Friday, December 15, 2006


In Which I Reach My Limit...

Well, I can't do all of my holiday shopping with the Brownie in tow, and so it was that last night I found myself driving to the local discount supercenter, intent on finding a certain video involving a certain fox and a certain hound for a certain scalper-fighting daughter. My heart was full of the Christmas spirit. All around me, the holiday lights flickered and winked from dozens of yards and rooftops.

So I can perhaps be forgiven for at first overlooking the rather insistent lights that were flickering and winking directly behind me, a show that turned out to be exclusively for my benefit. Then the black-and-white patrol car pulled to within very close range and squawked its siren at me once and I pulled over immediately.

"You have any idea how fast you were going, sir?" the cop asked, once he ambled over and relieved me of all of my vital papers. Why do they have to ask this question? It's like those trick questions your girlfriend used to ask you, the ones where there's no right answer. If you say, "Why, yes, I believe I was going 45 miles an hour," and you happen to have just entered a 35 MPH zone, well then you've just incriminated yourself. But if you say, "Duhhh, no," well, we all know you're lying.

In fact, the cop had clocked me at 41 in a 35 zone. Six miles over the limit, and he ticketed me. For going six miles over! Almost makes me wish I'd been driving like hell.

No one enjoys being pulled over, of course, but getting pinched by traffic cops is still a completely alien feeling for me, even though I'm compelled to admit that it's happened more than I'd like in the past few years. The thing you have to understand, though, is that for the first several years of my driving life, I was charmed. Honestly, I think it was physically impossible for me to get ticketed.

I don't know what planets aligned to grant me the power, but there was a time where friends considered me radar invisible. The first time occurred one night at college. I had had a little too much to drink the Sunday night before and so had been driven home by a sober classmate. I woke early the next day to retrieve my car, because it was parked on a campus street, and on that campus street, any cars found parked there between 8 and 5 on weekdays were ticketed and eventually towed. I couldn't catch a bus so ended up walking all the way back in to campus. When I got to the street, I saw dozens of cars still parked there, and all of them had tickets on their windshields.

All but one.

There was no way to explain why I was overlooked (and no, the ticket hadn't just blown away. I simply wasn't given one) except that I must have had some kind of cloaking device that obscured me from the cops.

This feeling was only validated in the years that followed. On my drive south to take a summer internship, I was on I-95, humming along, keeping pace with a group of cars that were traveling at well over 80 miles an hour. As we all crested a hill, on the other side we saw three state troopers, all out of their cars and gesturing at various drivers to pull over. But no one pointed at me and so I slowed and coasted on through the speed trap, half-expecting one of the cops to pull out a gun or something. But it was as if they hadn't noticed me and I just rolled on through as almost every other car in that group was hauled over and cited.

MM, the radar invisible man continued to live on. Understand, I tried never to abuse this strange power. I never deliberately tried to drive dangerously or evade the law. It was just something that happened. Driving to the DMV after grad school, I needed to renew my license, my car registration and my vehicle plates, all of which were expired. Under state law, it was technically illegal for me to be on the road. But when the staties pulled me over (they saw the expired sticker on my plate) and I explained where I was going, they just took my word for it.

Driving to a store that was closing in five minutes, I was roaring down a lakeside road fairly quickly when I spied a cop coming at me the other way. He flashed his lights at me as we passed and, thinking this was the end of my charmed life, I pulled over. But the cop kept going the other way. I sat on the shoulder for a few minutes, thinking maybe he would come back. But he never did.

Headed west to grad school in the middle of the night, I was anxious to get to Chicago, and found myself going somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 or 90 miles an hour. The car in the passing lane in front of me was trawling along, so I crawled straight up his ass, doing everything short of honking and flashing my lights to get him to move over. I must have been tailgating him for several seconds before I noticed the word "POLICE" emblazoned on the fucking trunk. Boy, did I back off in a hurry. I followed him almost all the way to the Chicago Skyway, thinking at any minute he was going to stop and arrest me, but when we hit the Loop, he went his way and I went mine.

That particular night was a two-fer because thirty minutes later, I had found my way to the slightly seedy neighborhood where I was going to be renting a room. I found the house easily enough, but there wasn't a parking space to be had anywhere on the street. I needed to call the landlord so he could meet me at the house and give me my key, so I pulled over at a spot where I was slightly blocking an alleyway. Since it was around 1 in the morning, I didn't think anyone would be using the alley, except perhaps as an impromptu urinal. I hopped out and ran across the street to a payphone to make my call. I made arrangements with the landlord, turned around, and there was a cop, writing me a ticket.

I dashed across the street. "Please," I begged the policewoman. "I just got into town and needed to call the landlord to get the keys to my apartment. Please don't let this be my first experience in Chicago." But she was already scribbling away and I had always heard that once a cop puts pen to ticket, they write it out. This cop didn't, however. She gave me a stern look, then said, "Awright, you get a break this once. Move your car. And welcome to Chicago."

I know it sounds unbelievable, but this was the sort of thing that happened to me all the time.

Right up until the year before last.

It was two days before Thanksgiving and I was on the Ohio Turnpike, headed for the in-laws, when a state trooper pulled me over. Thomas and the Brownie had been bickering non-stop for the previous hour and I was at the end of my rope. As the cop lumbered towards me, I briefly considered turning around and pinching one of them on the knee so they'd be squalling really loud when I opened the window, but I resisted.

"Hey there, buddy! You know how fast you wuz goin' there, chief?" Great. All the troopers in the state, and I get some gomer who wants to be my best friend. Officer Jocular proceeded to pass the time of day with the kids and I even tried to hold up my end of the conversation, having read somewhere that the longer you talk to a cop, the less likely he is to write you a ticket. But like the theory about a cop writing out a ticket once he's started it, this turned out to be a fallacy as well. After keeping me by the side of the road long enough for Her Lovely Self to stir (she'd slept through almost the entire drive. Even the bickering) Trooper Friendly finally handed over a ticket somewhere in the neighborhood of $100. And you can bet that when we walked through the door of my in-laws' house, the very first thing Thomas and the Brownie wanted to talk about was the nice policeman who pulled Daddy over.

I tried to put that ticket out of my mind, just as I tried to forget the next one, which I earned for blowing through a speed trap--65 in a 55 zone.

And then, the Thanksgiving before last, I was driving to the grocery store before they closed, when I was pulled over by not one but two police cars. For going 50 in a 35 zone. It was 10 o'clock on a weekend night, and perhaps they thought I had been imbibing, because they made me step out of the car, another first. I was waiting for them to administer a field sobriety test, which I would fail drunk or sober because I have a terrible sense of balance and could never walk a straight line. But in the end they just made me stand there in the cold while they beamed their powerful flashlights into the back of my car. Finally, without a word of explanation, the other cop left and the one who remained handed me my license along with a ticket and smirked. "Almost made it," he said cryptically.

I didn't understand the full weight of his words until two months later, when I got a letter from the state, informing me that I had earned three speeding tickets in the space of one year. In fact, I had earned them in exactly the space of a year. That one in Ohio had been given to me on November 26. The speed-trap one was in the summer, but that last one, the one given to me by the smirking cop, had happened on November 25. Two hours later and it would have been the 26th again, and therefore a new year.

As a result, the helpful letter from the state went on, I was now classified as a habitual speeder and would be required by law to either:

A. Forfeit my license or

B. Attend a "driver safety re-education course" at my own expense

Oh, the decisions...

I would so contest the speeding ticket.
Yeah, I'd contest this one, MM, but don't be running late to court like I was and get a second speeding ticket on your way to contest it. (This really did happen to me. Both tickets were eventually settled out of court.)

One question did your home state find out about your ticket in Ohio? I wouldn't think there's a national database for that speeding tickets. I know there is one for suspended licenses but I didn't think it included minor traffic violations.
Gah! I've had two speeding tickets this year, myself :P

The first was on my way home from Kentucky; I was between Atlanta and Augusta on I-20 and they had one of those sting operations going where one guy stood on the overpass with a radar gun and his buddies lined up on the on-ramp ready to go whenever he clocked a speeder. By the time I saw the guy up there I was doomed.

The second one was on my way to work in South Carolina (Augusta is right on the state line). North Augusta Public Safety is pretty vigilant about traffic violations. I got my ticket downgraded due to where I work, but it may still affect my insurance (I'm not sure yet).

And Chuck, there's got to be a database, because otherwise how would Allstate know to ream you?
All I have to say is, "You might be a redneck if your mama can tell a State Trooper to kiss her ass without taking the Marlboro out of her mouth."
I've gotten one speeding ticket in my life (Good Friday, indeed...) and two warnings...the last one being on my way to a concert. It proved to be a great piece of memorabilia to get signed by the guys in the band. :)

You mean to tell me, with all the gadget and gizmo freebies you have gotten over the years, you never received a radar detector? It would probably be a much cheaper investment than the tickets and insurance premiums.

It never hurts to contest a ticket, and there's oodles of tips online. It could be a well spent day off from work. Many a ticket has been beaten, simply because the Officer didn't appear in court.

Back in 1989 I got a ticket on the way to work, 45 in a 20MPH school zone, no less. When I showed up with a "glaring sun in my eyes" excuse and eight months pregnant, I beat it. I never had to go beyond the Magistrate.

Though, I don't think that excuse would work for you.
Colleen, that's awesome :D
Oh, how I laughed at this one...

And maybe I'll go write about the two speeding tickets I've gotten (and don't appear on my record).
Oh, how I laughed at this one...

And maybe I'll go write about the two speeding tickets I've gotten (and don't appear on my record).
Heather, I don't know what kind of database there is...I just know that if I do get a ticket, I don't tell my insurance about it...I let them find out on their own.

Other fun personal speeding ticket last car, while I was driving it back from where I bought it, I got two speeding tickets the first two days I had it in my posession. One I kind of deserved but the other one was bogus. My next purchase after the second ticket was a radar detector about 3.5 miles later. I think I need to go do a blog entry of my own here.
Ah, driver retraining courses! Yep, I've been there myself (more than once). Good luck with it ... it's mentally stultifying.
I think those things run in cycles. Never had a ticket then bam! bam! bam! Two speeding tickets on the interstate- :( Running a bus stop-I was innocent but had to pay the price anyway. And for those who don't know, that's worse then a DUI :(

Then poof! No more tickets. (knocking on wood...) Good luck w/yours.
Just be glad it wasn't three accidents in one year, like I experienced... ;)
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