One of the things my parents were very serious about teaching us as we grew up in Northern Wyoming was that it is okay to question authority, but you always respect authority, and you always respect the law. Good lesson.
I drive with a lead foot sometimes. Everyone who knows me knows this is true. Don’t get me wrong, I am a totally safe driver, but I don’t what it is – anything under 70 on the highway just feels really slow to me. The speed limit is the only law that I consistently break, even if it’s not by that wide of a margin (usually). I do still have a total respect for law enforcement though, probably moreso after having gone on some ridealongs and working directly with peace officers as a government worker.
All of that said, it didn’t surprise me that much when I was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol the other day during the morning commute. The motorcycle officer was playing a game I like to call “Dare You to Pass Me.” This is where the officer positions him or herself directly in front of a large group of cars with nothing but open road in front of the officer vehicle, and then drives exactly 2 mph over the posted speed limit. Dare you to pass me. Well, I made sure I was within the standard (in California) 5 – 10 mph “grace zone” and then passed him like he wasn’t there. This decision went over like the guest speaker at a William Shatner Poetry Festival.
So I pull in to a parking lot and am instructed to pull into a parking space and turn off my engine, which I immediately do. The officer comes to my window and immediately blurts out “Why did you pass me? How smart was that?” In the end, he gave me a verbal warning and I was on my way again. All in all, I have deserved worse tickets than 50 in a 40, and I got off with a warning anyway. Yay me.
And of course, the key here is respect – always show the officer the respect the badge deserves, and always say sir or ma’am. And to any teenage readers out there – never EVER run from the police. It is one of the stupidest things a person can ever do. And you will NOT get away with it – no one ever does. Well, almost no one.
WARNING: The following story is a true account of me making a moronic decision. Under NO circumstances should any person ever attempt to do something this stupid……
Spring 1987. In two months we would graduate. Dale and I were out cruising Main that Friday night, and we stopped at the Conoco station for some sodas and snacks. In the drinks case in the store there were these apple juice bottles that looked exactly like Miller High Life bottles at a glance. We decided it would be a riot to buy some and try to get pulled over by one of the town’s eight police cars for drinking apple juice. Remember that healthy respect for law enforcement I just told you I have? Guess what – that hadn’t developed in me yet, if you can’t tell.
So we go by every cop we see, just chugging these apple juice bottles until finally, inevitably, one of them pulls us over.
“Evening. You kids drinkin’ tonight?”
“Yes, officer – but it’s only apple juice, see? Would you like to try some to be sure?” We were so proud of ourselves at this moment – for what, I don’t know.
“Nope, looks like pee to me.”
We were trying not to laugh, trying, nearly in vain, to keep straight faces. That suddenly became much easier, as another patrol car pulled up behind the first, and the Sheriff’s Chevy Blazer blocked me in front, all with reds and blues flashing. I was ordered to shut off the engine, set the brake, and slowly get out of the vehicle. Dale was looking at me like “Dude, what the…….” and I suddenly wasn’t having fun anymore.
Seems that the Sheriff recognized my truck (in a town of 5,000 people this isn’t that hard) from the previous weekend and wanted to at least read me the riot act real good, which he did, and which I totally deserved. The incident in question had taken place late at night the previous Saturday night. There was this Junior underclassman I’ll call “Jimmy” who drove a truck a lot like mine but a different color, and we therefore had a friendly rivalry going between us – he would constantly rev his engine next to me at stop lights, and we might occasionally (if not legally) drag a block or two just to see who was fastest. It always seemed like the ante was constantly being upped between he and I, and this was probably mainly due to the fact our trucks were very evenly matched, so it always ended up being a close tie.
This is where we get to the part where you want to tell your kids – “See what this dude is talking about on this blog – don’t EVER do something this stupid or you’re grounded for life.” I’m just sayin.
County Road. Two lane road with a hairpin curve at the end. I came up behind Jimmy in my truck and then pulled alongside, lunging forward. His truck lunged forward, and for the first time we weren’t just doing a quick two-block side by side on Main, nope, this was the real deal. We were racing. (Did I mention that this is VERY VERY dangerous and VERY VERY stupid??? Just making sure.) I was ahead of Jimmy by half a truck length and we were hitting 95 mph. That’s when the red and blues lit us up. It occurred to my adrenaline fed mind that whoever won this race stood a decent chance of getting away since there was only one patrol car at the moment. So I jammed her into 3rd, floored it, and won. Jimmy had no choice but to pull over. I also had no choice but to pull over, but somehow, inexplicably, I decided not to. The officer had Jimmy stopped on the side of the road, obviously told him to wait there, and came after me. But I had the lead that I needed. I switched off the truck’s lights and steered her off the road into a corn field. The truck plodded easily through the corn as the sheriff deputy turned to follow. His car immediately bottomed out in the soft earth, and I continued through the corn until I came out on a one lane drive, which led to a friend’s house. I came to a gravel-spewing halt behind my friend’s house and had the truck shut off before it was completely stopped. Like David Jansen in the Fugitive, I knocked on my friend’s door hoping he’d be willing to aid and abet a wanted fugitive. He was. We had a beer and laughed about my brush with the law.
I didn’t tell my parents or any family member this story until just a few years ago. In the end, I got myself caught by taunting a police officer with an apple juice that looked like a beer – another extraordinarily BAD idea. When I did get caught, they couldn’t legally do anything about it unless I confessed, which I didn’t. They read me the riot act and made it clear to me that I was out of grace with the Police Department for a while. In the final analysis, the sheriff talked to my dad, my dad talked to my mom, and I found myself grounded and my keys taken away for a while.
Although at the time I was acting like a punk as teenagers will sometimes do, the department did the right thing under the circumstances by trying to scare me straight and then letting my parents handle it from there. As odd as it sounds, that incident and the way the Police Department handled it went a long ways toward helping to form the high regard I now have for law enforcement officers, who are putting their lives on the line daily to keep us all safe from sometimes even our own bad decisions.
Oh, and to the farmer on County Road whose corn I ran over that night – I’m really sorry. I hope I didn’t cause too much damage.
There’s this old country song – “You Can’t Outrun the Long Arm of the Law.” That’s true. When the motorcycle officer pulled me over the other day for doing 50 mph in a 40 mph zone, I smiled, and greeted him with a sort of apologetic respect. I knew that even if he wrote me a ticket that was fine, because there have been times when I really, really deserved one for much worse offenses. I wasn’t lucky that night in 1987 so much because I got away with doing something stupid – I was lucky because no one got hurt and I still (eventually) got caught and learned my lesson.