Friday, April 16, 2010

Driving Miss Beanie

In the past I have had a reputation, probably well deserved, for being an aggressive driver.  I used to drive everywhere at fifteen to twenty miles above the speed limit.  I would slice through freeway traffic like a ginsu, with little patience for anyone who wouldn't keep up with traffic.  Stop signs were more of a suggestion than an imperative.  Saying "stop" in your head as you execute a rolling stop to check for cross traffic is just as good as actual cessation of vehicular motion, right?

I once spent an hour crossing an empty stretch of desert in Southern California tailing a fellow speed freak, never dropping below 100 mph.  It was exhilarating.  One would think that this penchant for speed would have endangered my driving license or insurance rates, but I led a charmed life.  My ratio of traffic stops to traffic tickets is at least 3-to-1.  I must look innocent or something.

There was the time I was stopped for driving over 90 in a 65 - by a plain-clothes detective.  I was on the wide eight lane bridge that crosses from Washington into Oregon, then part of my daily journey into work.  This was years ago and at the time that bridge was generally empty, even on the morning commute, and I just stepped on the gas and let her rip.  I must have blasted past the unmarked cruiser at some point, because I looked in my mirror and saw a red sedan flashing lights embedded behind its grill and pulled over sheepishly.  The detective walked up, dressed in a suit with a badge on his belt.

"Do you mind telling me what you were doing going that fast?" he barked, "I had to go over 100 just to catch up with you!"

"I'm late for work," I offered, with that little upward lilt that turns a statement into a question.

"You'd better slow down if you want to make it there alive!" he said and turned on his heel to march back to his car.

I just sat there, stunned, unsure what was going to happen next, because if I'm honest, I could possibly have been arrested for reckless driving.  Then he got into his car, fired it up and pulled out onto the freeway.  He didn't even ask for my license. My theory - either the vaunted detective didn't want to do the paperwork on a lowly traffic stop, or maybe I had skated by on a jurisdiction issue by crossing the state line, Dukes of Hazzard style.

My most recent encounter happened when an accident shut down the freeway during the morning commute, pushing me and everyone else onto nearby surface streets.  Traffic lights were overwhelmed, causing gridlock.  Near the end of an hour-long journey that usually takes less than 20 minutes, I had already waited through a left-turn stoplight signal twice.  As I crawled up on the third green cycle, it turned yellow, then red right as I reached the crosswalk.  I hesitated briefly, then figured if I stayed stuck to the bumper of the car in front of me, I could get through the intersection before the stopped cars on the other side started rolling.

As soon as I made the turn, I heard a siren burst, and noticed that the car stuck in traffic behind me - a fully marked and obvious police cruiser - was quite reasonably pulling me over.  I sat on the side of the road within sight of my office building.  I had my license and registration out and ready to go as the young officer approached the car.  "That light was red when you went through the intersection, ma'am," he said, not unkindly.

"Yeah, I know, but I've been stuck at these stoplights for SO long, and I work RIGHT THERE, and I just wanted to FINALLY get there."  I shut up then, because the first rule of traffic stops is to never actually admit you know that you did anything wrong, and I had just broken it.

"You knew I was behind you, right?" he asked.

"Nope... preehh-ty sure I wouldn't have done it if I had known that," I admitted.  And here the officer actually laughed out loud.  He told me he was going to go run my license.  Walking back to the car a few minutes later, he said, "You have a clean driving record [response in my head: mwa-ha-ha-ha], and I understand your frustration, so I'm not going to ticket you.  Just be more careful in the future."  How awesome is that?!

I've mellowed a lot in my old age.  On the country roads around my house, we have seen quite a few really bad accidents - one fatal - in the three years we've lived here, so I tend to drive very carefully and never exceed the speed limit (55)... not because I'm a law abiding citizen, but because I'm now aware of my own mortality and realize it's not actually safe to blast around blind corners at excessive speeds when tractors or school buses or little old ladies in Buicks or god-knows-what-else could be hidden around the bend.

On the freeway, I would love to let my inner speed demon free, but find that my concern for the legal consequences makes me excessively nervous when I do so.  If I do get up to 20 mph over the limit (which happens occasionally as I clear one of those annoying drivers going slow in the fast lane - still a major pet peeve), adrenaline starts pumping - not because I'm scared of speed, but because I'm worried I'll be pulled over and I think I may have exhausted my nine lives for escaping traffic citations.  And I am not a fan of adrenaline.

Sigh.  So my speed demon days are behind me.  Someday, I would love to go to Germany and drive the Autobahn where I could speed with impunity.  You know, just to prove I've still got it.

Photo by Julien Tromeur

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