My First Driving Infraction

I recently ran into some trouble with the law. I wrote that sentence for dramatic effect. I just want you guys to think I’m a bad ass.

I’m not.

I got two speeding tickets recently.

That’s my “being in trouble with the law.”

I like to think of myself as a good driver – who doesn’t? – I try to obey all the traffic laws and do my best to not run every person off the road when they piss me off – who doesn’t?

Road rage really isn’t my thing but I would be lying if I didn’t fall victim to the temptation to flip someone off. If they are an old person even better because, let’s be honest, they don’t see me doing it and that limits the chances of me being yelled at when we are next to each other at the light that just turned red.

My middle finger, like most normal human beings, is the tallest finger on my hands and is an interesting metaphor to where my road rage peaks. Once I flipped someone off on the highway and they slowed down, rolled down their window, and I took the next exit to avoid them at all costs.

When my fight or flight intuition kicks in I’m in first class to Hawaii.

Most people probably remember the first time they got pulled over by a cop. I believe I was around 19 years old and just left one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at, Taco Bell/Pizza Hut. I never thought “Mexican” and “Italian” food could go together but, trust me, they do. I loved that place so much that I still remember my go-to order:

#4: Personal Pan Pizza with Pepperoni, Order of Breadsticks, and a Large Diet Pepsi and then I would go to the Taco Bell side and order two soft tacos.

It was my personal heaven.

During my meal nothing could bother me, including a call from a friend. I was alone in my own glory and I wanted nothing to distract me.

I finished my meal and left the restaurant in a hurry to get home because it was Taco Bell so I hopped in my car and took off.

As I was driving I called my friend back. This was the summer of 2004 and nothing could be better. I was on a weekly routine of picking up and dropping off a girl I was head-over-heels in love with and got some real quality time with her up until I arrived at her boyfriend’s house. Oneonta, NY was selected as the college I was going to after a year at Nassau Community College. The radio was an eclectic mix of perennial R&B favorite, Usher, and new rock gods, Nickleback.

Combine all that with the sumptuous meal I just consumed and I couldn’t want for more.

Oh, one more thing, New York just passed an extremely rigid, albeit smart, hands-free cell phone law and they were cracking down…HARD.

I was 19, naive, and didn’t have a care in the world. No traffic infractions up until that point and I was on cloud 9. No one could stop me, unless it was an undercover cop parked on the opposite side of the road with a clear view of me holding my cell phone to my ear.

The conditions were perfect for my getting caught. I had a white car that just got washed, I was – for some inexplicable reason – the ONLY car on a usually busy road, the weather was perfect – blue skies the color Chris Pine’s eyes, the kind you could just get lost in and dream about running off together and getting a small hut on a Tahitian beach where you sell petrified starfish to dumb tourists. Basically the cop could easily see me holding my right hand up to my ear because it’s the MOST OBVIOUS move ever!

I saw the cop but it was too late. I dropped my phone, which thinking about it now probably made it more obvious that I was on a phone, thinking that maybe the cop wouldn’t have the proof he needed to give me the ticket.

Spoiler alert: you already read the title.

I was scared. Like get me on that plane to Hawaii scared. The cop came over to the window and asked me all the typical things cops ask.

“License and registra – why does it smell like you run a small Taco Bell franchise out of your car?”

When I handed my license to the officer I had a PBA – not Professional Bowlers Association – card behind it and my all my praying to the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut gods – mostly cashiers – finally paid off. I remember thinking to myself “wait until he gets a load of this!”

I went to move my right hand and I was paralyzed with fear. I don’t know why, to this day, that I couldn’t give him the card. I was given specific instructions to hand that card to ANY cop who would pull me over – I guess the person who gave it to me didn’t have much faith in my driving – and tell them “my Uncle is an NYPD officer.”

In my head everything went magically well after I handed him the card. The officer and I become quick friends, he shakes my hand and then gives me a small badge he carries around for little kids and I clip it to my shirt with pride. We then go get some milkshakes at the nearby McDonald’s and then off to the shooting range where I find out I’m a natural at killing paper.

I worked up the courage to pull the card out and when I looked up only a cloud in the shape of his body stood there, somehow I ended up in a cartoon.

Once he was done doing his thing he came back and handed me my citation. “Operating a vehicle without the use of a hands-free device.” At that moment I was trying to catch the light with the plastic window thing that covered the PBA card to draw his eye to it.

Nothing.

“Be safe,” was all he said to me and then he walked away.

I put my license back over my useless PBA card and then drove off. I arrived home and immediately scanned every inch of the ticket trying to find someway out of it. There were a lot of options on there. I could plead Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest which is really just pleading Guilty so I don’t know why that’s on there twice.

I collected all my money – which wasn’t a lot considering I worked at a bowling alley – and stormed out the front door and made my way to the courthouse. After about a half hour drive, I arrived to learn the courts aren’t a 24/7 operation.

WHAT AM I PAYING – a small amount – OF TAXES FOR?!?!?!

At that age I didn’t understand that the burden of proof was on the dang government so off I went – at the appropriate operating hours after that harsh lesson – to the courthouse to pay my ticket. I paid the fine and walked away with a clear conscience and wallet fully knowing that I would NEVER talk on the phone and drive again.

Every now and then I think about that day and wonder why my friend called me in the first place.

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