Monday, June 01, 2009

Driving While Black. Or How Granny Meg Got Car-jacked in The Bronx and Lived to Tell the Tale

It's been a wild ride from jump street for this little old lady from Connecticut.

From the moment she stepped off the plane in Jamaica 16 years ago, and a slim, dreadlocked and smiling man embraced her as if he'd known her all his life -- "Welcome to Jamaica, Mommy" -- right up to her granddaughter's warm embrace during Grandparent's Weekend at an elite boarding school in New England a few weeks ago, Granny Meg has had son-in-law stories unlike any of the other ladies in her bridge club.

I have to give her credit, she can roll like no other Granny I know. She and my husband have butted heads on occasion, usually in her kitchen, squabbling over the best way to keep it tidy. He has annoyed her with his surreptitious plantings in the geranium pots on her deck. She, in turn, has resisted learning patois and will turn to me, ignoring his rapid-fire response to her question about making him a sandwich. "So, what did he say, is he hungry nor not?" she drawls, arms folded across her chest.

But they have also bonded in a charming, albeit irritating, manner. They revel in their shared annoyance at my shortcomings, for example. "She lazy in de kitchen, Granny Meg, she nah like fi clean up after herself." "Oh, she's ALWAYS been that way, Peter. I don't know where she gets it from." Then they smile smugly at me. They also smile at their shared absolute adoration of our children. They enjoy taking an afternoon stroll together through Costco, loading up their shopping cart, buying big.

They cut quite a picture when they are together. He is black, about 5'10", not including his high pile of dreads on top of his head, thin but muscular, with an easy gait. Petite and fair, Granny Meg used to be 5'6" but age has shrunken her by a couple of inches. She weighs in at about 95 lbs., soaking wet, and wears her silvery-white hair cut quite short. She is the Sparrow to his Raven, birds of a-slightly-different-hued feather, they both love to shop together.

And let's not forget their shared enthusiasm for a good party. It's 5 o'clock, eh, Granny Meg? And they have a laugh while busting open the liquor cabinet and exchanging thoughts on their preferences for the evening to come.

And it was just such a party, or at least the promise of such, that turned on our derring duo and gave them yet another opportunity to bond without me.

Granny Meg just can not stand to drive into Manhattan.So her dutiful son-in-law makes the long Metro North train ride to her nearest station where she meets him with her car. He'll slide behind the wheel and drive them both back into Manhattan. After her visit, he'll do the whole trip in reverse, driving her back to Connecticut and then hopping back on the train to come home.

And so it came to pass that my husband took the train out of Grand Central Station not too long ago with a rasta bredren from the Bahamas in tow, to go fetch Granny Meg. He and Harry, aka "Harry Pottah", arrived at the country train station right on schedule. Granny Meg waved to them from across the parking lot and they all piled into her car. Peter slid in behind the driver's seat, while Granny Meg rode shotgun, of course. Harry Pottah climbed into the back seat.

Picture it. Ray Charles could see where this story is going.

Much of the ride was uneventful. Except, of course, for Granny Meg telling Peter , "slow down, you are driving MUCH too fast." When she said it loudly enough, he would laugh softly and drop his speed. As they approached the towering high-rises of Co-op City in the Bronx, the traffic thickened, and Peter changed lanes quickly, swerving to avoid a slower vehicle.

According to Granny Meg, "That's when all hell broke loose."

The wail of a police siren grew louder as it approached them from behind. Looking in the rear view passenger-side mirror, Granny Meg saw a NY State Police cruiser pull up closely behind them, lights flashing.

“Are they after us?” she asked, worried.

“I think so, Granny Meg.” The cruiser signaled them to pull way over to the shoulder on the right.

One of the cops approached the driver's side of the car and asked Peter for his license, which he duly surrendered. What Granny Meg didn't realize was that Peter does not have a valid NY State driver's license. He still carries his Jamaican license, even after 15 years of living in the states. We don't own a car here so it hasn't been much of an issue. Car rental companies, accustomed to foreign visitors, tend to look the other way.

But the police officer took one look at the Jamaican license, took another long look at the driver, the little silver-haired white lady in the front seat and the quietly brooding dread in the backseat -- and paused for a moment.

"Please step out of the car sir, and come with me." Peter smiled and casually strode across the pavement to the cruiser parked behind them. This was certainly not the first time he'd been pulled over by the po-po. Hell, it was probably more like the one-hundredth time.

Granny Meg, on the other hand, has never been stopped by the police in her entire life. She and Harry Pottah had no choice but to sit quietly while the cops grilled her son-in-law. For nearly 45 minutes. According to Granny Meg, "Naturally, Peter looked as relaxed as ever, leaning against a fence with one foot up against the police car."

It seems the cops spent most of that time accessing their criminal database searching for the undoubtedly-extensive rap sheet of their suspect. Except, of course, that he doesn't have an extensive rap sheet. He has no criminal record at all. Unconvinced, and certain that they had intercepted a car-jacking in progress, one officer strode back to the car, approaching Granny Meg's window. The Bad Cop stayed with the suspect, the Good Cop would handle the old lady.

"Do you know this man, ma'am?" he asked, gesturing to Peter.

“Of course I do," she said, indignant but nervous. "He’s my son in law.” Seriously.

Clearly believing that she'd been intimidated or threatened not to reveal the truth about the criminal enterprise that was clearly underway, he responded, "Well then, ma'am, can you tell me his name?"

And so she did. The officer raised his eyebrows slightly at her answer.

What she also did not realize was that Peter had obtained his Jamaican driver's license through a typically sketchy island fashion; and it was issued using his middle name, Antony. There was no mention of "Peter" on the license.

"So, you claim that he's your son-in-law. Well, do you know his address, ma'am?"

By this time, Granny Meg was so worried and frazzled, she gave the the address but switched the street number with our building number. It was all ass-backwards. She stammered, "No, wait, I gave that to you wrong. You have gotten me SO nervous I can't think straight." He told her not to be nervous, but that he wanted some more information about "Peter." She calmed down and collected herself, provided his age and also remembered his birthday, which is April 20th.

The Good Cop went back to his cruiser and, according to Granny Meg, "Suddenly Peter was at my window saying the police wanted my registration for the car and my license." She handed Peter the registration but while the two of them searched inside her wallet, tugging back and forth, for the license, they tipped the wallet upside down. Granny Meg had gone to the bank that morning, in anticipation of her trip, and gasped as the $400 in small bills she had withdrawn from the bank were now blowing across Interstate 95.

Seeing fifties and twenties swirling in the air, Harry Pottah quickly came to life. He clambered out of the back seat and chased after the fluttering bills, dodging traffic. Passersby even stopped to help - a strange car stopped on the opposite shoulder and a woman stepped out, picked up a bill and quickly made her way across to Granny Meg in her car. "Here," she said handing Granny Meg a fifty. "I think this must be yours."

Surprisingly, Granny Meg was able to recover almost all of her cash but her stress level had taken another shot into the upper stratosphere. The Good Cop approached Granny Meg again and summoned her over to the cruiser where her son-in-law stood. Now The Bad Cop spoke.

Addressing Peter, he said, "First, you don’t have a valid New York State Driver's license. And you have lied to us repeatedly."

"Oh, no, Peter would not have lied to you. Never," interrupted Granny Meg. The Bad Cop silenced her with a glare.

The Bad Cop went on to cite the discrepancy regarding the name on his license and the name his "alleged mother-in-law" had supplied. Likewise with the birth date, apparently. You see, when they asked Peter to provide his birthday, he pronounced the words "April twentieth" but it comes out sounding like "April twenty-ate." It's all in the accent, no t-h sound. But not to the cops -- Bingo, another lie, they say. And presumably Granny Meg's mangling of his home address was seen as yet another deception.

It all looked very suspicious to both Good Cop and Bad Cop. They simply could not fathom why this trio could be up to anything other than trouble. And they hadn't even yet begun a search for information on Harry Pottah.

"How come, if you've been in Ameica for 15 years, you don't have any record in our system, huh?" Bad Cop asked Peter. As if it were unbelievable that he could actually be a law-abiding citizen. Or law-abiding green-card holder, in this case.

Peter just shrugged and laughed, "Because mi nah commit no crime, chief. Yuh nah go fine mi name inna dat system. Seemple."

"He is NOT a criminal. He is my son-in-law and we just want to get to Manhattan and see my daughter and my grandchildren." Now that she had recovered some of her nerve, Granny Meg was getting angry.

The Bad Cop turned to her again, annoyed at this little sparrow and whose role in this whole scenario clearly troubled him. She may as well have been Ma Barker, at this point, as far as he could tell. He was mystified. "Well he DID make an illegal lane change and we're giving him a ticket for that," he said, with some satisfaction. He turned back to Peter, "And you don't have a New York State license which is required after becoming a New York resident. And you were over the speed limit." He handed Peter the three tickets.

He then turned to Granny Meg for a final comment. "Get in the driver's side of the car, ma'am." She was taken aback.

"You want ME to drive”?

“YOU drive the car or you will be towed.”

She sputtered and complained that she was an older woman in her 80s, that she had never driven into Manhattan in her life and didn't want to start now. But he would have none of it.

“Lady, you drive, or your car will be towed.” It was clear they would monitor their departure, even follow them for several miles if necessary, to make certain she did the driving.

She spoke very quietly and said, “You know, you are not really being very kind.” Yeah, she really put him in his place, no? So much for Ma Barker.

They filed back to the car. Granny Meg reluctantly got behind the wheel and Peter guided her the rest of the way into Manhattan. Harry Pottah muttered to himself in the backseat, about New York cops always "going after the little guys." They rolled onto our block 2 hours later than expected.

All in all, given the enormous cost of the 3 tickets, we would have been better served arranging for a limo to take Granny Meg to and from New York for the party. But her adventure gave her yet one more priceless son-in-law story to share with her bridge group back in Connecticut.

And now this tiny, old white lady from Connecticut has experienced D.W.B. first hand. Another wild ride with the man she no longer considers her son-in-law.

No. She considers him her son.


Anonymous said...

Been a while since we heard about Granny Meg; wonderful tale!

Melanie said...

What a trip!!
Love the watercolor.

zan said...

i can easily see via this, yet another, great h2ocolor where you get your natural beauty from... and i love granny megs 'spunk'!

easily discernable from this one short tale, how/why granny meg and peter have such love and affection for each other. respect due all around. meks mi smile ahn wahrms mi heart.