- by Michael
Dave Barry once said that the unifying force among Americans
is that, “regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic
background … deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” In my case, however, this is
Now, I’m not a particularly safe
driver – speed limits are
more like suggestions, or minimum acceptable velocities, for the most part. And
I’m certainly not a “defensive driver” – I don’t like the term “aggressive,”
though. I’m simply “assertive.” If my turn signal is on, for instance, it is
not a request. It is an announcement of intent. Deal with it.
But what I’m actually really good at doing is avoiding the
blue lights. Yes, I’ll go 85 in a 70, but I have to know my terrain, know where
the likely hiding spots are, and so forth, and I adjust accordingly whenever
there’s a likely ambush spot around the bend. As a result, I’ve been pulled
over once in the last six years.
And that once was actually because
I was paying attention.
It was about a year before the wedding, and Joanie and I
were on our way home from dinner with friends. There’s a highway in Waco where
the speed limit bounces back and forth between 45 and 60, and as we traveled
down the road a pair of headlights came up behind us and just perched on our
“Michael, I think that’s a cop.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right. The speed limit’s about to
change again, I think, he’s trying to bait me into speeding.” (This was
punctuated by an unkind sentiment on the assumed police officer’s presumed parentage.)
“I’ll just stick to 45, that way I’m definitely going at or under the limit, he’ll
get bored, and -
oh, nope, nope, he’s turned his lights
And when the Texas state patrolman got up to my window, do
you know what he said to me?
“Speed limit’s 60 here, son. Any reason you’re going so
Now, I am no criminologist. But usually one hears of people
being accosted for breaking laws, not for obeying them to excess.
At any rate, I replied, “Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure
if the speed limit was 45 or 60 here – it changes, you know – and I was
sure that you were an officer, and
felt like I should be careful to obey the speed limit because, no offense, I
didn’t really want to get pulled over.” All with a good ol’ Alabama smile that
looks sweet but actually means “You’re on, under, around, and through my last
His follow-up question, however, defined the evening.
“Have you been drinking tonight?”
Now to me, “have you been drinking” is a pretty vague
question. Do you mean “Have you consumed any alcohol whatsoever on this
evening?” Do you mean “Did you just leave that seedy bar called ‘Crying Shame’
after having consumed roughly the annual hops output of Bavaria?” Be specific!
I told him the truth: “I had a splash of Bailey’s in some
coffee about three hours ago, but otherwise nope.”
And because he’s Officer Reasonable, he says, “Get out of
the car, please.”
To be completely clear, I was at no time during the ensuing
exercise even slightly afraid that I would be found guilty of driving under the
influence. I was quite serious about my consumption: I’d had a little bit o’the
Irish several hours previously, and nothing else, as I knew I’d be driving
home. The moment I stepped out of the car I knew I could either take umbrage at
this officious jerk who was clearly looking to fill a quota or I could smile,
go along for the ride, and rub salt in it when he was forced to concede that I
was sober as a judge. (Or more sober, depending on the judge.)
I walked a thin white line – then volunteered to do so
backwards. He was not impressed.
I stretched my arms out wide and swung my hands inward to
touch my nose, which I accomplished with Olympic-level precision, then asked if
he would like me to touch some other part of my face, or perhaps do the Funky
Chicken or the Sprinkler. He ignored me.
I recited my alphabet, and when I got to the end, told him
in no uncertain terms that under no chemical circumstances whatsoever could I
recite it backwards, and that he would have to do it with me if he wanted me to
give it a shot.
By this point he was visibly frustrated. Luckily for me, by
this point his mandatory backup observance unit had arrived, and the other officer
was leaning on my Buick talking to Joanie. From what I gather, their
conversation went something like this:
“Not even close. But he’s getting a laugh out of it.”
“Yeah, that’s good. Better than being aggressive about it.”
“Hey, can I take a field sobriety test? I’ve never done one.”
“Ma’am, I don’t think that’s really – ”
“Hey! Officer!” (She was now leaning out the window during
my alphabet recitation.) “Can I take the test, too? Please? Oh, come on, I’ve
never done one before!”
After a couple more tests, including standing on one leg and
reciting the pledge of allegiance while doing so (yes, it felt like I was
trying to gain entrance into a fraternity), the officer who’d pulled me over
was forced to conclude that I was, in fact, not inebriated. He told me through
gritted teeth that he was satisfied that I could go, and then had the gall to
add, “Now, I want you to please drive safely.”
Nevermind that I had been going fifteen miles under the
speed limit. I needed to drive safely
I put my big ol’ Alabama grin back on and shook his hand,
thanked him for his service to our community, told him that it felt great to
have such conscientious officers of the law out there doing their bit to
protect us citizens, assured him that there were no hard feelings, and in
general kept the handshake going long past the point of polite conversation.
Through it all, he kept an impassive face, but I could tell from his eyes that
he had really
been hoping to trip me
up and get one ticket closer to his monthly total.
Joanie waved a cheery goodbye to the amused backup officer
as I slid into the driver’s seat. “All good?” she asked.
“Yes indeed. But once we get home,” I started the car, “I
need a drink.”