In Las Vegas (1980), I was pulled over for a routine traffic violation.
I moved too quickly for my credentials and the cop shouted, "Stop!"
I turned around and found his service revolver an inch from my temple. After a sigh of relief by both of us, all my paperwork checked-out. He maintained his tough-guy stance but, he did let me slide. I guess he recognized how closely we (me), escaped disaster.
Ten years ago, I told that story to a police officer friend. He said once you are pulled-over for a routine traffic stop...you want everything to be...routine. To further assure that the situation is handled smoothly, he suggested keeping both hands on the top of the steering wheel. When the officer approaches, avoid sudden movements and speak politely. At night, the dome light should be flicked on.
Assuming you don't feel that you are being profiled or unjustly stopped, this simple gesture implies that you are no threat. It signals to the police that you want to make the distasteful procedure safe, easy and quick for both parties. My friend went on to say that there is a chance that the officer might be more lenient by your sensitivity to his risks and danger potential.
Of course, you never know the mindset of a policeman. He might be a jerk or having a bad day or going through personal problems. I have been lucky down through the years because I have heard horror stories. I'm proud to say, I have no horror stories. In fact, I have had so few moving violations that I bet I remember just about all of them. Today we'll concentrate on the first and last.
My first ticket was when I was eighteen. I was threatened by my folks into volunteering to drive my paternal grandmother each spring, to and from, a hotel in Ellenville New York. The first few times, my mom kept me company. Her job included alerting me to short-cuts and speed-traps. The two main speed-traps were in the tiny towns Sloatsburg and Tuxedo New York.
TUXEDO NEW YORK IS IN ORANGE COUNTY NEAR THE NEW JERSEY BORDER. THE TOWN GETS ITS NAME FROM "TUCSETO," THE LENNI-LENAPE INDIAN NAME FOR BEAR LAKE. IN 1886, JAMES POTTER GOT AN IDEA FOR AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE WHITE-TIE STYLE OF FORMAL DRESS AFTER VISITING ENGLAND. HE CAME TO A SWANKY DINNER PARTY IN TUXEDO WEARING A SHORT SMOKING JACKET. OTHER MEN COPIED HIM AND EVENTUALLY IT WAS NAMED A TUXEDO.
The necessity of mom's expertise always came into focus when she reminded me where to slow down. Inevitably, we'd pass someone being ticketed. So it was an accomplishment to never get caught speeding there.
On one of those trips (c. 1973), we were cruising home through the Bronx. When we reached the Triborough Bridge, (it links the Bronx to both Manhattan and Queens), we hit a major traffic back-up. I was inexperienced, (mom never learned to drive), so I thought I was really cool by flying by hundreds of vehicles in the vacant right lane that channeled cars onto Wards Island. When I tucked back into the bridge traffic, I crossed a double-solid line. An officer on foot was hidden behind an abutment waiting for drivers to make that illegal move.
THE TRIBOROUGH WAS RENAMED THE ROBERT F. KENNEDY BRIDGE ON NOVEMBER 19, 2008.
The officer used his finger like a gun and pointed me in an intimidating manner to the shoulder. I'll never forget, his name tag read, M. McKinley. He asked for my ID, shushed me when I tried to defend my actions and issued my summons without uttering an unnecessary word.
My last brush with the law was in 2005. We had just bought a new Honda and decided to break it in with a test-drive to Virginia. From here in South Jersey, a GPS would send you west on the Atlantic City Expressway, to I-295 south, to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and then to I-95. I never go that way. I think its better to take Route-40, the back road scenic route through megalopolises like Newfield, Mizpah, Franklinville and Elmer.
My memory of the speed-traps in Sloatsburg and Tuxedo kept me mindful of how small towns supplement the coffers in their community chest. So I'm always careful of the speed limits. The town of Woodstown is the last red flag. After slowing down there, its wide open unincorporated farmland to the Jersey border, through Cowtown and Pennsville to the last burg, Carneys Point.
In the shadow of the Delaware Bridge with no signs of a city, village or hamlet in sight, I had few cars to compete with. It was mid-morning and our spirits were high. Suddenly, in the rear view mirror, I noticed a police cruiser. Instinctively, I let up on the accelerator and noticed that I was doing 60 in a 55. I wasn't worried. Within seconds, the police car neared and the rack-lights on his roof were activated. I thought he was going after someone else so I moved over a little, to let him pass as I slowed down . But he wasn't chasing anyone but me.
VIEWING THE DELAWARE MEMORIAL BRIDGE FROM BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN CARNEYS POINT.
I stopped and assumed the position my cop friend suggested with both hands on top of my steering wheel. I greeted the overweight, Carneys Point sergeant through his mirrored sunglasses and pleasantly asked, "What's the problem sir?"
Impatiently he said, "License, registration and insurance!"
To avoid further upsetting him, I gathered my papers and asked, "Why did you stop me?"
"Sixty-one in a forty-five."
"No it was a 55..." He used rudeness as a force-field to support his authority and interrupted, "Son, it was a 45." "Huh? Hey, uh sir, I was just keeping up with traffic..."
"Be quiet! Or I'll also cite you for failing to pull-over for a half-mile!"
Despite being polite and non-threatening, I was treated coarsely and received a ticket for $105.00. I didn't like it but I got caught in a speed-trap and saw no other recourse but to pay.
When I got home, I re-read the ticket. That doughnut-chomping weasel-cop stuck it to me. That one extra mile per hour (61 rather 60), over the limit added $20.00 to my fine. I was seething because I knew it was intentional.
I wanted to forget the ordeal as soon as possible. That's when my eye caught the phrase; save a stamp, pay on-line. So I plodded through several personal information screens. On the last page, I accepted my responsibility and pleaded guilty. However, the one thing that pissed me off all over again was at the bottom, in the field next to the "send" link. It read; I accept a $3.00 computer processing fee. What sneaky, petty bastards! After schtupping me for an extra twenty and unnecessarily stealing ten minutes of my private time under the guise of saving me a 37-cent stamp, they rammed the joy of E-PAYING, up my...umm, a...nose!I'M POSITIVE THE "DUKE" WOULD HAVE STAMPEDED A HERD OF LONG-HORNS THROUGH MAIN STREET OR FOUGHT TO HIS DEATH BEFORE BEING HOOD-WINKED INTO PAYING THAT $3.00. I DIDN'T. I GUESS THAT MEANS IF I WAS IN HIS SHOES, I WOULD HAVE KEPT THE NAME MARION MORRISON AND NEVER LEFT IOWA.
When I go that way, I still drive the back roads of Route-40...but a lot slower. And while I'm puttering around, I often wonder if John Wayne ever had a real gun put to his head !