The Morning File: Catch me if you can, camera coppers!

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The Associated Press wrote the following last week:

"A rapidly growing network of police cameras is capturing, storing and sharing data on license plates, making it possible to stitch together people's movements whether they are stuck in a commute, making tracks to the beach or up to no good."

This made me nervous while I was driving around with the kids over the weekend. I don't like anyone monitoring my movements. It's not that I'm doing anything wrong -- usually -- but it's the principle of the thing. My forefathers moved to this country centuries ago so they wouldn't have cameras spying on them. Or maybe they were just hungry or got a supersaver fare for the boat ride -- I don't really know.

Anyway, that's why I began the "Fast and Furious"-style driving maneuvers while on my way to the park with the kids. I gunned the subcompact through a yellow light, took a hard right into an alley and screeched to a halt in a garage.

"What are we doing, Daddy?" the cute girl in the back seat asked.

"Hiding. Be quiet."

The tow-headed boy next to me piped up: "Hiding from who? Or is it from whom?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know which -- who we're hiding from or whether it's who or whom?"

"Either one. But one way or another, we're making it harder for the NSA to find us."

The girl wanted to know who the NSA was. I was about to tell her it was a government agency supposed to protect us that we now need protection from, but first came a rap on my window. As I rolled it down, a man who seemed perplexed opened his mouth.

"You there -- what are you doing in my garage?"

I looked around. "This isn't a public garage? This is your garage?"

"Yes, most two-car garages are private. What do you think you're doing? My wife's going to be home any minute from the store and you're in her spot."

"Oh." I began putting the car into reverse when I remembered to ask.

"By the way, sir, do you have a camera that spotted me coming in here? I don't like that sort of thing."

"What kind of question is that? Move along before I call the police."

"Oh, you're with them then. I see. That explains a lot."

With that I backed out, took a right, then a left, then a right again to try to lose any government agents who might be tailing us. Just to be sure, I made a U-turn before turning the wrong way down a one-way street. The only problem, other than the honking horns and middle-finger salutes, was I was now hopelessly lost.

The girl began sniveling. "I thought we were going to the park," she said.

"We are. But we don't have to go to the same park every time, do we? There's probably a nice park in this neighborhood, too."

The boy then piped up again. That's the thing about going anywhere with kids -- they never shut up. He was actually helpful this time, though, because he had been looking over his shoulder.

"Dad, I think there's a police car following us."

I checked the rearview mirror.

He was right. The cherry top was right on our heels. It had probably already called in the license plate number to the FBI and Interpol while looking for an excuse to pepper spray the kids and strip search me.

Then he turned on the lights and siren. Naturally. If I didn't have the kids with me, I might have floored it as fast as the Protege would go -- about 58, I'd say -- and used my newfound penchant for driving maneuvers to lose him.

Instead, I pulled over and rolled down the window, but stared hard when the officer reached me so he'd know I was no one to trifle with.

"G'morning, sir," he said with a smile. "Do you know why I stopped you?"

"Probably some new government harassment program, I'm guessing. Should I call my attorney?"

"No need," he said, seeming surprised before grinning. "I could see at the last stop light that one of your brake lights is out. You should get that repaired. I'd hate to see anything bad happen to those cute kids. Have a good day."

"Oh, uh, thanks," I said as he walked away.

The boy looked at me. "He seemed nice," the tyke said as I harrumphed. The girl asked if we were still going to the park.

"Sure we are, hon," I replied. "Let's go."


Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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