Sitting in the painted, white square the transit police directed me to, I reflected on the events that had led me beyond the law. I was on the Throgs Neck Bridge late Saturday night - in the midst of a journey from a Southampton wedding (congratulations Emily & Noah) to Greg's childhood home upstate on the eve of it being sold and in the throws of a raucous and nostalgic bon voyage gathering. This is a drive Mapquest swears will take me 3.5 hours if I encounter no traffic. And I didn't encounter traffic. I encountered a parking lot. 3 lanes down to 2 down to 1 and construction workers merrily picking at a cityblock's worth of asphalt just past the bridge. I was very bored.
So I took out my camera and began videotaping the bridge. I had brought the camera to the wedding. I had it with me in the front seat and just thought some footage of the pylons and the lights and the cars and the night would be fun to capture. I zoomed into tail-lights. I zoomed out. I took a lot of footage of myself - the kind where you pretend you're not watching the camera you're holding but are instead really, seriously, dramatically focused on the driving you're doing. I shot the Triboro bridge down the way and I leaned my head out the window and shot the giant bridgeness of the bridge. As I pulled the camera back into my window, I noticed a woman pointing at me and frantically dialing her phone. I smiled at her - and immediately imagined them tracing my license plate, tapping my phone and ensnaring me in a devious set-up with no conclusion but a long, sludgy stay in Guantanamo Bay. I calmed down. No way. I played the racist card and saw myself through their eyes - a harmless, white filmmaker clearly out to capture the essence of the Throg and the Neck. How could they suspect me of anything?
The woman and her friend kept pace with me for a long time, watching me play with my radio and return to being very bored. As we came down to one lane, they got a few cars ahead and pulled into the toll lane. I was clearly imagining things back on the bridge. Sure, I shouldn't have been shooting. But no one was turning me in. No way. Oh, that's funny. I wonder why that woman is talking to a police officer. How ironic! How coincidental! How totally disconnected from me! Breathing a little heavier, I enjoyed a mint. That guy's eating a mint. He can't be guilty! I pulled even with the officer and waited my turn for the toll, officially not noticing him studying me. He walked into my blindspot and just as I was about to check my sideview mirror for him, I thought, hang on, don't look at him! That's what guilty people do. It's a hot move by the cops. If you're innocent, you won't think the cop is looking at you and you'll not check him or her out. Although, even if I wasn't trying to avoid attention, I'd still want to look at the police officer. When a man or woman with a gun walks by - even one sanctioned by the law - I like to know why they're standing in my blindspot.
"Hello. Were you filming on the bridge?"
"Is that not - um - allowed?"
"No. No, it's not."
Awkward pause. I think I was making a funny face - smiling without any sense of joy or happiness whatsoever.
"I was coming from a wedding. And I had my camera. I was really bored. Here it is." I handed the police officer my camera.
"Okay. Can I see your license and registration?"
Guantanamo Bay, here I come! As two more police officers approached, I could see my evening's plans taking a turn for the detainment. The three of them studied my documents. Travelers whizzed by, watching the very tired looking terrorist smile painfully at the police.
"Sir, you're going to pay the toll and then pull into that white square this officer directs you to."
Oh man, I was going to jail, going to be interrogated by the FBI, marked as a lawbreaker forever AND I was going to have to pay the toll. The tollclerk absorbed my very sincere thanks. He might be the last civilian I see for a long time and I think he knew that. He nodded with a look that said it all: No one escapes the white square.
But I did. It was just past the tollbooths and over to the right. I sat there, casually but NOT guiltily watching the police out of my sideview mirror. My car looked foreign to me. I didn't want to turn the radio back up but I also didn't want to turn it down. I certainly didn't want any more granola. Why was I still wearing a tie?
"Sir, your license checks out okay. And your registration too. But your insurance is expired."
"It is. I-" I'm fucked. I'm done for. My insurance is expired and that's it. Panic. PANIC! HELP ME! OH MY G-
"No, I'm sorry. I read it wrong. Your insurance is fine. Thank you."
"We've rewound your camera to the wedding at the start of the tape. And now, sir, we need you to erase what you shot on the bridge. Can you do that?" They handed me the camera.
"Um. Yeah. YES! Sure. I - uh - well, I can record over it. Is that okay?"
"That'll be fine."
"It's going to take me as long as it took me to shoot it."
"Probably about 25 minutes."
"Then, you better start recording."
During the 30 minutes of recording my lens cap with three police officers flanking my car, I tried to think of things I always wanted to ask police officers. This was really the most time I'd spent in their company and overall, the tone was very sedate. But I didn't have anything worth asking. I kept my recording vigil quietly while they talked among themselves about shifts and other officers at other points along the bridge. I apologized a couple times and tried to illustrate how dumb I felt for adding so much time to my already behemoth expedition upstate. Strangely, I wanted to bond with them - make some jokes at my expense. I'd say the closest we came to bonding was a story the first officer told me.
"I used to film a lot on road trips - from the passenger seat. I mean, it was on road trips so you know - it was cool. And I think you'll appreciate this, being a filmmaker and all. I was filming the windshield while we were driving along the highway and all of a sudden a pebble hits the windshield. And I filmed it. I taped the pebble hitting the windshield and we played it back in slow motion and you could see it getting closer. Closer. Closer. And then bang! And you could see the windshield just crack right as it hit it. It was crazy."