The new Chairman of Surgery had only been in town for a few weeks when he asked me to accompany him for a drive to visit a friend in Westchester. The new Chairman had just moved to New York after a distinguished, meteoric career at a famous medical center in the South. Not the south side of New York. I mean the South; where people are friendly and the pace is peaceful and life is grand. He was, shall we say, new to New York.
The new Chairman had a research buddy in Westchester that he wanted to visit and it was a beautiful, sunny Sunday. He thought we should drive his BMW the couple of hours it should take and I could help navigate and I’d surely be interested in the research project they were to discuss. I had to explain that I had never been to Westchester and that my sense of direction is limited to up and down, and that only on a good day. He was undaunted.
We started off confidently, driving down the Long Island Expressway at a good clip, discussing the new Chairman’s grand plans for the department. As we began to navigate the sinuous and subtle exchanges of the various parkways and expressways of the city proper, our conversation lagged as we quickly realized that we didn’t know exactly where we were going. This was confirmed when we passed under a large sign reading “New Jersey.” Westchester, we were quite sure, was still in New York. Unfortunately, we were now on the rather intimidating approach to the George Washington Bridge and it appeared that our fate lay in crossing the Hudson River despite our reluctance. As we paused at the toll booth, the new Chairman expressed to the toll worker that we really were going to Westchester.
“But you’re going the wrong way,” the toll booth attendant informed us. We acknowledged this helpful bit of information and inquired how we could avoid crossing the bridge. “You can’t,” she said. “What you need to do is take the first exit after the bridge, get off the expressway, make a left and cross under to the other side, then get back on the expressway and come back over the bridge. That’ll be sixteen dollars.” The new Chairman thanked her for her helpful advice and got change for his twenty. Now certain of our path, he did exactly as she recommended. As he crossed under the bridge, however, a police officer standing just past the left turn waved him over and told he to stop the car. The new Chairman pulled over and rolled down the window.
“Is there a problem, officer?” the new Chairman asked politely.
“License and registration,” the officer replied.
“I’m sorry?” the new Chairman asked.
“You will be if you don’t give me your license and registration in the next two seconds,” the officer replied. The new Chairman looked at me. I shrugged. He gave the police officer his license and registration. The officer disappeared to his cruiser.
“What’s going on?” the new Chairman asked.
“Haven’t a clue,” I answered. “I’m sure we’ll find out, though.” So we sat and waited to find out. We sat for a half hour. At last, the officer reappeared at the window. He began throwing traffic tickets through the window at the new Chairman.
“Illegal left hand turn, obstructing traffic, expired license,” the cop rattled off, throwing the new Chairman’s license and registration back into the car. “Absent front license plate, failure to use turn signal,” the officer droned on as he continued to fling tickets into the car.
“Hold it, hold it,” the new Chairman spluttered, flabbergasted. He reached down on the floor to retrieve his driver’s license. “My license isn’t expired. I just renewed it before I moved here three weeks ago. Look,” he held up the license for the officer and indicated the back of the license where the renewal was documented.
The cop took the license and looked at the indicated sticker for a moment, then tossed it back in the car. “They don’t pay me to look on the back. Tell it to the judge.”
“Now hold it–” the new Chairman began.
The officer clamped his hand on the new Chairman’s forearm which was resting on the door sill, still holding the dollar bills he had gotten in change from the toll lady. “And if you say one more word, asshole, I’m gonna arrest you for trying to bribe a police officer.” He nodded at the four dollars in the new Chairman’s hand.
“You’r not serious,” the new Chairman said. He turned to me. “He’s not serious, is he?”
“I think he is,” I advised. “I think you should stop talking now.”
The officer agreed. Finally, we were allowed to resume our journey to Westchester.
“This place,” the new Chairman said as we drove on, “is a very hard place to live.”
I had to agree.