It had been a long shift at Ye Olde Button Factory, as my buddy Joe refers to it, and I was exhausted. Glad to be headed home to bed. So tired I could almost feel myself already wrapped in cool white sheets, and the real world around me seemed insubstantial as fog off the river. I cranked the window down and the radio up, trying to keep my eyes open. Much as I tried to focus on the road, my mind and my eyes kept locking onto inconsequential details: morning joggers, patterns in the numbers on license plates, a blue plastic bag drifting lazily across a deserted parking lot. I noticed a big, floppy straw hat in the back window of a car as I passed, and then immediately got passed in turn by another car that also had a big floppy hat in the back window. The coincidence made me chuckle.
I stopped at a red light and then must have finally dozed off in earnest just for a fraction of a second, because the guy behind me laid into his horn and startled me awake. But when I looked up, the light was red again, so there was nothing for it but to wait. I shrugged exaggeratedly, hoping the guy behind me would see and take it as an apology of sorts, and settled in, eyes on the red light. But the guy behind me kept on honking and carrying on! I finally put my hand out the open window, pointed at the red light, and then (I'm not proud of it) gave him the finger.
Well, I could see he was getting steamed, though I didn't see how he had the right, and I started to get nervous he'd get out of his car and come after me, but just then the light finally changed to green, so I stomped on the gas--and just about got creamed by some idiot running the red light from the other direction. I simultaneously laid on the horn and gunned the engine and managed to squeak out of the way just in the nick of the time. Thoroughly ticked off and rattled, I was nonetheless counting my blessings on the narrow escape when a police cruiser came out of nowhere and tucked in behind me, siren chirping and lights flashing--orange and green lights, I noticed suddenly. When had they switched from red and blue?
Considering I was the one who'd followed all the rules--minus the rude gesture--I was pretty peeved he'd come after me, but I knew better than to run away. I pulled over obediently, turned off the radio, and sat there with my hands politely folded in my lap. After what seemed like an eternity, the police officer climbed out of his cruiser and slammed the door, then came charging toward me like a raging bull, face red, pale blue eyes bulging. He paused long enough to peer into the windows, writing something down as he did so, and then stood over me, clipboard in one hand. "License, registration, proof of insurance," he said, scowling. I pulled out my wallet and handed him my driver's license, then went rooting through the glove compartment in search of the other stuff. "Don't suppose you know why I pulled you over?" he went on as he waited. There was more than a trace of sarcasm in his tone, which struck me as unfair.
"No," I said. "I don't." I finally located the registration and my insurance card and held them out.
"You just blew through that green light right in front of me," he said with forced patience, snatching the papers from my hand. "You're lucky you didn't cause a serious accident."
I sat silently, waiting for him to realize what he'd just said; but when a moment passed and he still stood there glaring, I ventured a comment. "I went through a green light," I said slowly, figuring he'd catch on and feel foolish.
"Yes!" he barked, and went on standing and glaring.
"Shouldn't you be going after the other guy?" I asked finally, as meekly as I could muster.
"The other guy?"
"Yes," I said, "You know, the one who went through the red light."
He drew himself up and looked at me sideways. "Why would I do that?"
Feeling increasingly aggravated, I said, "Well, because he was the one who actually broke the law."
He blinked at me. "Come again? He had a red light. He had right of way."
It was my turn to blink. "What are you talking about? Green means go!"
He gave me a look. "Please wait here while I write up the ticket," he said abruptly, and marched on back to his car, leaving me there to fidget. It took ages. Finally he slid out of the car again and strutted up to my window. He tucked his pen behind one ear and began reading off. "Failure to yield at at a green light. Expired tags. No hat." He pointed vaguely toward the back of the car.
I thought for sure I'd misheard that last. "Hat?" I repeated.
He waved a hand impatiently. "Hat," he said again firmly. "No straw hat in your rear window. Or anywhere in your car that I can see, for that matter."
I laughed out loud. "You're joking with me, right?" I said. "That's not a ticketable offense. There's no law that says you have to have a straw hat in your car."
He didn't crack a smile. "Sign here," he said, thrusting the clipboard at me. "At the 'X'."
I looked at him, looked back at the orange and green flashing cruiser. An idea struck me, one that flooded me with relief. "You aren't really a police officer, are you?" I said suddenly. "This is all some sort of hoax." I grinned at him. "Tell the truth, am I on candid camera?"
"Think this is funny, do you?" he growled. He thrust the clipboard at me again. "Sign. At the 'X'."
"No," I said.
His face flushed. "No?" he repeated.
"No," I said. "I'm not signing anything."
He went from red to purple, and a vein in his forehead beat time as he smacked the clipboard against his left hand. "OK," he said after a moment's struggle, "That does it. I'm taking you in. Step out of the car, and put your hands on the hood."
I did get out, but by then, I was starting to feel scared, and not just of being in trouble with the law. Nothing was making any sense. I actually made a break for it, dodging around my own car and then jumping a fence and darting across someone's lawn...but he came after me. I tried to fight him off, but he knocked me down and cuffed me, then frog-marched me on back to the cruiser and dumped me unceremoniously in the back seat where I sat huddled and confused and sore while he said a bunch of stuff over the radio--a very real police radio. Then he started the car and pulled away from the curb.
I felt completely dazed and bewildered, especially when we got to the next traffic light and he stopped at a green light--along with everyone else--and only started to move again when the light changed to red. "Green really means stop?" I ventured timidly.
He glanced at me in the rear view mirror. "Still think you're funny, huh?"
"No," I said. "I really want to know."
He sighed, and said wearily, "Green means stop. Red means go. Hats are required. Same as it ever was."
"There's seriously a law about hats?"
"That's stupid," I said.
"It's for your own safety and well being! What would you do if your car broke down on a rainy or hot, sunny day? You'd have no way to avoid getting wet or sunburned!"
"Unless I had an umbrella," I said. "Or a raincoat. Or some sunscreen. Or was bright enough not to stand out in the open for long periods. And besides, shouldn't it be up to me and my own common sense to--"
"Don't get smart with me!" he said. "You're in enough trouble as it is." I sighed, but shut up. A few minutes later, we arrived at the police station. A half dozen cruisers--all with orange and green lights--were parked out in front. The officer opened the car door and pulled me to my feet.
"Where are you taking me?" I asked.
He grunted. "Holding cell. Until it's time to take you before the magistrate. Move."
He took me through sort of side door and down a long, grey, official looking hallway with offices on both sides and officers in uniform going hither and thither. "What's he here for?" one of the other officers asked in passing, nodding at me.
"Would have been a routine traffic stop--failure to yield at a green light, no hat," said my officer grimly. "Now it's resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, too." The other officer made a clucking noise and moved away.
He put me into a dingy looking cell with a florescent light overhead that flickered and buzzed, and pulled the door shut behind me; it clanged with dismal finality. This really wasn't funny anymore. I stood up and gripped the bars. "Please," I said, "I know this sounds crazy, but I think I must have slipped through a wormhole or something. I think I come from another dimension. Where I'm from, you stop at red lights and go on green. And police cars have blue and red lights, not orange and green. And I've never in my born days heard of any rule about keeping a straw hat in your car. I swear!"
He stopped to stare back at me over his shoulder and then slowly shook his head. "Another dimension," he snorted. "Well, I'll give you points for originality. That's one I've never heard before." He walked away, muttering to himself.
Dejectedly, I went back to the miserable little cot in the back corner. It smelled like sweat and beer and things I didn't like to think about, but I was so worn out I stretched out on it full length, arms behind my head. And then I must have drifted off to sleep. The next thing I knew, I woke with a start in my own house, sprawled out on my couch fully clothed and with no memory of how I'd gotten there. Had it all been a dream? It seemed so real! I sat up, bleary eyed and dry-mouthed, slowly becoming aware of the insistent beeping of my alarm clock in the bedroom down the hall. Damn, how long had that been going on? I looked at the clock on the wall and then buried my head in my hands, groaning aloud. I had ten minutes to get ready and out the door. I dressed and brushed my teeth in record time and hustled out the door still combing my hair and buttoning my shirt. My car was right where it usually is, and glancing up and down the street, everything looked refreshingly normal. At the end of the block, drivers at the traffic light stopped on red and went on green. With a relieved sigh, I climbed in behind the wheel and headed off to work. On the way there, I noticed a police cruiser parked off to the side, almost at the spot where I'd been pulled over in my dream. It was blessedly black and white with blue and red lights, and I could just about have kissed it.
Joe was climbing out of his car as I pulled into the parking lot at work. I parked my car next to his and got out, hurrying to catch up. "You wouldn't believe the crazy dream I just had," I told him. "I was in some bizarre alternate universe. Tell you about it while we get coffee."
"Sure, sure," Joe said, grinning. Then he sobered up and said seriously, jerking a thumb at my car's rear window, "You know, Tim...you should replace your straw hat before you get pulled over. I hear the cops are really cracking down these days."
Inspired by a moment in which I was stuck at a traffic light and noticed straw hats visible through the rear windows in not one but *two* of the cars in front of me. My mind took in this odd coincidence and had already started running with it by the time the light changed...and this is the result.