Sundae Driving

By Roxanne Llamas-Villaluz

My mom and dad are from the northern part of Luzon which is one of the largest islands in the Philippines.

When we were kids living in Fairfax County, Virginia my mom use to tell me that police cars were sundaes that had a cherry on top. When my dad would be driving along the freeway, anywhere in the U.S., my mom was always warning him to watch out for his “friend”.

Sitting in the car over the years I wondered each time why she always used such cheerful euphemisms? I mean they were the cops: protect and serve, right? They needed to be mean, right? Catch the lawbreakers and all, right? Why was she constantly trying to make them nice for me, always trying to make them seem innocuous and harmless?

I continued to ponder that question each time she would point out all of the “cherry-on-tops”, and all the “friends” pulled over on the highway or driving behind my dad. And when I would ask why, she would just say because their cars looked like sundaes & they were our friends.

Finally, at seventeen years old I got my driver’s license. I drove around in my mom’s borrowed Cutlass Calais and I felt free. I would drive along grateful to see all of those “sundaes” out on the road, my “friends” looking out for me.

And then one day, I don’t remember when, I was way too free with my foot on the gas driving down a highway and I saw that cherry light up. It was so red like the maraschino on a sundae. I saw the blue pulses and I heard the siren. I was pretty nervous, but I knew I had broken the law and I was hoping it wouldn’t be too bad.

I turned off my radio, rolled down my window, and remembered to immediately put my hands back on the steering wheel at 10 and 2.

The cop walked up, “license and registration?” I carefully grabbed my wallet and the registration out of the glove box and handed them to him with a smile and said, “here you are officer.”

He just looked at me, took what I handed him and walked to his vehicle. I was getting super nervous because he was using his radio looking at my license plate and registration and license. Fuck, did I break some weird law that involved speeding?

After a while the officer came back and asked whose car I was driving. I told him my mom’s. He then asked if I knew why he pulled me over? Shit, a trick question because I really didn’t know why except the speeding thing. But he took so long at his car I thought it had to have been more. So I took my best guess: speeding?

He agreed and told me I was doing 90 in a 60 zone, and that really that was reckless driving and he should arrest me. But he checked my record (lightbulb) – why he was talking on the radio and taking so long – and my record was clean.

So he was going to do me a big favor. Now he’s smiling. He was going to write down that I was doing only 10 miles over so that he doesn’t have to arrest me and I can go to traffic school to avoid the point penalty. I was so relieved, I signed my ticket and went along on my merry way vowing never to a break the law again.

After that, I preceded to get pulled over about 20+ more times in different cities: Irvine, CA; Houston, TX; Costa Mesa, CA; Fresno, CA; San Jose, CA; stretches of the I-5 and 405 in Southern California; stretches of the 99 and the 152 in Central and Northern California; and Oakland, CA.

Each time for valid reasons: speeding, unsafe lane change, rolling stop, running a red, passengers not wearing seatbelts; too many passengers, out taillights, out headlights, non-working brake lights, obscured back view, not signaling, etc. I was most often alone, sometimes with a carload of friends, sometimes with my son in the car.

The times with my son in the car were the most terrifying because the police officer would verbally assault me and shame me. I would cry desperate tears. Tears begging him not to make me get out of the car and arrest me and take my son to Child Protective Services.

The more sadistic ones pushed me to tears that terrified my son. In the rear view mirror through my own tears and sobbing, I could see his eyes wide, hear him whimpering not to take his mommy away. I would try to signal with my eyes it would be okay and he would begin to cry, sobbing because he knew it was never okay.

I would look at the cops, bile rising in my throat because I could see the sadistic glee on their faces, feel their hate radiating. “Is that your son in the back?” “I see you don’t have a wedding ring?” “Do you always drive like this with children in the car?” Assuming I must have more than one.

I could hear their pulsating thoughts in their questions: this bitch single mother driving recklessly with one of her many half-breed children in the back deserves to know she is irresponsible and shameful. And that as an officer of the law they must see to it that I know my worth is determined by their laws.

After every one of those encounters I would signal, carefully pull back on to the roadway and drive until the police was no longer behind me. Then I would find a side street that looked quiet, turn, pull over and cry until I was dry heaving and sick. My son was terrified and confused about how how to make me stop crying.

I would then pull myself together in the form of berating myself for stupidly going with the flow of traffic and not posted speed, or not signaling the mandatory number of feet before turning or changing lanes. I would apologize to my baby boy for endangering his life, pull away from the curb and drive as safely as possible.

As we drove home I would point out the police cars and how they looked like sundaes with cherries on top.I would tell my son that I need to be more careful when I see my “friends”.

And maybe next time we were out driving could he point out when he saw our “friends”, that ride around in sundae cars with cherries on top so I could be extra super careful.

And each time he would tell me angrily that those cars don’t look like sundaes and they are not our friends.