Saturday, September 20, 2008

Please explain this cop to me

Please explain this cop to me.

I went down to Key Largo with my family to dine at the Fish House, and suddenly I saw flashing lights behind me. A cop.

But why?

I was not speeding, I was not driving erratically, my license was not expired, and my insurance had not lapsed, so what the heck was going on?

"Pull over!" the officer (sherrif) shouted through his electronic megaphone.

So I pulled over.

The cop walked over to the car (with his hand on his gun) and said, "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

Now, in the past whenever a cop had asked me this question, I would look up at him guiltily and say, "Because I was speeding, officer?"

But this time all I could do was shake my head and say, "No. No. I have no idea why you pulled me over."

This seemed to make him angry and sarcastic.

He exploded, "I was behind you for the last three miles, giving you a chance to move to the other lane and you did not move to the other lane."

I was confused. What the heck was this angry guy babbling about?

"But what did I do?"

"We have a law in this state, and the signs are posted all over the highway, slower traffic must drive in the right hand lane. You have a Florida tag so you must know of this law. You were drivng in the left hand lane--all slower traffic must drive on the right. The speed limit is 45 and I clocked you at 43. You should have been driving on the right at that speed."

That was my crime? Doing 43 in a 45 zone? What!

I argued, "But, officer, if the speed limit is 45 and I am doing 43, am I not one of the faster drivers? I could maybe speed up to 44, I could do maybe 45, but if I did 46 you would pull me over for speeding."

He shouted, "Are you trying to argue with me?"

"No, sir."

"Ignorance of the law is no excuse! You should have shifted into the right hand lane!"

"Yes, sir."

"What were you doing in the left hand lane anyway?"

"Uh, uh," I stuttered, "we were looking for the Fish House."

"Well," he said, "you passed it a half mile back. Make a U-turn right here, and drive back a half mile."

"Yes, sir. Thank you."

"And from now on, obey the law. Drive in the slow lane."

"Yes, sir. I'll make sure to do it next time."

He was angry again. "No!" he shouted, and then he corrected me like a grade school teacher: "Do it EVERY time!"

Then he went back to his car, and I made my U-turn and took my baffled family to the Fish House, where we uncomfortably ordered and then ate our meal.

Biting into his grilled tilapia, my brother the rapper said, "It's racism. He was profiling you. He pulled you over because you are black, and then he became angry when he heard you speak so eloquently. You sound like a college professor or some smart person and black people aren't supposed to be smart. If it was me driving, he would have been happy to give me a ticket or beat me up and drag me off to jail. Notice that he did't even give you the ticket. So why did he pull you over? He was profiling you. Did you notice that he came to the car with his hand on his gun?"

My brother, who goes by the stage name CHIEF, was dressed in the baggy pants, loose-fitting short, and bandana of his stage persona. My brother is young (27) and gloriously tattooed, and wears an earring in each ear. I, on the other hand, was dressed in a tourist t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. I am not pierced. I wear no body art.

My son, the 14-year-old philosopher, nodded and then surmised: "His reasoning made no sense. How is driving 43 in a 45 zone to be considered driving too slowly? This raises the whole question of what slow driving actually is. It's like you said, papa, if you drive 45, you risk slipping into 46 momentarily and breaking the law for which he could technically give you a speeding ticket. But if you do 43, you are driving too slowly. Is 44 also too slow a speed? Is 45 the only speed that one is allowed to drive in a 45 zone and not be considered too slow? What is too slow? Should they not post the range of what is too slow on the speed limit signs? For example, 'Speed Limit 45: 44 to 45 is acceptible: 43 and below is too slow,' or something like that. And by the way, it is speed LIMIT. LIMIT. That implies that 45 is the fastest that you are permitted to drive--it is not a suggestion that you must drive 45, right? Is not a limit the highest point in a range?"

My wife said, "And we are tourists. The economy is bad all over, especially down here in the Keys. This part of the Keys is usually filled with people, but because of the hurricanes and high gas prices, there is very little traffic. We are tourists--he should be happy to see us here. Everybody should be glad that we are down here patronizing their businesses. It doesn't make any sense for him to pull us over like that. And if you broke the law, why didn't he give you a ticket? And why was he so nasty with you? You were very polite to him and he acted like such a jerk."

My brother said, "Because he knew he was wrong. He was profiling and he pulled over the wrong car, so he made up some BS excuse to explain it. I never heard any BS like being pulled over for driving too slow--too slow? And doing 43 in a 45 zone is too slow? That's just BS. He got caught, that's all."

The meal at the Fish House was wonderful. I highly recommend the Fish House.

But why was I pulled over?

Maybe it was just a misunderstanding. Maybe it was just a mistake. Maybe.



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Editorial Reviews of All or Nothing

New York Times--". . . a cartographer of autodegradation . . . Like Dostoyevsky, Allen colorfully evokes the gambling milieu — the chained (mis)fortunes of the players, their vanities and grotesqueries, their quasi-philosophical ruminations on chance. Like Burroughs, he is a dispassionate chronicler of the addict’s daily ritual, neither glorifying nor vilifying the matter at hand."

Florida Book Review--". . . Allen examines the flaming abyss compulsive gambling burns in its victims’ guts, self-esteem and bank accounts, the desperate, myopic immediacy it incites, the self-destructive need it feeds on, the families and relationships it destroys. For with gamblers, it really is all or nothing. Usually nothing. Take it from a reviewer who’s been there. Allen is right on the money here."

Foreword Magazine--"Not shame, not assault, not even murder is enough reason to stop. Allen’s second novel, All or Nothing, is funny, relentless, haunting, and highly readable. P’s inner dialogues illuminate the grubby tragedy of addiction, and his actions speak for the train wreck that is gambling."

Library Journal--"Told without preaching or moralizing, the facts of P's life express volumes on the destructive power of gambling. This is strongly recommended and deserves a wide audience; an excellent choice for book discussion groups."—Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH

LEXIS-NEXIS--"By day, P drives a school bus in Miami. But his vocation? He's a gambler who craves every opportunity to steal a few hours to play the numbers, the lottery, at the Indian casinos. Allen has a narrative voice as compelling as feeding the slots is to P." Betsy Willeford is a Miami-based freelance book reviewer. November 4, 2007

Publisher’s Weekly--"Allen’s dark and insightful novel depicts narrator P’s sobering descent into his gambling addiction . . . The well-written novel takes the reader on a chaotic ride as P chases, finds and loses fast, easy money. Allen (Churchboys and Other Sinners) reveals how addiction annihilates its victims and shows that winning isn’t always so different from losing."

Kirkus Review--"We gamble to gamble. We play to play. We don't play to win." Right there, P, desperado narrator of this crash-'n'-burn novella, sums up the madness. A black man in Miami, P has graduated from youthful nonchalance (a '79 Buick Electra 225) to married-with-a-kid pseudo-stability, driving a school bus in the shadow of the Biltmore. He lives large enough to afford two wide-screen TVs, but the wife wants more. Or so he rationalizes, as he hits the open-all-night Indian casinos, "controlling" his jones with a daily ATM maximum of $1,000. Low enough to rob the family piggy bank for slot-machine fodder, he sinks yet further, praying that his allergic 11-year-old eat forbidden strawberries—which will send him into a coma, from which he'll emerge with the winning formula for Cash 3 (the kid's supposedly psychic when he's sick). All street smarts and inside skinny, the book gives readers a contact high that zooms to full rush when P scores $160,000 on one lucky machine ("God is the God of Ping-ping," he exults, as the coins flood out). The loot's enough to make the small-timer turn pro, as he heads, flush, to Vegas to cash in. But in Sin City, karmic payback awaits. Swanky hookers, underworld "professors" deeply schooled in sure-fire systems to beat the house, manic trips to the CashMyCheck store for funds to fuel the ferocious need—Allen's brilliant at conveying the hothouse atmosphere of hell-bent gaming. Fun time in the Inferno.

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Preston L. Allen is the recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature and the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Fiction for his short story collection Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press 2003). His works have appeared in numerous publications including The Seattle Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Asili, Drum Voices, and Gulfstream Magazine; and he has been anthologized in Here We Are: An Anthology of South Florida Writers, Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction, Miami Noir, and the forthcoming Las Vegas Noir. His fourth novel, All Or Nothing, chronicles the life of a small-time gambler who finally hits it big. Preston Allen teaches English and Creative Writing in Miami, Florida.