I glanced up at the NY state police car that was blocking the off-ramp to the parkway. Yes, New York’s finest was looking down straight at me! I then knew in no uncertain terms, that I was caught in the act of breaking a major road rule.
I’m however, getting ahead of myself so will backtrack to the event that led to my downfall.
We eagerly met other Australian expatriate members over the weeks following our arrival in the USA and began to feel more settled. Among the list of advice we received was the warning, to remain in the car and keep hands visible and absolutely still, should we ever be pulled over by the police. Under no circumstances should one ever reach for a wallet or touch the glove compartment as it could be construed as reaching for a weapon to fire upon the police. While we took this in our stride, I did silently hope any future encounter with the NYPD would never arise.
An expatriate friend, who was also a nurse, advised that I only deal with the Westchester Medical Center for our medical needs, as it was a world-renowned teaching hospital. She gave me directions just before she and her family returned to Australia. I distinctly remember writing down the directions on the back of a buff-coloured manila folder and I still have that folder today.
Soon after, as luck would have it, my three-year-old daughter developed a raging fever and I had little choice but to make an appointment and find the hospital. Dosing her with Tylenol to bring down the temperature, my daughter still felt feverish when I strapped her into the toddler seat in the car.
Making my way to the parkway, I saw the large, overhanging sign advising I turn right to access it. Spying a road leading off to the right, immediately before the sign, I quickly indicated and turned. The road however, slowly meandered down to a rough, walking path with bushes and trees blocking the way. Reversing, I managed to turn around and retrace my way back.
Acutely aware that I had less time to make my appointment, I opted to drive past the overhanging sign and to my relief, found myself on the parkway. Putting the car on cruise-control, I glanced at my rough directions to ensure I was heading on the correct route.
I gave a silent cheer half an hour later, when I spotted the huge façade of the hospital visible through leafy foliage but nevertheless, in stark relief on the horizon. Glancing at my watch, I realised I had less than ten minutes for the appointment and quickly drove up the exit ramp on my right. At the top, I indicated, turned left and drove towards a forest of trees which obscured most of the hospital.
The sudden appearance of a road to my left threw me and I almost drove past but quickly indicated and turned into it. My heart sank when I found myself driving down the off-ramp leading back onto the parkway that I had just exited. Knowing I had only a few minutes to make my appointment and none to spare in finding my way back to Valhalla and the medical centre, I pulled over to the side to decide my next course of action.
Turning and touching my sleeping daughter in the back seat, I noted that she was still burning up, despite the medication I had given her. I will admit I was in a dilemma! Glancing through the rear view mirror, I noted that the off-ramp was clear and made a decision to drive back up it while keeping a sharp eye for any descending vehicles. I turned my car around and looked up, and that’s when I spotted the police car slowly cruising past the entry to the parkway. It stopped strategically in the middle and the police officers glanced down at my car.
I then had an internal debate as to whether I should turn my car around and proceed back onto the parkway. Anxiety for my daughter’s condition however and the added fact that I wasn’t certain whether the New York police would construe my actions as an escaping lawbreaker and would then pursue me along the parkway, gave me reasons to pause.
Mentally debating the issue, I squared my shoulders and considered my position. Tick one – I was a law abiding citizen, at least until now, and a young mother of three children. Tick two – I had a husband in senior, management position, who was working in Manhattan. Tick three – I was new to the country and merely lost my bearings in trying to find the hospital. I then reached over and touched my daughter’s forehead and noted her cheeks were rosy and her curls were damply framing her face. That fact decided my next course of action.
Picking up the manila folder and my handbag, I lowered the windows slightly and then locked the car. Reassuring myself that I was hardly an example of an escaped felon, a murderer or a member of the Mafioso, I nevertheless nervously made the rather long walk up the off-ramp while holding my precious manila folder in front of me.
I will pause at this junction to mention the groans and incredulous shake of heads, when I later related the story to American friends. ‘Do you realise that you could have been shot? You could have been concealing a weapon behind the manila folder. NYPD shoot first and ask questions later!’ they chorused.
I will admit, I did at the time, consider if my friends were teasing me but the look on their faces told a different story. Perhaps it was just as well the police officers restrained themselves and refrained from greeting my passage up the ramp with a hail of bullets. This ‘Aussie’ no doubt, would have been the topic of conversation around the dinner table, for quite some time.
When I reached the top of the rise, I proffered my manila folder with the directions scribbled on it and proceeded to tell the officer my story. I’m sure he noted my accent was anything but a New Yorkers, but I told him quickly that I was from Australia; I was already late for my sick, little daughter’s first appointment and that I had inadvertently turned onto the parkway instead of the hospital entrance.
Without responding, the officer quickly glanced at his partner and they exchanged a look. All three of us then became distracted at the arrival of another police car. I later learnt that for every incident that a patrol car attends, it is mandatory for a second police car to act as back-up. This became necessary after too many fellow officers were being shot in the line of duty.
My police officer waved those officers off by assuring them that they weren’t needed. Although bemused, I still had no idea what would eventuate over this incident.
Taking a deep breath, the officer spoke in an authoritative tone. ‘You are never to do this again ma’am. I’m letting you off with this warning. You have broken a law that could have had serious consequences. Do you understand the seriousness of what you’ve done?’
Suitably chastised, I walked down the ramp, unlocked my car and drove up the ramp. In the meantime, the officer stopped all the traffic on both sides of the road and waved me on. I noted the disbelief on the faces of the occupants of several of the waiting vehicles. As I indicated and turned left, I quickly wound down my window and thanked the officer again.
Thereafter, I could only speak highly of the New York State Police.
© 2013 Wendy Robinson
The difference between school and life: In school, you are taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you are given a test that teaches you a lesson. ~ MountainWings