2006.05.17 Driving in the Fast Lane

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY 

On the way to Cincinnati to pick up my daughter Rozee a couple weeks ago, I got caught in a traffic jam north of Dayton. There’s nothing worse than driving alone and getting stuck in traffic, especially with the bad omen of traffic coming to a standstill at Exit 57.

Fifty-seven is a problematic number for me. Whenever I can’t balance my checkbook, 57 is always involved. Whenever I have to return a purchase, 57 will be part of the receipt total. When I’m adding a string of numbers and the double check doesn’t work, a 57 is somehow involved.

There is always a hitch in my life when that number appears, and I groan loudly, both inwardly and out. But usually, things end up turning out OK after the initial blast of badness and time spent resolving the problem. It takes me a while to remember that, so I usually stew and moan until I realize that the silver lining is sure to appear.

So, even though I wasn’t accompanied by my daughters and their stuck-in-traffic CD featuring songs such as Barbra Streisand’s version of “Jingle Bells” and Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back” played at high volume, I eventually realized that all would be well. And it was—I was stuck there so long I didn’t have to drive through Cincinnati and meet Rozee and her boyfriend on the other side of the Ohio River. (In cell phone conversations before the traffic jam, we had decided that since I was making good time and they were running late, we should revise our meeting location.)

But beyond the good fortune of not having to drive through Cincinnati during rush hour, the traffic jam provided me with time to think and wonder. Wonder why every time I changed lanes when traffic began to move, the lane I changed to would immediately come to a standstill and the car ahead of me would have a license plate with the number 57 in it. I took it as a sign—don’t be in such a hurry. Remember that slow and steady wins the race.

I wish I could remember that adage when I am speeding on I-75. I have had two tickets in my life and they remain two of the most unpleasant occasions in my memory. Breaking the law is bad enough, but breaking the law in front of your kids is even worse. I deserved the second ticket. I purposely chose the Gorman Road way home so I could drive fast and avoid the open house traffic at Jesse Bach’s house on Weston Road.

But the first ticket was for an offense I’m sure I did not commit: driving 60 in a 45 zone on M-34 after Sand Creek Highway. I was on a noble mission—making copies of announcements for the next series of La Leche League meetings—and I was going 55 in what I thought was still a 55 zone. But I had recently listened to a radio program in which a speaker advised turning down the radio and listed the items you must have when stopped by the police.

So when I was pulled over I turned off the radio, fiddled through the glove compartment for my proof of insurance and registration and flipped through my wallet for my license. When the officer appeared at my window, I handed him the information. Only later did I realize that I must have seemed like a seasoned offender. What could he do but give me a ticket?

My husband has never gotten a ticket and neither have two out of three of my children. Rozee was driving her boyfriend to the airport, anxious to arrive on time when she was pulled over on I-75 for going 15 mph over the speed limit.

The first time I asked Ben if he’d ever gotten a ticket, he said no.

But last night when I asked, he said, “No, but I got pulled over once.”

“For what?” I asked.

“Going 15 over.”

He had recently returned from Europe—three months of not driving—and was on Abbott Road in East Lansing. The speed limit is 25 mph on one stretch of Abbott and 35 on another.

“Do you know what the speed limit is?” the officer asked Ben.

“I guessed 25,” Ben told me, but he wasn’t sure.

“The officer said, ‘Very good. Is there any reason you were going FORTY?’”

“He really barked it at me,” said Ben.

“I said, ‘No,’ and he ran my plates and license and told me to pay attention in the future.”

“That’s not fair!” said Rozee when I repeated Ben’s story.

“The officer didn’t ask me a single question at all!” she complained. “He told me he had me clocked at 80, took my license and registration and came back with a ticket.”

Rozee and I are perplexed in the ways of the police and their ticket-giving habits. She has blonde-haired blue-eyed cousins who get stopped, but never get tickets. She has friends who get pulled over, but never cited.

I’d kind of like to know the ins and outs of ticket writing, how people talk their way out of them, what you should and shouldn’t say, why the process, as Rozee claims, isn’t fair.

But I really think I’d be much better off if I encountered more traffic jams.

  - May, 17, 2006

 

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