It's not about the house.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ten Years Burning Down the Road

I got pulled over by a cop the other day.

I used to be so good at that! Seriously, in the decade between my driver’s test and my first speeding ticket, I can remember at least eight times that I got stopped and managed to get away scott-free. It may have been partly because I was a 21-year-old blond with big tits and a still-clean driving record, but some of it, I know, was also skill. Or chutzpah. Or luck. Or whatever.

I never cried or anything, but I sure played dumb a lot. There were a few years there I didn’t even have a license – mine had expired, see, and I wasn’t always so good at grown-up follow-through back then – so playing dumb was a matter of survival. I perfected the art of handing over the expired card with an air of innocence and giving ‘em a wide-eyed “Really?” when they complained. Worked every time.

Well, not every time. There was this once I was going 60 in the Callahan and happened to have a smashed window taped up with garbage bags, because someone stole the backseat boom box I was using for a stereo (I still like to imagine the looks on their faces when they pressed play and heard Jesus Christ Superstar). Since I couldn’t pull over until I cleared the tunnel, I had plenty of time to think, and came up with the brilliant plan of sitting on my purse and telling the officer I didn’t have my license on me because it had been stolen. Really. Look at my window! He was very nice. He said he didn’t want to totally ruin my evening, and he strongly recommended that I come down and fill out a police report first thing in the morning. Yes, officer.

I finally did get a valid license, though. Sort of. So when I got nabbed in the Combat Zone at 1:00 a.m. with a flat tire that was shooting orange sparks, I batted my eyelashes and handed it over, saying “I know, Officer. I’m sorry. But I didn’t think this was a very good place for a single girl to wait for the AAA guy at this hour. I’m only trying to get myself safely home.” The cop took one look at my license – which still listed my folks’ address sixty miles away, because I was still illegally insuring my Chevy Impala there – gave me an arched eyebrow, and said “Where are you trying to get to?” I said “Oh! I mean, I’m staying with a friend! In a neighborhood over that way? I think it’s called, um, the South End?” “Well, all right then,” he said. Thanks, officer!

Another time, I was speeding home from I don’t know where with my Big Gay Bear riding shotgun. When we saw the blue lights coming for us in the distance I pulled off the highway and onto a soft shoulder. The Bear and I crawled into the back seat, breathed hard on all the windows, and started frantically making out. The cop came down the exit ramp and shone his light on us, but just kept right on driving by.

(I don’t recommend any of these methods, by the way. I’m just telling you what worked for me when I was young and dumb.)

At a speed trap on a different highway – the kind where there’s one guy behind a tree with a radar gun and one on foot beside the road waving you down – I just pretended not to see the waver-dude and kept on driving. Nobody chased me, and I never got anything in the mail. This success, being my first, probably made all the others possible, but I know for certain if I’d failed I’d be in a wheelchair now. Because I was still in college then, see, and I was driving my Mom’s car.

Twice, I simply told the truth: at Logan I said I was trying to catch a flight (“So is everybody else,” the cop said. “Now slow down”); and in Rhode Island being low on gas got me an escort to the nearest station. Even the cop in Brookline who – when I watched him approaching in my rearview mirror – made me think “Oh my god, he’s a Nazi” just like Thelma and Louise, turned out to be a sucker for a little abject subjugation.

So when it finally happened, I was stunned.

It was my first traffic stop since meeting Johnny, and we'd been together for at least a couple years. We had our own place by then, in fact, and we might have even been on our way home from Thanksgiving with my family. At any rate, I know he was in the car with me, because we were in the middle of an oh-my-god screaming fight. The cruiser tailed me for at least a mile before I even cottoned on, and when at last I noticed and complied, neither I nor the cop said an extemporary word. We just stuck to the required script, he wrote me a ticket for $180, and then I cried. But not till he was gone.

Johnny didn’t understand why I was getting all emotional, and since I hated him I didn’t bother to explain. I was upset because getting a ticket meant I was really a grown-up now. It meant I had to start playing by the rules, following through, acting responsibly and worrying about mundane things like insurance premiums. But most of all – and I hate to admit this, but since I’ve told you all my other shameful things I might as well (oh please, you don’t think I was sober when I tore through the red-light district with a shredded tire, do you? Shit. But I learned my lesson then, I swear to god). So here goes: most of all, I cried because getting that first ticket meant I wasn’t young and pretty anymore.

The second one made me cry because I felt it crush my idealistic spirit. What can I say? I don’t think the government should tell me what to do with my own body, even if that means letting it become an airborne projectile through shattered shards of glass. But I paid my ticket, and I hung my head, and I put my paternalistic seatbelt on.

Thankfully, the third ticket came while we were moving to the AssVac – literally on the way here from the old apartment with a carload – and I had more important things to weep about by then. I was so unfazed by it, in fact, that I got a little of my old chutzpah back: I fought that citation in traffic court, and won. Well, I didn’t “win,” exactly – I had no leg to stand on – but the judge threw the whole thing out because, he said, I “really wasn’t going all that fast.”  When I got home, I looked it up. In this state, at the speed I was going, I could faced a $200 fine or fifteen days in jail.

That was my first clue there might be an upside to this middle-aged thing, after all.


12ontheinside said...

Really sucks to work out you're a grown up, eh.
This reminds me of the time I got out of a speeding fine by telling the cop I had a migraine and was driving myself to hospital. Only he then gave me a police escort to hospital - sirens blazing, through every red light. I was late for work that day and had to explain it was because I had to go to hospital and pretend to be dreadfully ill until the cops left.

Sashimi said...

Quite the reverse infact.
I cried myself out of plenty of traffic cop situations - "Please mama, (that's hindi for maternal uncle. we "mama" our traffic cops)forgot my licence at home", which infact i had or "booo hooo had to jump the red light 'coz I'll be late for class" 'Course I was on a scooter not a car.
But boy! when I got my first job, it ran more like -
"You want money? Here. And keep the friggin change".
heh..must have made his day

Anonymous said...

Gravity works. It is totally a bitch to get old.

Cake said...


I deleted my recent blog post because...well, I just changed my mind about getting all personal in public. However, I really appreciated your nice comment...thank you. I can use all the good luck I can get!

And, on an unrelated note, you mentioned recently that you're on Facebook. Are you okay with my adding you? And, if so, what name are you under? (No worries if you'd rather keep it to people you know in "real life," of course!)

ege said...

12 -- Oh no! Well, at least you have public health over there, so you didn't wind up having to pay for your treatment.

Sashimi -- You got me there; bakshish is one thing I never tried -- although I'm sure it wouldn't have ended well. Nor would calling him mama, for that matter!

Anon -- You said it, mama!

Cake -- I used to keep it to people I know in real life, but I got lax about it and am SO glad I did! So sure, look me up there. I'm under my real name and I'm the only one with it (Erin Ellia) -- just make sure you tell me who YOU are when you friend me, because seriously all I know is that you have a dog and live in Canada. Something tells me that doesn't really narrow things down...

jen said...

Everything okay?


well, i have never read, in one complete compilation, so many run ins with the fuzz over speeding.

do you live somewhere where the cops having NOTHING better to do? because i certainly do, so i can relate.

the worst is when a SHORT cop pulls you over, b/c they already have the napoleon complex going and you know they've gotta PROVE themselves as TOUGH GUYS and you're NEVER getting out of it

it was a long post, but totally worth the read. you're a great story teller