in case you were starting to wonder yourself. This is me, stone cold sober. Yay?)
He had me walk a little bit and do something else, though not a full field sobriety test, before I could see the thought forming that I was undoubtedly stupid but not at all drunk, and he asked for my license and registration.
It took me a while to find my license because we had loaded up my car with a bunch of centerpieces and other stuff from the reception – I was headed for the parents’ house, remember – and I had thrown my purse in the backseat somewhere among all of that.
The other thing I haven’t mentioned yet that posed a potential complication was that the venue for the reception was one that allowed you to provide your own alcohol. Which they had done. And all the leftovers had been loaded into my trunk to go back home. We had, in fact, done this on purpose, because the other car headed to that house was a hatchback and didn’t have a proper trunk, so it probably wasn’t legal to haul the alcohol in that one. And I love to be helpful. So not only was I a weird, barefoot, lost, tired girl with sore feet and a nest of fake flowers in the backseat, but I had enough booze to choke an elephant in my trunk. (In years since, I’ve checked with friends in law enforcement, who verified that yes, it is legal to haul leftover booze in the trunk, but no, it would not have been helpful in this situation. NOT. HELPFUL. At all.)
Mercifully, I did not have to open the trunk. God protects children and fools, they say.
The Nice Young Policeman ran my license and registration and continued to ignore my fugitive passenger, who continued her shutting up with remarkable dedication. He came back up to the car window (I’d been allowed to sit down again). He had apparently decided it was too much trouble to cite me for idiocy and said, “Here you go, ma’am. Drive safely. And not on closed roads.”
“Oh, thank you, officer,” I said, meaning it with every cell of my being. “But …”
He’d been turning away, but looked back at me. “Yes?”
“Can you tell me how to get to Route 8?”
Annie started talking again as soon as I rolled the windows up and pulled away, and we were home shortly after. Her parents were asleep, so we didn’t tell them about our adventures until they were feeding us breakfast late the next morning. Her poor father started by closing his eyes in a pained way and ended with his face down in both hands. Even Annie’s mother’s faith in me may have been shaken a little.
I’m not sure this story has a moral, but if it does, I think it’s this: Obey road signs.
If nothing else, it will keep you from being on the receiving end of that exasperated, pitying look the Nice Young Policeman gave me as he directed me to Route 8. Turns out it was straight ahead of me, about a quarter mile up the road.