Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blowing in a Police Car

The early-eighties New York was a den of crime and corruption. While mugging and murders seemed out of control the corruption jumped out from an unexpected source. Then District Attorney Robert Giuliani, who last year contested to become the Republican Presidential nominee, fought hardly, and in the media limelight, to bring corruption to a halt and corrupters to justice. But the people he tried to put away were the same group of people whom were expected to implement raids and arrest warrants.

They were the men in blue; the mighty police force of the Big Apple. Disproportional percentage of these fine men and women in blue were charged with drug trafficking, running prostitution rings, shakedowns, neglect of duty and Blowing in a Police Car.

The raw meaning of "Blowing in a Police Car" is self explanatory and no one in the right mind would want to experience such an inhumane scenario. But it happened to me at the end of 2nd day of this new-year, about thousand kilo-meters away from New York City, on a road covered with snow and sleet.

We were on highway 401, an expressway that runs east-west through the city of Toronto. Returning from a family visit and dinner, one of my little occupants wanted some mid-night treat so we exited at Markham Road, picked up McChickens then re-entered back onto 401.

Upon entering I saw flashing blue and red lights ahead of me, on both sides of the on ramp to the highway. A man in black uniform put his hand in front of the car. I slowed down, stopped near him and rolled down the window. Before I got to react with a customary question of “What’s wrong, Officer?” he put his head literally inside the driver side window and asked: "Sir, have you been drinking today?”

Being a good citizen I answered, "Yes, one Scotch, Officer", hiding the second drink under my tongue, with a clear, ‘I’m smarter’ look and hope that the episode would finish soon with happy endings.

"Hmm.. I see.. But smell strongly of alcohol on your breath, sir. Would you mind taking a breathalyzer test and proving that you're okay to drive?"

Now, by this time the occupants of the car are getting uneasy. "I told you that I'd drive" - my wife yelled softly into my ears, in Tamil. There's sibling rivalry ensuing between two brothers and a sister about the unwanted visit to the McDonald's.

I obediently got out of the car and was led to a police vehicle that sat idling on the right side of the shoulder. The officer opened the rear door and commanded me to get in.

"Sir, not to worry, you are not under arrest but we have to conduct the test inside a police car".

I'm not sure how many of you have been in a police car. But for me, this was the first time. And to talk about the state of modern police cars, if you're not a front seat passenger, this is probably the cramped rear compartment ever been assembled at a Ford plant (no wonder they are losing out to Toyotas!). I practically had to squeeze my legs in between the bullet proofed front panel and the floor. The rear seat was made of thick rubber (easy to clean of blood stains and vomit, I guessed), a tiny video camera stared at me from rubber covered hood and there was stuff lying around on the right side of the seat with no intention of providing comfort to a suspect.

Two officers got in through the front doors of the car. One of them opened a little slider off bullet proofed glass panel that separated front and rear. He had an off-white gadget in his hand.

"Sir, this is the alcohol breathalyzer. And I'll explain how to use it. However, beforehand, I need to read some of your rights and options" - Then he went on to read a paragraph of my right to refuse, options and the ramifications of test results.

I practically had no options. If you refuse a breathalyzer test, you spend the night at a police station and wait for your lawyer to show up in the morning. If you take a test, the ramifications are as follows:

0.45 Or less alcohol level - you go home
0.45 Or greater - you go home with an immediate six months suspension of driving privilege. Your car gets towed away to a police yard if you don't have another driver
1.00 Or greater - you get arrested for drunk driving, lose your license for one year, if a first offender, and a charge with potential fine and imprisonment will commence

I opted to the test and as such conformed to the term "Blowing in a Police Car". The blowing took six seconds into a little plastic knob that was attached to the breathalyzer. Then it took long, life threatening, game changing two more seconds for the results to pop up on the digital meter.

God knows what helped me; I wondered. Was it the six-Dosa dinner with Sambar and chutney, was it the caramel pudding my wife made with love, was it the late night smell of McChicken that somehow got mixed into my Scotch filled lounges?

While I was led out of the police car (yes, you can't open the rear door from inside) by the man-in-black, while I walked up-chested for beating the system however, feeling low for drinking and driving, towards the fogged out windows of my car with panicky and worried four pair of loving eyes, I heard another policeman pondering in a sad voice:

"How come tonight is so slow..?"

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