When I was sixteen, I got pulled over for going 88 in a 45. I know. Stupid. Which is why 16-year-olds should not be allowed to drive by themselves. I went to court and was given an appropriately stiff judgement. The judge had me keep a traffic violation journal (in which I was to record 88 traffic violations I witnessed before our next court date). I owed my parents 12 hours of “home service,” and I couldn’t count any of the chores for which I was already responsible. (I ended up doing a lot of my parents’ laundry.) I also had to pay a $300 ticket--which was basically what I made in an entire month of working my after school job as a tutor. I met all the requirements in order to keep a reckless driving charge off my record and to keep my license.
After that, I had an on-going love affair with multiple police departments, as I was pulled over multiple times exceeding the speed limit. Once I was even pulled over twice in one week by the same officer on the same stretch of road. Insanity. In all of the instances, I paid large fines and went on my way because I totally deserved it. In fact, if I remember correctly, I think the officer who pulled me over twice lowered both of the speeds to save me a little money on the tickets. Pretty nice considering I obviously had not learned my lesson.
As I matured, and especially after having children, I learned to sloooooooow down (I know, I know, it’s the law) and started paying more attention. The only time I have been pulled over in the last five years was when I drifted a stop sign on base the first month we lived in Charleston. I was also on my cell phone, so I got four points on my base record and was told that if I acquired ten points, my driving privileges on base would be revoked--which would have been pretty miserable considering I lived on base at the time.
Growing up, my cousin Cody was my hero. At 11 months older than me, he was the one I looked to to teach me how to hit a baseball, how to effectively capture bad guys, and how to pee standing up. I always tell people he was the first boy I ever loved until I found out tragically that you can’t marry your first cousin. Cody played baseball and basketball and football, and then (to spite his father, I think) went to college on a cheerleading scholarship. After graduating with a degree in criminology, he became a police officer. So, he is STILL my hero.
My best friend’s husband is a police officer, and one of my new-but-feels-like-I’ve-known-her-forever friend’s husband is a police officer. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women who patrol our streets, respond first to emergencies, and risk their lives by boldly confronting society’s biggest horrors.
So, last Tuesday when I saw flashing lights in my rearview, I immediately thought, “Oh, I better get out of the way as soon as I can!” The traffic was bumper to bumper, and I was stopped at a stoplight behind approximately ten cars. There was no way for me to get to the median, and there was no parking lot to turn into. By the time I actually pulled out of the way, several minutes had passed. (Several minutes of Ben yelling in the backseat, “Peace car, peace car, peace car, peace car, peace car!”
Except I didn’t pull out of the way. Because he followed me. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized I was being pulled over. A bit flustered, I reached for my license and registration, relieved when I saw that I had responsibly switched out our insurance information, so it was up-to-date.
As I waited for the officer to approach my window, I started scrolling through the possibilities--I knew the tag was fine because we always change it in the summer. I didn’t think any of my lights were out...
Officer: Good morning, ma’am. Do you know why I pulled you over?
Me: No, sir.
Officer: I clocked you going 58 in a 45 back on the bridge.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry. I had no idea.
Officer: (hiking up his pants) YOU...HAD NO...IDEA?
Me: Uh, that’s what I said. No, sir. I didn’t.
Officer: Is there a reason it took you so long to pull over?
Me: Um...I don’t really appreciate your tone. Are you really asking me this? Were you not stuck in the same line of cars as me? I mean, I put my blinker on to let you know I was pulling over as soon as I could. I pulled over as soon as I had an opportunity.
Officer: I’ve been following you since you were on the bridge. You had ample opportunity to pull over.
Me: I’m sorry. I just...I didn’t...I just saw you when we turned on Old Trolley.
Officer: You just saw me? (Taps rearview mirror four times slowly) You not using these? That thing’s like a rolling gumball machine (thumbing at his squad car), kinda hard to miss.
Me: Well, officer, you see, my two-year-old was screaming, “Different movie!” from the backseat, so I turned up the music to drown him out--especially because the ipod had just shuffled “Working Day” off of Lonely Avenue--have you heard Lonely Avenue? It’s really great--much better than the critics are giving it credit for--and “Working Day” is a particularly good song. A real pep up your morning with some smug-laughing-to-self-moments. Anyway, the music was loud, so I didn’t hear your siren, and I wasn’t looking behind me because I was hoping my child would stop screaming if I just ignored him--PLUS, drivers in South Carolina are all like sixteen-year-old versions of me, so I was focusing on the road AHEAD of me just in case the car in front of me slammed on its brakes to let someone into the flow of traffic (which by the way, is it possible that you could give tickets out for that?), which in fact, did happen. So, no I didn’t notice you behind me until the moment I told you I did. Yes, sir. I pulled over the first chance I could.
At that point, I watched him waddling back to his car in the rearview mirror. Did that just happen? Did he TAP the mirror at me? Did he really just ask me why I didn’t pull over sooner like I’m some kind of CRIMINAL trying to evade the police on a Tuesday morning between taking my kid to school and doing laundry? Really? He’s just lucky this isn’t a foot race because I COULD WASTE HIM, and I’m really slow. How about I give you a ticket, Officer, for being unfit for duty? How about that? How about you take your sarcasm and your tap-tappy finger and get back in your rolling gumball machine and have a nice day? How about that? I gritted my teeth and cursed him again for making me break out into an angry sweat before he came back to the car.
Officer: Well, Mrs. Johnson, here is your license back. I went ahead and lowered the speed to save you about fifty dollars on the ticket. Pay a little more attention next time.
Me: Thank you.
And then I repented of all my ugly thoughts and felt like the worstpersonintheworld. I paid the ticket today--$81.88, a mere fraction of the money that I’ve spent on traffic tickets in the past. I’m sorry, Officer Gumball. I shouldn’t have been so mean to you, even if it was in my head. Have a nice day, and thank you for serving the City of Summerville.