It was 5 p.m. and I was out of gas.
Come to think of it, I was pretty much out when I drove into work that day, but I didn’t have time to go to the gas station. For some reason, I was out of cash or missing my debit card. (Probably both.)
All I had was a Shell gift card my parents gave me. I was gripping the wheel and looking at the fuel gauge constantly as I crept through rush hour traffic.
The gas light is on, and the gauge is past “E.”
“Are you serious?” I had assumed one of the gas stations near the interstate on my way home was a Shell. Nope. Exxon and BP.
The gas light is still on, and the gauge is still past “E.”
I sighed and tried to rack my brain where I could find a Shell station. Yep, confirmed. Gas light on, and now it appears to be even more past “E.” I think I used my phone’s GPS search, but I made it to a Shell about 4 miles away from home.
Breathed multiple sighs of relief. At least two. The only thing I was thinking about was how foolish I felt and how I was going to explain this story to my parents.
That not-so-insignificant situation (yes, I’m a ditz, but that hasn’t happened before or since) sprang to mind last night. If I had been at the nearby movie theatre….or the Arby’s…if I was in a serious hurry…there’s a possibility I wouldn’t have had my seat belt buckled on September 4.
My mind is always all over the place. And my purse would have been in the passenger seat of my car.
Should I have been buckled up? Yes, although it’s rare that I’m not.
Would I have thought to lock eyes with the officer, slowly open the passenger side door, then instruct the officer I was moving to get my license?
No. Probably not. In fact, I probably would have sighed and skipped hurriedly to the car to grab my purse.
Why? Because I’m flustered.
Because at the time, I would still be wondering why I got stopped, unless “looking extraordinarily panicked” is a misdemeanor.
Because now all I can think about is flashing blue lights, a useless trip to traffic court and losing $25. Yes, $25 isn’t much, but I can calculate that means not quite 5 Arby’s roast beef sandwich meals. One less meal from 256-TO-GO.
Because I had a reasonable expectation to not be shot near my house for grabbing my purse.
Because every time I got pulled over, I don’t remember ever telling an officer I was reaching to get my license.
Because I’m human.
So I was mortified, positively stunned to see a South Carolina Highway patrolman stop a man for a seat belt violation only to be shot when turning around for his license. He then backed away from his vehicle and put his hands up, but the officer continued shooting.
The video is shocking, so I will not post it here. Of course, by now, it’s all over the national news and can be found just by Googling “south carolina seat belt violation.”
Perhaps that is why I’m still so angry. I’ve been in Alabama over two years, but I’m still very much emotionally connected to that town. I was there for the first 33 years of my life. I watched it grow and change. And yes, I watched that area where the shooting occurred become less safe.
What happens in my city, no matter where I am, it will sting. I’ll be upset as though the person was an acquaintance. I’ll have an urge to return home as quick as I can.
Yes, I was angry about Trayvon Martin. Yes, I was angry about Ferguson. But this was home.
I’ve been to that gas station. More than likely, every member of my family, including my Dad, have been there. It’s only a few miles from our family home of more than 20 years.
I used to joke I was a target for the police because I was “a little brown girl in a red, sporty car.” It doesn’t seem funny any more.
I’m not a fashionista. Like, at all. If I’d been coming from home, I probably would have worn an untucked t-shirt, and some slightly baggy jeans. Lord, who knows? It’s so close, I would have been braless. (Don’t judge me.)
Now that I’m in Alabama, the cares of everyday life should push this moment to the back of my mind, like every other news story. If I read or hear about it, the disappointment would rise up again, then quickly fade.
But I don’t know when this will leave my mind. I’ll certainly think about it every time I’m in that area. When I’m driving anywhere in South Carolina.
My heart always skips a beat whenever a police car is behind me. “Crap! Was I speeding? Did I forget a turn signal?!” That fear passes though when nothing happens. But now, I’ll be a little more afraid.
This really could have happened to me or someone I care about.
This happened in my hometown.