Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On the road for the brown and the bearded

"I rarely ever take the interstate when I drive to campus" I told the three students who were hanging around chatting with me in my office.

"I take the I-5 and then set the cruise control to 80" one student jumped in.  "Once, a guy passed me and I swear he must have been doing like a 100" he added.

"I can't afford to drive over the speed limit" I said. "I have a brown skin."

We all laughed.

As I was driving back home, I recalled the only two occasions when I was ticketed for speeding in all these years of driving.

The first one, more than twenty years ago, was during my early California years, but when traveling in Arizona.  

I was merely one of the many drivers on I-10 who were driving a little over the speed limit.  I wasn't even in the lead, but somewhere in the middle of the pack.  I saw the flashing lights in the rear, behind a few cars. I moved over the slow lane.  

The lights passed the cars in between.  
My heart started racing.  
The cop car shifted to the slow lane. 
Behind me. 
I slowed down and pulled over on the shoulder.

It took me quite a few hours to get over the fact that I had been ticketed for speeding.  When all other cars got away.

My personality is such that I don't even race.  Every once in a while, I might keep up with the freeway traffic speeds, but am mostly content to be the slowpoke.  

The second, which was also my last, ticket happened a few months into my Oregon life.  On the surface streets in a small town on the way to campus.

Later when I recounted the incident to a colleague, she said, "brown skin and no wedding band."  Apparently the "logic" is that married men are more responsible than the single guys and, hence, a cop is more sympathetic when there is a wedding ring.  The irony was that I was married then--it just so happened that I never cared for symbols like a ring!

Could a brown skin make that much of a difference?

A couple of years ago, I had invited two graduating students for dinner at my place.  As they got out of the car, "S" was all giggles and asked "T" to describe what happened during the drive.

Turns out that the two of them were so engrossed in the chat and listening to music that neither "T" nor "S" realized that they were well over the speed limit, until the cop's car was behind them.   But, the cop let him off with a verbal warning.  Could the pale skin of the young make that much of a difference?

I will never know if my skin color mattered to the cops.  On top of the brown skin, I sport a beard, have a funny name, and speak with a strange accent.  I just cannot afford to drive at 100, even if my personality liked speed.


Ramesh said...

Of course the brown skin makes a huge difference. Our outward appearance makes us get profiled and in the post 2001 world, this has magnified a millionfold.

I face it all the time when I travel overseas. I was a frequent traveler before the Indian IT boom happened and Indians were seen everywhere. The mere fact that I was Indian looking was enough to get me pulled out of queues and "interrogated". Nowadays my problem is that I get singled out for pat downs and bag searches. It puzzled me for a long time as to why ? I once asked a British guy at airport security who seemed friendly as to why I was being singled out so often. He said I fit the classic profile of a drug runner - brown, tall, thin, and with a passport full of visa stamps !!

The only sensible thing to do is what you do - never be in the wrong and simply tolerate the extra scrutiny.

gils said...

avvvv....peria comment type pannen..kaaka ushh aaiduthu
do you catch every fish on pond while fishing..athey logic thaan traffic violationukkum. Crimeku color edhu? naama ozhungaana speedla pona en pudika poran. Had he caught you despite you following the rules..kandippa racism harassmentnu ella caselayum avana ulla thallidalam..

thala: neenga druglorda!! hehehehe..hohohohoh...ungalukkay intha alaparaina enakelam Alcatraz thaan :D:D

Sriram Khé said...

So, finally Gils found his way here. Cool! vaanga, sir, vaanga. valathu kaal mothalla ;)

You were way more daring than me, Ramesh, to ask a security officer why you were singled out ... how much ever the officer is friendly, I would never ever want to ask those kinds of questions; am always afraid I will hauled over to a cell and nobody would ever know what happened to me, even though my logical mind tells me I am being paranoid.

If that is the case with me, then the case of blacks in the US, the Dalits in India, the Uighurs in China, the .... the list is endless ... :( though, in every instance, things were far worse in the past--a small ray of hope.

gils said...

hmm..i am not sure when was the last time you drove in india..any indian city for that matter. try driving any vehicle with a wheel or more especially during the last week of the month time. the cops will pick on you whether u push ur vehicle walking or crawl just to loot your money.
Driving over 100 kmph and trampling people sleeping on footpath might not cause you any heartburn or fine is a different story. unga comment verification tool is semma comedy..i am not a robot nu I have to self attest. Imagine Manmohan singh wanting to comment on your blog!!! aio pavam :D

Sriram Khé said...

Well ... India is a completely different story altogether. There is no way I will ever want to compare India and the US on these kinds of issues--the "difference" in the treatment I get here is of such a smaller magnitude compared to the atrocious discrimination that people are subject to in India on a daily basis.

Even the copy pulling over in India is almost always a case of corruption.

Yes, the robot thing is an annoying one--but, that is the best way, I found out, to keep the automated and human trollers away

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