I hadn't been playing necessarily a conservative driver, but a generally cautious driver. And over the course of so many hours driving so high over the speed limit, I was doing pretty well during car rental week. Jen and I were traveling back from Northeastern Oklahoma. We left early in the morning, but because I goofed on the alarm, not as early as I wanted. And then we had to stop for gas. And then we had to stop because the sun was beginning to rise but I had neglected to wipe the windshield from its plaque of once-flying bugs. And then there was breakfast.
So, I wanted to get the mess out of MO. I had forgotten, though, that the mini-town we were doing business in is considered a speed zone (one of the few on I-44, fortunately) and that I need to be even more careful. Further, the sun was directly in front, obscuring my front view to the left. I didn't see patrol man until we were about a hundred and fifty feet from him.
I did what we all do in that situation. Hit the brakes and pray that the Man in blue is slow. I remembered that the town is a speed zone and so I maintain at 60 in the right lane. I look as much through my rear-view as I do straight ahead. I nudge Jennie and try to reawaken her.
"Honey, I think you need to get up."
"Huh? What? Already?"
"Yeah," I say slowly, as if I was practicing being careful with my words. In Chicago, you learn one thing. Be very careful with your words and tone talking to cops. It's something that I try to teach my suburban friends. But they don't listen.
He's pulling out of the median. He jaunts down the road, then speeds up a bit behind me. Then flashes.
"Honey, it's time to get up."
"No, seriously. I'm getting pulled over."
A slow, careful turn over. Stop the engine. Keys out. Reach for my wallet and ID. It's a rental, but I'm wary of reaching over at the glove compartment around police.
"Good morning sir."
"Good morning officer."
"I suppose you know why I pulled you over."
"Yes, sir. For speeding."
"Do you know how fast you were driving?"
"Take a guess."
"Umm... [Pause] Five over?"
"Hmm... Five over 83, probably."
This is one of those rare encounters where what the officer relates to me is - while hardly an earth-shattering one - is a little revelation. I really didn't know how fast I was driving. And since he most likely clocked me before I even saw him, I doubt I was traveling faster - well, during this min-leg of the trip. The Will Rogers Turnpike is a different story.
"Sir, I'll ask you to leave your car and come back to the patrol car. And be careful on your way out, so that you're not hit by any cars."
He asks me to enter in through the passenger front seat. That - as far as I could tell - is a good sign. The lieutenant checks over my information on his network.
"Your car is an '07 model. I didn't even think they came out with those yet. Must be really nice, huh?"
"Mmmm... [How do I answer this tactfully?] I don't really care too much for it." That wasn't the most tactful answer.
Behind me is a grate with a little opening in the middle. I'm careful not to be too curious, but the stench and low grunts coming from the back aren't in the least reassuring. I'm hoping it's a dog.
"Oh, by the way, this is a K-9 unit."
"Yeah, I was hoping you'd say that."
"You seem kind of nervous."
"You don't get pulled over much, do you?"
"No. It's been a while," and, I add, "I'm from Chicago." I pause. Should I have said that? I started wondering how far south the loyalty lines are drawn for cops. I would've turned up clean had he sic'ed the dog on my car of course. But it doesn't always work that way.
"Well, here's the deal. A ticket for speeding at your speed would amount to $250 [Crap!]. But, you know what, when you were coming down that hill, you were moving so fast and in that sunlight with the glare and all, I couldn't tell if you had your seat belt on."
Well, that's one thing I know I had. "No, I did." For once, I was sure of something. I didn't want to over-step my bounds in saying it, but I didn't need to get charged with something I didn't do. After all, although I do speed, I'm not reckless about it.
"No, wait, hear me out here. A seat belt ticket is ten dollars in the state of Missouri. Now, you can either accept the speeding ticket, or you can get the seat-belt infraction."
My conscience was chewing me up at this point. And if I took the bait, who knows what else would be sprung on me? Did he forget to mention the 'night-in-jail' clause?
"I can't lie..."
"Listen, let me make this perfectly clear here," he seems exasperated at my slow mental state. "It's either pay ten dollars for not wearing your seat belt or pay $250 for going over the speed limit. Now, I'm going to ask you one more time, were you wearing your seat belt, sir?"
I swallowed hard. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
"No sir. I'm afraid I was not wearing a seat belt," I phrased low and monotonously, old dog smell seemingly carrying my words to the lieutenant.
He made out the ticket, said the usual small-town cop-friendly stuff ("You're on your way home? Who were you visiting? It's not worth dying over..." something along those lines) and let me go, with another injunction to be careful entering my car. I legitimately thanked him - hey, it's a reduction of 240 dollars and keeps my driver's license fairly clear - and headed out.
Jen was all smiles when I returned.
"I saw you through the rear-view."
"Yeah, thank you. That's a comfort."
"You're so cute when you're in trouble, you know that? 'Ummm... Five over?'"
"Ha. Ha. Ha. You were just waking up!"
I re-organize the papers, ID, etc. As genuinely nice as he is, I'm in no hurry to be escorted down the interstate with the lieutenant behind me. Fortunately, a Mack hurries just to our left. The K-9 unit tracks him down. We carefully pull into the road and head out.
"'Ummm... Five over?'"
"Thanks, Jennie. Thanks."