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Being Ticketed

by Dan Schultz

     The cop approaching my car looked young and unhappy. I held my license, registration, and insurance out of the window before he had a chance to ask for it.

     He offered an apologetic, pursed smile as if to convey, "I know this sucks, man. But if it makes you feel any better, I'm having a bad day myself."

     I relaxed every muscle in my face and maintained direct eye contact with him as he took the documents from my hand.

     "Are you aware you were driving forty-five miles per hour when the posted speed limit is thirty-five?"

     "Nope..."

     He broke off eye contact with me and ducked his head down to check out Joni. I followed his eyes sweeping the interior of the car until he moved his neck back and refocused on me. Clearing his throat, he arched an eyebrow inquisitively, puffed out his chest, and switched to a stern tone. "Is everything OK, sir?"

     I dropped my sweaty grip on the steering wheel and extended my hands open, palms up, let out an exasperated sigh, and rolled my eyes. "I can't imagine...," I mumbled.

     I could feel his face close to mine as he bent into the car again to ask Joni, specifically, if she was OK.

     Joni said, "Yes, it's just a little discouraging to get pulled over when we were already running late for an appointment."

     "Well, ma'am, you would be a lot later if you were to get into an accident. These speed limits are posted for a reason," he said, turning.

     As he marched back to his cruiser to check my records, I muttered, "And that reason would be so the state can legally rob people in easily herded groups when the state budget needs an infusion."

     Gripping the steering wheel, again, I took a deep breath, and in a controlled and monotone voice said, "Fucking thieves..."

     Joni let out another snort. "Unbelievable..."

     "Tell me about it. "

     "I was talking about you," Joni poked a finger into my ribs, "Retard."

     Flinching away from her poke and gibe and throwing her a contemptuous scowl I pressed my body into the door and jerkily rolled up the window. Jaw clenched and eyes closed tight, I rested the top of my head against the window and massaged my forehead. "What the fuck is taking this asshole so long?"

     "I wish you could see yourself right now?"

     I responded with enormous effort, "I know exactly how I look—irritated, disgusted, and pissed- off... I mean, what are you saying? You do recall how chipper I was when I came home from work this afternoon, don't you? And now some fascist lemming comes along, as I am on my way to a dinner with people I don't even like, and holds me up at gunpoint, on the lamest pretense that I was driving an-oh-my-god-call-out-the-fucking-tanks-we-might-want-to-consider-dropping-a-bomb-on-the-area horrific crime of driving ten-miles-an-hour over the speed limit, to, essentially, make it that I had to deal with all of that drama at work today for free! You are saying, what? That I should be jumping for joy right now?" I reached over to scoop out the contents of the cup holder we used as a change bowl and junk drawer. "Maybe I should offer him these two sticks of gum and an extra..." I started counting out the coins in my hand.

     "Ha-ha... You could take your comedy routine on the road if you—"

     "Here's an extra dollar and twenty-seven cents and some Dentyne for your troubles, officer. And, if you happen to have some time after work tonight, maybe you would swing by my house so I could suck your—"

     "Excuse me." Joni tilted her head and gave me that look that said she was just playing at being stern. "Could you, please, extend me the tiniest bit of courtesy to allow me to finish what I was—"

     "OK... Fine... Whatever..."

     Stifling a broader smile she narrowed her eyes. "As I was saying... You could take your comedy routine on the road, if you weren't pulled over."

     "And you're going to call me the comedian?"

     A mist of spit settled on the dashboard after the dam of Joni's compressed lips cracked with a burst of her laughter. "Seriously... You really should just look at yourself in the rearview mirror. Maybe it will brighten your day?"

     "I'm glad you find all of this so funny." I closed my eyes and let my head rest against the window again. There was no place left to look that did not engender my scorn.

     Joni was quiet for a few seconds then let go with another burst of laughter.

     Eyes still closed, I shook my head. "Laugh it up while you can, because this show is costing us one hundred and fifty dollars."

     I could feel Joni sitting up and adjusting her posture and hear her steadying her breathing.

     "I know what's coming. This isn't debate club, you know?" I opened an eye and peered over at her. Her jaw was clenched, hands folded on her lap, eyes straight forward. "This is the real world. I mean, what if—"

     She was in the middle of taking a big composing breath when she let out the biggest laugh of all. Wiping the tears away from her eyes her body convulsed with laughter. "I'm sorry. Really... I know you had a bad day. It's just..." She looked over at me and started laughing uncontrollably again.

     Grinding my teeth I pulled myself by the steering wheel and squinted at the cruiser our cop had disappeared inside of. "You know what? Whenever this prick decides to stop wasting my time along with my money I am turning this car around to drive home, below the sacred speed limit, and you can go to dinner yourself."

     A few straggling giggles escaping from Joni, she sat up and lightly put her hand over mine on the steering wheel. "Look. I just don't understand why you take this stuff serious—"

     I withdrew my hand from underneath hers. "As I was saying, what if this had been my rent money for the week?"

     Joni flopped back into her seat. "But it's not."

     "But what if it was?"

     "Yeah... I heard you the first time. And my answer was, 'But it's not.'"

     I sighed. "You know what I mean. Look at that lady over there." I pointed at the other driver forced to pull-over, too, a woman who had been sobbing, now nursing a baby and shading her eyes from the sun as she leaned her head out of the window, I imagined, to see what the hell was taking her cop so long, too. "What if she works as a maid, and this is all the money she has for—"

     "What? Because she has brown skin she has to be a maid? What if she's a neurosurgeon? What if you weren't a racist? What if—"

     "I'm sure most brain surgeons are driving around in rusty, bumper-less, fifteen-year-old minivans with an advertisement for Merry Maids cleaning service painted on the back."

     "Well, what if you were diagnosed with having an inoperable brain tumor today?"

     "I'd call 1-800-MRY-MAID for a second opinion."

     "Be serious."

     "Now she wants to be serious. Fine... 'What would I do if I found out I had an inoperable brain tumor today? I don't know. I'd be pissed off. I'd cry. I don't fucking know... I don't fucking know what this has to do with me being pissed off about getting a speeding ticket, either."

     "And there is a kid starving to death somewhere right now. And some person is serving a life sentence in prison for a crime he didn't commit, and..." Joni squinted through the window. "What did happen to that cop? There isn't a warrant out on you that you didn't tell me about, is there? Or some old—"

     "Are you joking? 'A warrant?' Since when do I—"

     "You know? From when you were younger or something? Maybe they didn't expunge some record the right way or something. Do you know what happened to the lip balm I was keeping in the cup holder?" Joni bent forward and swept her hand underneath her seat.

     I took a deep breath. "Is it just me or am I losing my mind right here and now?"

     Joni looked up from the floor. "You done lost that a long time ago." Then she went right back to her search.

     "Well, I guess I don't have to worry about that brain tumor anymore then, huh? Look... Can we just take this one step at a time? First, your answer to my asking, 'What if this fine was going to be my week's rent,’ is to ask me, 'What would I do if I had a brain tumor?’ Then, when I answer you, you say some non sequitur about people wrongfully serving life sentences and starving kids? And then you ask me if I have any outstanding warrants? As if I am some sort of gangs—"

     Joni sat upright. "Them's the breaks."

     "’Them's the breaks?' What is that supposed to mean?"

     "It means, shit happens. That's life. Them's the breaks."

     "There's the wisdom of the ages for you. It's all clear now. What are you supposed to be, some kind of bumper sticker quoting, Zen master, streetwise ragamuffin, from the nineteen-twenties?"

     "Oh, look... He's finally coming." Joni pulled her seatbelt over her shoulder and snapped it closed.

     The cop rapped on the window. As I rolled down the window, he held my license and registration and proof of insurance out to me. "I apologize about the wait, sir. Ma'am... We are having a little trouble with our computer systems."

     I took the documents from his hands. "No problem... Thanks..."

     The cop smiled. "You have thirty days to respond to the charges. You are free to go now. Drive safely."

     Joni got out her cell phone. "I'm going to call Carolyn and Will to let them know we are going to be late."

     Groaning, I rolled up the window.

     "What's wrong? Is the fine more than one-fifty?"

     I turned the keys in the ignition as if the motion were sapping me of all of my strength. "I don't have a clue. I didn't even look at the ticket."

     "So what's the problem?"

     "I can't believe I said, 'No problem.' And then thanked him, on top of it."

     Joni had her phone up to her ear. "That was weird."

     Carefully making a U-turn, I pulled up to the edge of the parking lot. "What was weird?"

     "You acting sensibly for a change... I could hardly believe it myself. It's about time, if you ask— Oh, hey, Carolyn... Joni... Yeah, we got pulled over for speeding, so we're running a little late. I know..."

     "It wasn't weird. It was involuntary," I muttered to myself as I put on my right turn signal and pulled out into the traffic.


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