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Unexpected police encounter

It’s 6:30 AM on Sunday morning, and I’m heading to the Patriots game. I’ve just purchased my Egg McMuffin and Diet Coke, and I’m driving north on the Berlin Turnpike. It’s cold, windy, and raining. Not the best day for a football game.

Ahead, a traffic light is changing from green to yellow to red. Rather than slowing down, I accelerate and pass under the light when it is slightly red.

Pinkish, really.

A moment later, blue and white lights appear in my rearview mirror—a police officer.


I pull over and turn off my windshield wipers, knowing that if I leave them on, they will throw water at the officer, who I assume will be standing beside my car in a moment. I lower my window, place my license, registration, and insurance papers on the dashboard, place my hands on the steering wheel, and wait.

A moment later, the police officer – a young man – appears and requests my license and registration.

“Where are you headed?” he asks as he glances at my license.

“The Patriots game,” I say.

“At six o’clock in the morning?”

“Yes,” I say. “We tailgate. I’m on my way to pick up a friend. It’s a long ride.”

He stares at me. Then he says, “Show me the ticket.”

It’s not easy. I take out my phone and tap the Gillette Stadium app. From there, I navigate to “Tickets” and am asked to log into Ticketmaster. I enter my username and password, and my first attempt fails.

I can feel the officer’s glare. He’s standing in the cold rain, waiting for me to find my tickets on my phone, and I don’t think he believes they exist.

I try to log into Ticketmaster again, and this time, it succeeds. It redirects me back to the Gillette Stadium app. From there, I click over to “Manage my tickets” and scroll down to today’s game:

Patriots vs. Chargers.

At last, I hold up the phone so he can see my tickets.

He stares at the phone for a moment, then at me for a longer moment. “Wait right here,” he says.

I won’t realize how nervous this makes me until I pull up to my friend’s house 40 minutes later and notice that I’m tearing at my thumbnail.

This is not something I ever do.

Staring at my thumbnail, I will suddenly feel the tension in my body. Muscles tightened. Senses on high alert. Even my breathing is shallow.

Having been interrogated, arrested, jailed, arraigned, and ultimately tried for a crime I didn’t commit because a handful of police officers determined that I was guilty, I’m always nervous around law enforcement. My life was upended for 18 months because of an incorrect decision made by the police. That decision cost me $25,000 in legal fees and led to my homelessness and, indirectly, to a violent armed robbery that still impacts me on a daily basis.

I certainly don’t blame the officer who just pulled me over for any of this, and I don’t think police officers are inherently bad or incompetent people, but after my experience with three of them in Bourne, Massachusetts, thirty years ago, it’s hard for those events not to impact me every time I encounter law enforcement in moments like this.

So I wait. Nervous but unaware. Annoyed with myself for trying to save a minute or two by driving through that pinkish light.

After what feels like a very long time, the officer returns. He hands my license and documents back to me. Then he says, “You’re going to watch the Patriots today, who’ve won just two games all season, in the rain, and the wind, and the cold.”

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say something, so I say nothing.

Then he smiles. “That ticket on your phone is worse than any ticket I could possibly give to you.”

I smile. I even laugh a tiny bit.

“Stop running red lights. Okay?” And before waiting for a response, he’s headed back to his cruiser.

I can’t help but wonder:

Was he workshopping that response in his cruiser while keeping me waiting? Because it was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard a police officer say, and I’ve had more than my share of encounters with them over the years.

And he’s not wrong. Hours later, I will watch the Patriots lose 6-0 in one of the worst football games I have ever watched. We sit in the rain, wind, and cold and watch our team fail again.

Fail to entertain us in any way whatsoever.

But I also hope to remember that moment with the officer if I ever deal with law enforcement again. I know that police officers aren’t inherently bad people, but it’s sometimes hard to know something and also believe it when moments from your past are screaming for you to think and feel differently.

I hope to remember my smile and laugh at this officer’s joke the next time I’m pulled over for running a traffic light with a pinkish hue and remember that the officer I’ll be dealing with is just a person – maybe even an occasionally funny person – just doing their job.

Hopefully, on a bright, warm, sunny autumn afternoon when the Patriots are later beating the New York Jets 156-3.