I had left Connecticut and picked up my friend Justin in Maryland two days before. We had a stopover in Atlanta and were now coasting down I-65 somewhere between Mobile, Alabama and the Mississippi state line. We had just completed an unplanned stopover at the Tuskegee University Book Store to get souvenirs. We were now in a very rural area with a lot of trees, bushes and obvious speed traps. It turned into a game, seeing who could find them first without trying not to stare for too long.
Until we did. Both of us turned to look at a gap in the foliage the exact same time, making long eye contact with the two state troopers attempting to hide out in their cruiser. The stare lingered, then we both turned back towards the road. The troopers pulled out right behind us.
In my mind I thought they had received a distress call, that they had somewhere to be. I thought it best to clear the path for them, so at my earliest convenience, I merged to the next lane over to the right. As soon as we merged, the lights came on and we were pulled over.
We weren't speeding. We possessed nothing illegal. I suppose our only crime was driving a car with Connecticut plates through Alabama. The first trooper came to the window and asked for both of our licenses. He was very short and asked if we knew why he pulled us over. We told him that we honestly did not.
"You were following too close," he explained, "You have to be ten feet back for every ten miles per hour." It seemed unfair since we only moved out of the way to let him by, but there was no way I was going to argue about it with an Alabama State Trooper.
The first cop took our info and went to run the license information, at which point a second cop suddenly appeared at Justin's window and spit a mouthful of chewing tobacco on the ground, some of it tailing down the side of the car. "Where ya headed?" he asked us for the second time.
"L.A.," I replied, then clarifying "Los Angeles" as not to be confused with Louisiana's postal abbreviation. I told him the story of us driving there for my last semester of school. I don't remember the exact wording but there were a lot of "yes, sir" and "no, sir" involved. He asked why we weren't in school right now (semester break). It was the first week of January, and he couldn't understand that we would be on vacation. Why was someone going with me if he wasn't going to school (to split driving and have company). How was he getting home if I was keeping the car (catching a flight back). There was a debate for several minutes over who the car belonged to. Most of these seemed to be standard, if not unnecessary questions to try and stumble upon some trouble that didn't exist.
He asked where we both went to school. Justin said Maryland and I said Emerson. He lit up and asked "Then why is there a Brandeis sticker on the car?" He looked smug, thinking he finally caught us in the lie he was hoping for. I explained that it had once belonged to my sister.
"If you're not staying out in California, how are you getting back?" Justin explained that he was flying back to the east coast afterwards. To make sure our story checked out, he asked to see Justin's flight information. I guess his alternate goal was to divide us up and question us alone. The flight info was in his suitcase in the driver's side back seat. To retrieve it, Justin had to pull his whole suitcase out into the road towards oncoming traffic.
The first cop came back to the car and talked to me while Justin was stuck with the tough guy. Both asked us the same questions. It started with "How well do you know this boy?" We both gave the same answer, "pretty well."
"How long have you known him?" It turns out we both said "about eight years." The whole situation was turning in to a bizarre version of the Newlywed Game. We were very excited to find out we gave the same answer because we didn't actually know the exact time table or have any time to rehearse.
"Ever seen him do any drugs," my cop asked me. "No."
"Got any drugs on you," Justin's cop asked him. "No," he said, "We're both 21 and we don't even have any beer."
"How 'bout marijuana?" No. Then he continued to ask about a long laundry list of various narcotics, to all of which Justin said no. The cop was not convinced.
"If I brought our dog over here, would he tell me anything different," Trooper #2 said sternly. Later Justin told me he was thinking how amazing it was that these cops had a talking dog, but it wasn't exactly the right time or place to unleash that comment.
"Carrying any weapons?" Justin said no. At this point I saw Justin through the rear view mirror appearing to get patted down by his officer. The officer saw what he thought was a weapon. When Justin tried to reach for his pocket, the officer yelled "Stay where ya are," and the officer reached in to find out that this weapon was just his keys.
When they finally finished asking everything they could think of, we were let off with a warning. They wrote a pretty pink warning ticket for following too close. That's right, when I pulled over to let them by, during that five second increment, I was too close to the truck in front of me. The whole incident took about 45 minutes and Justin and I did not leave until the cops pulled away first. We didn't stop driving until we reached Mississippi, where we got out at the Visitor's Welcome Center and hugged.
(As a side note, during the interrogation, I received a call from the Los Angeles office I applied for an internship with. I frantically called back afterwards and explained why I couldn't answer the first time. We went back and forth with some quotes from My Cousin Vinny, because of the easy parallels. When I arrived for the interview, we reminisced about the story and I ended up getting the job.)
After a few days in Los Angeles I cleaned out the car and came across the actual written warning. The ticket actually said "following to close." He was probably so angry because he was never taught proper grammar.