I love road trips. There’s nothing quite like venturing out on the open road to some destination across the country, listening to good tunes, taking in the sights and view with new experiences and memories waiting.
I’d been on several road trips, especially when I was younger with my family and even a few occasions with church groups. Most of this trips I traveled with at least one other person, and even if I couldn’t, I still went. Not too far, though.
My most recent trip, I wanted to go visit a friend halfway across the country. I previously flew out there (coincidentally my first time flying) but considering I hadn’t taken a long drive in a long time, I was up for the challenge. My drive would have lasted about 20 hours nonstop, which I knew was doable as I had taken a similar solo trek 4 years prior.
However, a major difference between 2012 and 2016 was the rise or at least my awareness of unarmed Black people being killed seemingly just for being Black. In fact, the murder of Trayvon Martin was on the news the entire weekend. Flash forward to July 5th and 6th, 2016 when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were both killed on camera by cops. And here I was, getting ready to drive across the country the following week.
My parents were the most concerned about me taking this drive and wished I had taken a flight instead. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had too, but I had that itch that needed to be scratched and I figured I’d be fine. I got a pretty nice rental car. It was a Canadian car, the dashboard was in metrics and had Ontario tags. Other than that, a sweet ride. Bluetooth ready, so once I connected it would be Hamilton all the way there. I also had a second phone and it’s sole purpose was for GPS which I hung from the rear view mirror. During my drive, I checked in with a few people, including my mother and a few friends, at every rest stop and gas station just to let them know I was alright.
The one thing that concerned me most was when I decided to stop at a rest stop in Virginia to try to get some sleep. I was a little more than halfway to my destination and felt I was making good time, but still needed a real break. This is the only thing I hate about driving alone and most paranoid about because your guard is down and anyone can sneak up on you. I had a bad experience once taking a nap in my car at work that I never recovered from. But after checking with everyone and finding the safest area and locking the doors, I managed to sleep for about an hour or two, more or less. Any and all noises woke me up. By dawn, I felt rested enough that I could continue on with my journey.
My father calls just as I get back on the road, just to chat and help keep me awake. Nothing of real importance that I can recall. After we hang up, I start listening and laughing along with a podcast and the sun continues to rise over some Virginian hilltops. I notice a car pulled to the side of the road which I assume to be a trooper. I check to make sure I’m not speeding, even in kph. I drive by him while I’m still in the slow lane and it’s all good.
Or so I thought, as a minute later I see him in my rearview mirror. I tell myself not to panic, as I wasn’t doing anything suspicious or reckless. I continue my speed as he creeps up behind me and to the side of me while in the fast lane. I carefully try to look over but he’s nestled in my blind spot as he keeps pace with me. After a few moments of this, he slows down and gets directly behind me and my worst fears are realized as he flashes his lights.
Oh God, what did I do? I breathe, remain calm, and get my wallet out for my license. One tiny problem is I’m missing the paperwork for the rental. An error on my part. He approaches from the passenger side. Even now, I can’t remember the order of his questions as at this point I’m beyond tense. Between asking for my license, registration and insurance, and the reason for why he pulled me over, it’s a bit of a blur. But I provide two out of three and explain to him that this is a rental car. I tell him that I’ll call my father and have him get me the information he may need regarding the rental. As he goes back to his car to verify my license, I call my father to have him text me a photo of the document. He sent me a perfect photo of the paperwork for the rental which the trooper thoroughly examined. My father stayed on the line.
“I pulled you over because you can’t have anything dangling from your rear view mirror and obstructing your view, that’s how accidents happen.”
I’m trembling as I remove my GPS and the holster it had been sitting in.
“Now where are you heading?” he asks.
“Arkansas,” I reply.
“Business or pleasure?”
“What do you do for work?”
“I work at a hospital.”
“What do you do there?”
“I stock medical supplies.”
“Any of this work stuff?” He gestures to my backpack and the recently removed GPS and holster.
“No, just my laptop and GPS.”
I am still absolutely terrified. That interrogation exchange may have been the first, second or last conversation that had happened between his trips to his car to verify any information I gave him. He was having an issue finding information on the car because of the Canadian plates, and my not having tangible paperwork for him to help didn’t help move things any faster. But having the photo sent where he was able to zoom in and see what he needed to see was better than nothing at all.
“This paper needs to be in the car at all times. I really shouldn’t let you go without it being in the vehicle. But this does check out.”
To be honest with you, I don’t remember how this entire conversation started, and I don’t remember how it ended. But I can never forget the genuine terror I felt not knowing what was going to happen and what could have happened. I had flashbacks of all the video I’d seen, Sandra Bland for example. But even that image didn’t stay long… I kept asking myself Is this it? Is this how I die? Please don’t ask me to step out of the car.
I was and still am grateful for my dad being on the line during that time. My mind was on him and a few people I love and felt I’ll never get to see again or say goodbye to. I never thought this would happen to me. I’d never felt that scared for my life before. What may have been 4-5 minutes felt like a very intense hour. And even after he let me go with a warning, I still kept shaking uncontrollably as my father, and later mother continued to talk to me and calm me down.
The rest of my drive and the trip itself went great. I had my dad fax the rental paperwork to the hotel once I arrived so that wouldn’t be an issue on the way home. I managed to compartmentalize the whole experience until sometime after I returned home and attempted to tell my story on my podcast. It was still too fresh a memory to discuss out loud in detail, and it came out as an incomprehensible babbling mess. It took some encouraging from my friends and the tragic deaths of Terrence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott and most recently Alfred Olango to finally share this traumatizing experience and tell my story. And I truly thank God for keeping me safe and alive to tell it.