Have you ever spotted a vehicle on the road and created an image in your mind of what the driver must look like, be like, and act like? Maybe you assume the driver of that shiny new Mustang is a spoiled teenager who drives too fast and blasts his stereo late at night. Or maybe that 1979 sedan with the faded paint and tissue box on the dashboard is driven by an old woman with a cane who takes way too long to parallel park. I think many of us do this, even if we won't admit to it. Blame it on TV or movies or just our own prior observations and experiences. Somehow the vehicles we drive have come to define us or at least helped to create stereotypes of who others perceive us to be. Sometimes we're dead on about the driver we find behind the wheel and sometimes our assumptions couldn't be farther from reality.

Last Saturday night, I believe I was a victim of vehicle profiling, if there is such a term. I'm still trying to figure out what actually happened on that dark country road between me, my daughter and the two police officers who approached my vehicle with flashlights in one hand and their other hands resting on their holsters.

Chain of Events

Here's what went down. After picking up my daughter and her friend Maddie from a party I proceeded to drive towards Maddie's house to drop her off. As we drove, she commented on how she's heard of drug deals and such happening in the part of town that we were passing through and how sometimes she gets nervous driving certain roads at night. I assured her we were fine and no one was going to mess with us. We talked about how even small towns like ours have their share of crime and how the local police force is staying on top of it. When I pulled into Maddies's driveway we watched her safely enter her house and then we drove out taking the same route for our return trip. I had no fear of driving through the section of town that most people would call "the 'hood" or "the ghetto." I'm from Jersey and believe me, I've seen much scarier places than this. The scenes they show in the opening credits of The Soprano's are like déjà vu for me. Yes, I have been there before.

As I turned down a road that ran alongside a run-down housing development I noticed two suspicious looking cars parked next to each other behind an abandoned convenience store. In my rear view mirror I could see one car pulling out behind me and then the other followed. I watched cautiously as the two cars followed me for about half a mile down the dimly lit road. Now, I began to worry. I sped up a bit, trying to make it to the next intersection where there were more signs of life, and better lighting.

Suddenly, the car behind me turned on a siren and a flashing light. I felt an immediate sense of relief knowing that I was being pulled over by a policeman and not being stalked by criminals. That feeling of calmness lasted a few seconds then quickly morphed into "Holy crap! I'm being pulled over!" I had never in my twenty-something years of driving gotten anything worse than a parking ticket, so this was quite unexpected.

My daughter said she was scared and asked if I was speeding. I thought, probably yes, but only a few miles over the limit. I honestly didn't know how fast I was going and assumed that my speed was the reason for the stop. Two police officers emerged from the unmarked cars and approached both the driver side and passenger side doors with flashlights and determined looks on their faces as if they were about to make the bust of their careers. Not to mention, they also had one hand resting on their gun holsters. I guess they wanted to be ready in case I was armed, but seeing them strategically approach both sides of my vehicle really frightened me.

I rolled down the window and said "Good evening, officer" with all of the southern charm I could muster thinking he'd cut me a break if I sounded local. Mind you, we've lived in our small North Carolina town for 15 years, yet most natives could spot a former Yankee after the first syllable falls from our lips. He seemed to immediately let down his guard as he shook his head "no" to the other officer standing at my daughter's passenger side car door. He then asked to see my license which I had already begun to pull out of my wallet. I asked if I had been speeding and he said "Yes, ma'am. This road is 35mph." I apologized and explained that I thought the speed limit on that road was 45mph. Before I could hand him the license he asked if I had passed through here a few minutes before and I said "Yes, sir. We dropped off a friend and now we're heading home." He glanced at my license, but never touched it and asked if everything was up to date on the vehicle and I responded again "Yes, sir." The other officer had already started walking back to his car and the officer at my window then told me to drive safe and have a good night. No ticket was given. No mention of how fast I was going so I'm still not sure of my exact speed. My brush with the law was over in less than two minutes. I thanked him and watched in confusion as he got back into his car and headed to his perch behind the cinderblock shell of a former neighborhood corner store.

I sat there a few minutes talking with my daughter about what just happened. She just turned 16 and has a driver's permit. She said she was so nervous and told me I did a great job staying calm and not crying. I laughed and told her I had nothing to cry about. Although, I would have been really disappointed with myself had he given me my first ever speeding ticket, I doubt that I would have cried. After replaying the scene in our minds and analyzing the actions of the officers we both determined that yes, I may have been speeding, but that was not the entire reason for the traffic stop. I don't think the police were expecting to find me, a white, suburban carpooling mom and her teenage daughter inside that monstrous Cadillac Escalade with dark tinted windows and shiny rimmed low profile tires. No, I'm definitely not who they'd expect to see passing through the shady part of town at 11:30 pm on a Saturday night. I do believe they were looking for someone else who may drive a similar vehicle and they were hoping I was that someone.

I was profiled, but I also did some profiling of my own. When I saw the two cars hanging out in the dark parking lot behind the empty store, I assumed there was something illegal going on like a drug deal or prostitution, or maybe they were waiting for someone like me to pass by so they could jack my car. When the officers spotted me, they probably thought I would be someone of interest to them based on the vehicle I was driving. I think this was definitely a situation where appearances were deceiving to all parties involved. I have no problem with being pulled over and sacrificing a few minutes of my time which in turn has given me a stronger sense of security knowing that our local police are watching out for us. And let's not forget that I can still claim my personal victory of remaining moving violation free for my entire driving life. Yes!! (Fist bumps for Mom!!) Not bragging here, just trying to set a good example for the kids.

Next Vehicle Purchase Will Be Mom's Pick

My dear hubby, who sold me on the idea of buying this intimidating vehicle because it was big enough for our family and our luggage to travel in comfort on long road trips and it would also be great for him to take clients and co-workers out to business dinners, has branded us as stereotypical "Gangsters" in our small suburban town. Could the real reason for his transportation choice be that he secretly wanted to be perceived as "badass?" I'm thinking probably, yes, although he denies it. So, not only do we get extra attention from local law enforcement, we also get head nods of respect and hand signals from dangerous looking dudes at stop lights, which I've since learned are some sort of insider gang member sign language. It's interesting to see their reactions when we roll down the windows of our G-mobile and reveal ourselves as the harried mom and dad with 4 kids, a booster seat and a cargo space full of groceries and soccer balls. Our street cred is highly overrated. Damn you, Tony Soprano.