Stupid Tuesday questions, Erik Estrada edition

So the other day this thing happened, and I’m still sufficiently nonplussed about it that I need to know if I’m crazy or the world is.  (Suspected correct answer: both.)

I was driving on the interstate on my way to work, and right before I got to my exit I noticed that the traffic had slowed waaaaaaay down in front of me.  This is of itself not such an odd thing.  Interstate traffic in the Boston metro is wont to slow down inconveniently.  As I approached the area where the cars seemed to have stopped, I noted that there was a police car stopped in the far right lane, lights flashing.

“Hmmmm,” thought I.  “Something untoward must have occurred there in the far right lane, requiring the presence of a police officer.  I will slow down considerably here in my leftward lane so as to provide maximal safety for the police officer.”

And I made my way slowly past, just as I had seen a few cars ahead of me do.

Then came the weirdness.

As I drove past, the police car proceeded to drive from the rightmost lane and into the highway in front of me.  But the officer driving the car did not drive in a straight line.  Rather, he swerved the car across the highway from lane to lane.  If I had seen any vehicle other than a police car driving thusly, my immediate conclusion would have been that the driver was heavily intoxicated.

And so I drove very slowly down the highway behind a swerving cop car.  At one point I looked to my right at the driver of the car going very slowly alongside me, giving him the confused expression and upturned palm gesture that is the universal sign of “WTF?!?”  He responded with a similarly-confused expression/gesture combo that I took to mean “Hell if I should know.”  On we very slowly drove behind a swerving cop car.

Perhaps you will think me a very great fool, but I found myself alarmed that there might be something Seriously Wrong with the man driving the car.  Intoxication seemed (relatively) unlikely, but I was genuinely concerned that the officer was having acute mental status changes for some reason.

Such was my concern that I was right in the middle of calling 911 to report an erratically-driving police car when lo, another police car with lights flashing drove up beside us, which stopped and from which emerged a different police officer.  As we were driving very slowly, he was able to approach my car and, in the assertive and not entirely polite manner that law enforcement personnel employ when they have a point to make, he instructed me to stop my car.  Apparently, when one sees a cop car swerving across the interstate, one’s meet response is to stop immediately.

Friends, I had no idea.  After I, flustered, explained that I had never heard of such a thing, and that my continuing to drive was not motivated by a desire to flout the law but simply having no clue whatsoever what was going on, the officer ever so slightly more politely said “Now you know” and walked back to his car.

I still don’t know why I (and the several dozen other cars who, similarly clueless, had very slowly driven behind me) had to stop in the middle of the interstate.  When I called the office to tell them I would be indefinitely delayed, I was told that a bunch of cop cars had just driven toward the highway.  Sitting in my vehicle biding my time, I saw several driving around the swirling ramps of the underpass below.  The officer in the car in front of me got out of his car, too, and both he and the policeman who told me to stop stared off into the distance for several minutes.

And then they both got into their cars and drove away.  No signal for traffic to resume flowing, just off they went.  After a few seconds of consternation, during which I wondered if I was allowed to go or not, I started the car again and went on my way.  That was that.

Now, I consider myself both well-informed and reasonably law-abiding.  And it rankled a bit to be (mildly) dressed down for failing to comply with an obscure traffic instruction I’d never heard of.  Over the course of the day I asked several people if they’d ever heard of the “swerving cop car = stop” rule, and nobody had.  This past weekend at a family holiday gathering I asked one of my brothers-in-law if he’d ever heard of it and he hadn’t and he’s a cop.

So that’s this week’s Question/Public Service Announcement.  First, dear readers, if you should ever find yourself behind a police vehicle swerving from side to side, apparently you’re meant to stop.  The officer inside is probably fine.

Second, is anyone out there aware that the message conveyed under these circumstances is “stop your vehicle”?  Would you have known that, or would you have slowly proceeded like me and my temporary retinue?

Finally, here’s your chance to give the world a protip.  What does nobody seem to know, but should?  What little bit of advice did you wish everyone heeded?  What obscure rule or arcane guideline do you want to pass on to the ignorant masses?

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74 thoughts on “Stupid Tuesday questions, Erik Estrada edition

  1. “What obscure rule or arcane guideline do you want to pass on to the ignorant masses?”

    The Oxford comma. Zazzy made a holiday card for us to send out this year, now that we have Mayo to feature on it instead of our ugly mugs. Only she had it signed “Mayo, Zazzy and Kazzy”. I was so angry I almost cancelled Christmas.

    But that is one many people already know and which is more of a debate than a sign of ignorance. Still, I wish everyone followed it.

    Oh, one I learned the hard way is that people on the DC Metro are hardcore about the “stand to the right, move to the left” rule on escalators. See, most people rarely encounter escalators. Perhaps at the mall and maybe in a giant hotel lobby. Otherwise, they aren’t regular things for most of us and thus the need for rules seems silly. But DC’s Metro system has escalators that go on ad infinitum. If you get on at the bottom, you regularly can’t see the top. There is actually an official rule that says you’re supposed to stand on the right and move on the left. And people take it very seriously. So seriously that a group of teenagers once challenged some friends and I, all in our college years, to a fight because we failed to adhere to the rule.

    So, good people of Earth, should you find yourself riding an escalator in the DC area, do not stand on the left side unless you want to be fought by a group of teenagers.

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  2. My understanding of a cop swerving accross several lanes of traffic is that he’s performing a solo “rolling roadblock”. One does not pass the cop but continues to maintain speed unless he’s slowing to a stop, in which case you then stop.

    But then I’ve also seen cops walk out into the fast lane of a highway with no reflective vest and put their hand up to direct someone to pull over. Trying to pull someone over doing in excess of 70 in the left lane from over several hundred yards out struck me as…..shall we say “foolish”.

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  3. Very interesting. Was it a statie? If so, a strange thing happened to me the other day as well.

    I was driving down Route 3 – which as you may know is rural enough that it’s okay to exceed the posted speed limit so long as you do not exceed the posted speed limit by more than 12 miles per hour. Accordingly. Two other cars and I were cluster speeding in that vein, as you do when you live sixty miles away from where you work. All of a sudden a statie blew past us at well over 90 miles an hour. This itself was not unusual. What was unusual was that it proceeded to slow down and hover in front of the three of us. None of us was phased. We knew the rules.

    Then, suddenly, there was one flash of yellow – not blue – light from the state police car, and then it proceeded to peel out and continue its journey towards the more nether-regions of the cape.

    Do you think they’re planning some kind of takeover? Or are they just making up signals? What’s going on here!?

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  4. 1. You’re not a fool. People have mental breakdowns of one sort or another far more often than this thing occurs, I’m sure.

    2. I’ve never heard of such a rule, either. I’ve seen a single policeman block traffic without doing such a weird maneuver.

    3. The rule I know that almost nobody else seems to know? Students value organization in a teacher more than anything else except fairness.

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  5. Proper bus and subway etiquette of the cities work through a very tight and easily broken social compact because you have a lot of disparate cultures that really don’t like or agree each other and we live close to each other. We solve this problem through silence largely. Though sometimes groups do try to break this compact.

    Also don’t dawdle on NYC streets. Move with purpose, speed, and direction.

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  6. I’ve seen this several times in California, and heard it called a “Traffic Break”. It can be done as a transition to a full stop (you don’t want to make drivers go from 70 to 0 all at once), or to just slow down traffic to create a temporary gap in traffic for clearing debris or move safety equipment.

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  7. In Monopoly, property that a player chooses not to buy is put to auction and sold to the highest bidder. It’s a rule that nobody follows that makes a terrible game marginally less terrible.

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  8. Could also have been that when Superintendent Lewis is hammered again he needs to be taken home to sleep it off, while his car gets taken back to the precinct by someone sober, they need civilians far enough away that there are no witnesses.

    Clearly, this will not be a rule that’s actually on the books, since nowhere will it actually be written down that cops are above the law – so it’s fair you didn’t know.

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  9. Regarding “What little bit of advice did you wish everyone heeded?”, while living in TN with Burt, we encountered emergency vehicles screaming down the roads, lights flashing, sirens a blaring but the locals would not pull over.

    Funeral processions were the only exception. Apparently once someone is dead then TN drivers become respectful. If there is an ounce of life still left in ya, hopefully God sees fit to get you to the hospital before you expire. If not, rest assured, once your corpse is in the hearse those TN drives will kindly let you pass.

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