“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” -As You Like It by Shakespeare.
Recently I had an opportunity to play a stupendous role on the world’s stage. The players included cops and villain and as the self-selected protagonist, the world granted me the role of the villain. I welcome you to share in this production and follow me as I describe the setting, the characters, conflict, and its resolution.
On a hot August day in the Florida Keys, I decided to take my cherry-red, 2010 Honda scooter for a five-mile ride from Little Torch Key to Big Pine Key to buy cabbage and coffee at the local Win Dixie store. South Florida in August is not a joke, especially when the hot sun beats down on a concrete road with no shade. Usually, August temperatures are in the low nineties, but when the heat radiates from the gray pavement, the air feels like a hundred degrees.
In this weather, it is fun to push the 150cc one-cylinder engine to zoom down the highway at forty-five miles per hour. Crossing the Keys bridges can be invigorating especially when the salty air wooshes from the ocean to the gulf side, cooling the exposed body and dreading rider’s hair into a hairstyle so common to the tropical islands.
On such a day, I arrived at my local store and bought a green cabbage and a box of Starbucks Sumatra coffee. In the parking lot while packing the items into a black plastic compartment on the back of the scooter, I watched a colorful chicken crossing the parking lot with its six fluffy chicks. The air was still and the heat felt oppressive as I silently marveled, How do these chicks not burn their little chicken feet hoping over the scorching concrete?
Once my groceries were securely stored, I lifted my right leg over the scooter and sat down on the black vinyl seat.
“Ouch!” I cried and jumped up.
Like a piece of hickory bacon frying on a Teflon pan, my bottom was absolutely sizzling. I pulled down as much fabric from my short shirt as I could to cover the black vinyl and gently, slowly, with all possible care, I tried to sit down again inching my bottom onto the seat. There was not much else that I could do; my home was about five miles away and I needed to get there to my cool place of refuge. I turned on the ignition and slowly rode towards the Overseas Highway-1.
As I pulled to the only stop light on the island, I noticed that Highway-1 was backed up for miles. All the cars in both directions were at standstill. I pulled my scooter into the marked bike lane to the right side of the stopped cars and started to slowly inch forward. I was being very careful, making sure that there were no bikers around and no stopped car had its passenger door open. Frankly no one had a need to open their car door because both drivers and their passengers were enjoying the cool breeze of the car’s air conditioner and no one was crazy enough to let hot air in.
I was pleased, making slow progress forward and continuously assessing the situation for my safety and the safety of those around me. Every inch was putting me closer to my cool home sanctuary and further away from a potential heat stroke. Sitting on the hot road in an exposed vehicle could quickly lead to a health emergency and neither cabbage nor Sumatra coffee could save me.
As I pulled to the scene of the three-car accident at the top of the bridge I could see numerous first responders dealing with the situation. Dressed in dark green polyester uniforms Monroe County deputies managed traffic. Florida State Police officers also in their full regalia eagerly swept the road to remove small debris and shattered car glass. A red fire truck was making a u-turn at the top of the bridge in an effort to depart the scene, firemen’s work was completed. I could no longer see any EMS vehicles; they departed a few minutes prior. As soon as I stopped to assess the situation and to strategize my next move a County Police deputy noticed me to the right of the cars and with utter aggravation yelled in my direction, “What the hell are you doing? Passing cars on the right side is not legal!”
His voice was full of thunder and I instinctively raised an open palm of my hand towards him as if to stop him from advancing at me and without much emotion, I said, “I am sorry.”
With an ump in his step, the deputy marched towards me and repeated, “What are you doing? You cannot be passing cars on the right side, that is not legal.”
I simply repeated, “I am sorry,” and then piled on, “I am very sorry. I know that this is not legal and I normally don’t drive like this. I can give you many excuses …” I said that as I gestured with my hand towards the stopped traffic, “… but I will not. You are right and I am wrong and I am not arguing with you. I am very, very sorry.”
The deputy’s voice softened, “OK, give me your driver’s license.”
“Of course,” I replied, my legs still struggling the body of my red Honda scooter, “but I will need to get off the scooter and get into the back storage compartment.”
“That is OK.” He said and I stepped off the scooter and proceeded to open the back storage compartment where by now the head of cabbage rolled out of the plastic Win Dixie bag and gently rested on the Sumatra coffee box. I took out my local Florida driver’s license that indicated my home address being only a couple miles away from where we were standing.
The deputy pointed to his car across the street, “My car is over there, I will be right back.”
Now that he walked off, I wondered what kind of penalty I would receive for this infraction. I truly felt that by slowly passing the cars on their right, I was using what I call common sense law. Sitting exposed on a hundred-degree concrete road would not be a smart thing to do. But then the deputy was visibly agitated and the official law was on his side. He had the authority and could penalize me to the maximum extent of the law.
Time passed, it felt like I was standing there for a very long time. Finally, when I was about to melt, the deputy stepped out of his car. He walked across the bridge with my license in hand and a long flowy piece of paper that looked like a tail of a kid’s kite flopping in the afternoon wind.
He stepped close to me and in a lowered voice almost whispered, “Look, we had a three-car accident here and people were transported to a hospital. I have to give you something. There are state police here and they would not be as nice to you as I am. I am giving you a bullshit ticket. I am ticketing you for not showing me your registration. In the next few days, take your registration and this ticket, and go to the Clerk of Courts in either Marathon or Key West. When you show them your registration, you will pay a small penalty, twenty dollars or so. And don’t do this again.”
I looked at him gratefully, “Thank you, thank you very much,” I kept repeating.
“All right, he said, “Get on your scooter and I’ll direct you out past the accident and onto the road. Be safe.”
As I drove away, I felt like everything played out the way it should. I really did believe that this was the right time to apply the common-sense law and I was pleased that apparently the deputy felt the same way.
Later, as I was sitting in the cool comfort of my home, I thought about the incident. What role did I play, and why was the deputy nice to me?
Let’s get into his brain for a second.
The man was stressed, standing amongst first responders at the top of the bridge where three cars had been crushed and people were hurt. He was hot, sweating in his uniform, stressed, and frustrated. A woman ostentatiously came onto the stage breaking the law, passed standing cars and drove up onto the scene of the accident. All the cops could see her and none of them liked what they saw, what audacity.
The deputy walked up to the woman who in a thick Eastern-European accent immediately apologized. She clearly knew that she was in the wrong and did not attempt to make excuses. She kept apologizing and without words alluding to the heat and the traffic jam. The deputy called in her license plate and all was in order. She was not a road pirate or a convict with an outstanding warrant. He asked for her license and in the storage compartment saw a local Win Dixie bag with a cabbage and a pack of coffee (he probably shops in the same Win Dixie). Her driver’s license had a local address located in a working-men mobile home community just a couple miles away from where this conversation was taking place. He looked at her and noticed that she was wearing a skateboarding helmet. Florida has no helmet law but this woman chose to have a level of protection albeit silly – a skateboard helmet would not protect her as well as a DOI-certified helmet would. He took her license and the information through his computer. The license was issued about three years ago. He once again checked her registration, the woman only had this old 2010 scooter registered to her name in Florida.
Now came the decision, what to do with her and how to penalize her? He needed to do something because all his colleagues and especially the State guys were looking. He could not appear too soft and let people break the law willy-nilly. So, he decided to give her the smallest violation ticket that the system offered. He felt good about it, she did not appear as someone who generally caused trouble in the Keys, probably a working person, trying to get by the best she could.
I cannot help but wonder if a number of unpleasant police incidents publicized on the news are scenes that can be avoided if respect is granted and both parties make an effort to de-escalate a given incident. Both the cop and I had an opportunity to angrily engage and escalate.
When he said, “What the hell are you doing?”
With tension in my voice, I could’ve responded with, “You cannot yell at me like this.”
Playing off each other’s emotions, we could have escalated the situation to something unpleasant for the both of us and I would end up the loser with a hefty moving violation, points on my driver’s license, and a litany of grievances against law enforcement.
As it happened, I chose to play the role of an apologetic valiant and the deputy played the benevolent cop. The world’s a stage and we all play many parts. While there was an opportunity to escalate this incident, we both chose to defuse it and I believe both he and I should be awarded a citizen Oscar for our performances, we’ve both done well.
Note: Special thanks to my editor and a fellow Mount Fuji climber, Asher Tlalka Scott.