Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Ticket to Ride

Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly. ~Author Unknown
I am pretty much a speed-limit driver, for two reasons. Number one, it is safer and saner to obey the posted limits. You'll get where you're going within a couple of minutes of when you would have if you went 10 MPH over the limit. You're also less likely to end up in someone's trunk during rush hour. Number two, I am a cheap bastard who hates giving regular donations to the Exxon Fund for the Enrichment of Overpaid CEO's. The difference in gas mileage between, say, 70 and 75 is amazing.
Lest I injure myself trying to pat myself on the back, I have earned three traffic tickets in my life, along with one near miss. The near miss occurred when I was driving through Madison, Ohio, with the Daughter, who was around five or six. I've never figured out if the speed limit changes at the sign or when you see the sign. Well, in Madison it's at the sign. So, when I began to speed up as I went from a 35 MPH zone to a 50 MPH stretch, I got stopped. The deputy asked for my license and began to look at it with great interest. I knew it wasn't expired and couldn't think of anything I might be wanted for (the sauerkraut incident hadn't happened yet), but it was unnerving, nonetheless. Finally, he sticks his head in the window and says, “Didn't you used to work summers at the Sheraton?” Well, yes (good lord, my dad was the boss of the restaurant; had he absconded with the cutlery?). Then he said, “Hey, it's me, Eddie!”
Well, whaddya know. Eddie had worked as a desk clerk when I was washing dishes (and we both had agreed my job was more fun). So, we exchanged a few pleasantries, and he let me off. Of course, the Daughter had figured we were going to Sing Sing, so I had to explain to her that everything was okay. I think the trauma is what caused her to want to be a lawyer (and possible future hanging judge).
Prior to this, I got caught rocketing along at 40 in a 35 in a Cleveland suburb obviously in need of funds.
Before that, I got caught at a no-left-turn trap in downtown Cleveland. This was particularly galling. You could turn left except during rush hour; a little sign would light up to tell you it was no longer legal to do so. Usually, the little sign was over the left lane, under the traffic light. In this case, the no-left-turn sign was over the median strip. One does not normally drive on the median strip, so one does not think to look for traffic signals there. The cops had a little assembly line going where they pulled over victims and ticketed them. Unlike many of these serious offenders, I didn't complain or grumble. I took my ticket, drove three blocks to Central Police Station, paid the fine, and then lectured the clerk for ten minutes on what I thought of Cleveland's finest.
You see, I had had a car stolen a couple of years before. The police found it because they knew exactly where the chop shops dropped off the carcass. I asked the officer who called me why they didn't stake out the area and nail these guys. He said, “You want the car back or don't you?” I did, so I didn't push it. So the clerk got to hear about all this. It didn't matter to him; he had heard before, usually with far fouler language than I used. But I felt better.
The first ticket I got, though, was sort of a rite of passage. I was taking my mother and a couple of her cronies off to the bingo hall. She had a ride back, so I'd have the car for the rest of the night. Therefore, I was moving with alacrity but not, I thought, speeding. All of a sudden, there's the blue light special in the rear view mirror.
No one in the world is more polite than a Highway Patrolman. He politely asks you for your license and registration. He politely informs you that you were doing 60 in a 50. He politely asks you to sign the ticket. Then, to add insult to injury, he says, “Have a nice day.”
Frankly, this wouldn't have been a big deal, but I had never transgressed the law in any way. And now, I was going to have to go to court and face a judge! There was no mailing in your fine in those days, at least not in Ashtabula County. So there I was, the following Friday, in Judge Warner's court, above the office supply store (small town, y'know?). A guy ahead of me is going on and on about how he's going to beat the rap on his ticket for running a stop sign. Five minutes later, the same guy is cussing a blue streak because Judge Warner did not take kindly to some idiot telling him the law, proving his point by applying a stiff fine.
Great. Now the Judge is ticked off.
The judge's daughter was in my high school class. I was sitting there trying to remember if I had ever said or done anything to offend her, particularly anything she might have thought sufficiently offensive to report to her father. Fortunately, I thought I was in the clear. I went into Judge Warner's office.
“Hmm,” he said, “Haven't you been here before?”
“No, sir, that was my dad.” My father collected speeding tickets as though he thought he could redeem them for prizes. He was perpetually 1 or 2 points from suspension.
The judge looked over the citation. He looked sternly at me. “Son, don't you know enough not to get caught in our own speed trap?”
“Uh, sorry, Judge, but they changed the speed limit while I was away at school. I'll remember now.”
Ten buck fine and five dollars costs later I was free. But the judge had one last priceless moment for me.
“Tell your father 'Hello' for me, because I don't need to see him here again any time soon.”
You know, my dad never did say anything to me about me getting that ticket.

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