Curbside Confrontation

October 19, 2009
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My sister and I sat in the back of the car, our thighs sticking to the leather interior as we struggled to breathe in the hot and oppressive Florida air. Our flight had landed about a half hour earlier, and we were absolutely sick of the recycled air of the indoors. As soon as we had gotten out of security we rushed off to greet our grandmother at her car, leaving our father and grandfather with the mind-numbing task of collecting our luggage at baggage claim. Now marinating in our own sweat, we deeply regretted leaving the cool, air-conditioned airport.
“We’ll just wait for them here,” Grandma said in her matter of fact tone. However, in a post-9/11 world, “waiting for them here” in front of a large airport in an idling car simply doesn’t happen. No sooner had those words left her mouth than a burly police officer, perched like a hawk on the sidewalk, began to eye our car with suspicion. With the safety of his country gleaming in his eye like a newly minted silver dollar, he strode over to the car and curtly addressed my grandmother.
“Ma’am, you can’t stay here. Please move your car.”
“But we are just waiting for my son and husband to get here with their bags,” she answered cagily, annoyance already creeping into her voice. Her back straightened, her voice leveled, and a razor’s edge began to form.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but you’re going to have to drive around and come back for them. You can’t wait here.”
Seeing that there would be no arguing with him, but grumbling none-the-less, Grandma pulled away from the policeman and steered the car up the loop that would take us back to the pick-up.
“I can’t believe we have to just leave them there!” she stormed. “What kind of mother am I to just leave my son and husband out on the curb?”
“Grandma, it’s gonna be fine,” I consoled. “We’ll be back in a few minutes. He’s not gonna get lost.”
But she couldn’t be calmed. “It’s ridiculous! I mean, what kind of terrorist would I make?” she sputtered incredulously, waving her thin arms in the air for emphasis. “Forcing me to leave family on the street…” she trailed off, muttering to herself.
I couldn’t quite understand why this was such a problem for her. We would be back soon enough, and my Dad and Grandpa would be waiting for us. It wasn’t that much of an inconvenience. We arrived at the pick-up again, and settled in to wait for the bags. Once again we were told by the officer that we had to “move along” and once again my grandmother grumbled but complied.
As we pulled up to the curb, she turned around and smiled at my sister and me. We saw a steely determination in Grandma’s eyes. I feared for the life of the young officer if he chose to approach again. Like prisoners waiting for the boat that would help them escape from Alcatraz, we sat there for what felt like ages, my sister and I breaking out into nervous sweats at the sight of anyone looking at the car. Just as my anxiety reached its peak, I caught a glimpse of the police officer approaching from behind the car. My sister and I sprang into action, knowing that it was our job to prevent the carnage that would ensue if he argued with Grandma one more time. We urged and pleaded with her to drive away. But she stood her ground, saying it was all ridiculous. He told us to leave, and this time Grandma bristled. She said that my dad and Grandpa would be right out, and driving around again would be a waste of gas and time. I could tell that he was struggling to contain his anger. Red fury slowly migrated up his face like heat traveling through a kettle left on the stove for too long. He threatened her with a ticket, menacingly yanking out his ticket pad and asking for her name. But my grandmother would have none of that. Her back stiffened and she squared her thin shoulders.
“You know son, I would actually like your name!” she fumed. “And I would also like to speak to your boss!”
In a great feat of strength, the policeman held his tongue, nodded like a marionette, and signaled over his ranking officer. Before Grandma could even begin her rant, the ranking officer said that my grandmother was lucky to only be getting a ticket. She could have also gotten points on her license. All this time my sister and I were cowering in the backseat, imagining her imminent arrest, and wondering why she always has to be so strong-willed.
For days afterward, the discussion at the dinner table was dominated by that ticket. Out of the blue, Grandma would comment on how absurd the whole event was. We all scoffed at her claims that the policeman was out of line, and felt that she was lucky to have gotten away so easily. In the way that families do, we joked and made fun of her, knowing how opinionated she is and how easily she slips into a dispute, letting her matriarchal presence fill the room.
However, in an almost off-hand kind of way, she mentioned her main reason for arguing with the officer: a reason that I recall whenever I think of her. She hadn’t been upset about the inconvenience of driving around and around, as I had originally thought. She wasn’t just in one of her argumentative moods, either. She simply believed there was no reason that she should have to drive away from family.

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