Dangers of Schadenfreude

Friday, I was driving home from work along the same route I drive twice every day. A quick calculation – I’ve driven past that point in the neighborhood over six thousand times. This is a little stretch of road through what used to be the independent town of Buckingham. When I first moved to Dallas, Buckingham was a rectangle of small farms hanging on in the northern reaches of the giant exploding Metroplex. A developer bought the entire city, making all the property owners rich, with the single requirement that all the residents hold a vote before they left – and that vote would make the town “wet.” All the suburbs in the area were “dry” at that time – which meant that there was no sales of alcoholic beverages. His idea was to create an island of legal booze and open up an upscale entertainment, lodging, and destination district… thereby raking in the cash.

It might have worked, but there was one of the too-periodic economic collapses in the late 80’s – and his plans fell to dust. Some of the former landowners bought back their properties for pennies on the dollar at the bankruptcy sale. In the decades since the liquor laws in North Texas have become much less draconian and the City of Buckingham faded away – eventually adsorbed into the larger suburb of Richardson. It has since been mostly developed into zero-lot homes and large apartment complexes – along with a couple of liquor stores to keep the traditions of the area alive.

This stretch of road wound between complexes and is the sort of place where people drive faster than they should. There is often a police cruiser lurking in a hidden speed trap by a tiny city pocket park. I would guess on a typical day every car (except me) is going faster than the speed limit. Yet, because of the traffic leaving the complexes, the subtle blind curve in the road, and the iffy intersections at each end – it’s pretty dangerous and I wish folks would slow down.

So, on Friday, I felt a twinge of Schadenfreude as saw the red and blue flashing LEDs of a Police SUV angled into the parking lot at a complex. “They’ve caught somebody, good. At least it’s not me,” was the thought that involuntarily flashed through my mind. I’m not proud of that, but it is what it is. I couldn’t help but steal a quick glance sideways as I drove by.

I didn’t see what I expected. I only saw the little tableau for two seconds, at most, but I’ll always think about it. The police SUV had a dark sedan trapped in the corner of the little lot. The uniformed officer had a beautiful young Asian woman over the hood, one hand on her back, and the other reaching around his back to pull his cuffs off his belt. She was dressed in a short blue and white striped cocktail dress – obviously on her way out on a Friday evening. She was looking back over her shoulder at the officer and I had a good quick look at her face.

I’ve seen plenty of people get arrested. I think most people that are taken into custody have been hauled in before and know what is going on – what to expect. Some are angry, some are indignant, but most are resigned. This woman wasn’t like any of these. She was scared to death. She did not look like a criminal.

I’m not being anti-cop here. I don’t know the full story – I don’t know any story at all, really. The officer, as far as I could see, was by himself and if he ran her license and it came back with warrants – he didn’t have much choice but to cuff her. That’s what I assume happened – she was caught in the speed trap, pulled over, and something was wrong. Either her license came back or there was a problem with the car.

The young woman had made a mistake. She might have ignored a ticket until an arrest warrant was issued or maybe she was driving a friend’s iffy car.

But I’ll never forget the look on her face. I can see her driving along, music booming, in a great mood, looking forward to a Friday evening on the town and then, within seconds, it all went south. Her fear, shock, maybe layered with some embarrassment. Across the street is a big field that is owned by a girl’s elite soccer club – there were maybe two hundred girls from eight to eighteen out practicing – though I didn’t have time to swivel my head that way, I’m sure a lot of them were looking up from their drills to see the woman hauled away.

I feel so sorry for the woman. I’m sure, no matter how it all turned out, she will remember this day with shame and dread the rest of her life.

I feel helpless – though I don’t know her and only saw her for two seconds – I wished there was something I could have done. I didn’t even want to turn around and see what happened. I could only make things worse.

Most of all I feel guilty for the moment of Schadenfreude I felt when I first saw the red and blue lights.