Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Speeding Tickets

My mother suggested I submit this e-mail as a post on Alone On a Limb. I do what my Mama says -- except in politics.

For many years I was able to brag that I had never gotten a speeding ticket. Alas, I lost my chance to beat (my sister) Joan's record. It was only after I was a daddy that I started getting speeding tickets. I think I have had a total of three at this point.

The first was here in Rome late in 1985. It was certainly deserved. I was hurrying, late to school, and was stopped for going 45 in a 30 MPH zone. The only thing memorable about that is that I goofed up and, in the midst of Christmas and New Year celebrations, let the deadline pass without paying the fine and so had to go to court, even though I was not contesting it. I remember the court date well because it happened to have been the day (my uncle) Jack Shaw died. Sheila was at work. I had to pick up Brannon from Kids' Stop (day care) and then with my young child go sit in the big county courtroom on the second floor of the 1890 Floyd County Courthouse with its scary gargoyles on every corner, and wait my turn to plead guilty while I dealt with the shock of my uncle's sudden and very premature death.

The courtroom was crowded with an assortment of seedy looking folk. Two-year-old Brannon sat in my lap on the second bench from the back as the court officers called one case after another. Public drunkenness. Driving under the influence. Brawling. My mind had wandered far from the courtroom when I was jolted by the calling of my name. "Guilty!" I said, much too loud, and leaving no doubt in the minds of any listener of the sincerity of my plea. The unshaven wizened old coot on the row behind leaned in at that point to ask what it was I was accused of.

I earned my second speeding ticket in North Carolina on an Interstate, on the way home from Sunset Beach or Topsail maybe. I was just going with the flow (75 or 80 probably) when a NC State trooper picked me out of a bevy of candidates. I knew I was speeding - like virtually all the cars ahead and behind me. I was ready to pay my debt to society. I held no ill will toward the officer: but I was curious. So while he was filling out the forms and my wife sat quietly at my side and my two angelic daughters observed the interrogation of their criminal father, I asked the question on my mind. I asked it pleasantly and in a tone of genuine curiosity and motivated solely by a wish to be educated on the topic: "How did you happen to choose to stop my car out of all the speeding cars today?"

My bride gasped in exasperation and uttered my name in a stage whisper. The policeman did not really answer my question, but my question was a topic of discussion in our automobile for a while. My wife should have known by that point that I have conducted more interviews than Larry King - I just don't get paid for them. Anytime I am thrown in with another human being, I ask questions. I have discovered that virtually everyone has an interesting story. I always want to know it. This is a trait that has resulted in unexpected friendships and entertaining information and interesting experiences. Unfortunately, I occasionally run into someone who interprets curiosity and friendliness as impertinence.

I was truly just curious to know how he happened to pick me. Would he stop the very next speeder he would see after ticketing me? Does he stop each tenth speeder? Did my out-of-state tag influence him?

The third time I was ticketed for speeding it was late one evening on Highway 27 somewhere in southwest Georgia. We were on our way home from Tallahassee. Brannon, Lillian, and Sheila were in the car. I was obviously guilty as sin. I asked no questions of the officer. I paid the 85 dollars, if not happily, at least without complaint, on time by mail. Even I am capable of learning from my mistakes.

Though I had not been given a speeding ticket till 1985, I had been stopped and given warnings several times, the most notable being the first time in about 1963.

I was coming home one night, I think alone, from Atlanta to Rome on Georgia 101 between Rockmart and Rome, when I saw the flashing light - I think they were red back then - behind me. The fervent prayer that immediately beamed heavenward from my brain was: "Please Lord, don't let that be Uncle Tom!"

I pulled to the shoulder, put the car in park, retrieved my license, and watched as my worst fears were realized in the rear-view mirror. I stepped from the car to face the music. Uncle Tom, who on my sixteenth birthday in March had presented me my driver's license, was writing a different presentation on a pad as he approached. As he lifted his eyes to the miscreant before him, I saw recognition enlarge those eyes and he exclaimed : "Terry Shaw!"

He let me go with a very effective warning. Any time for the next few years that I was tempted to speed in Northwest Georgia, I was convinced God would put Uncle Tom behind the next underpass.

I have been stopped a number of times, but have usually been sent on with a warning.

[6-21-08 -- The following paragraph has been edited slightly after talking with David Jones about his memories of this event.]

One evening my senior year in high school I turned onto Broad Street in the old Chevy coppertone nine passenger station wagon that we had bought new in 1960. It was five years old, frumpy, and should have been driven by a suburban Mama, not a cool high school senior. My friend, David Jones, was in the passenger seat. We had just been to an MYF event. David is a great guy who could do amazing things despite a significant handicap. He had been left dependent on heavy leg braces and crutches by a childhood attack of polio.

As we pulled up to the red light at Fourth Avenue another teen driven vehicle, a much sportier one ['56 Ford], pulled up beside us on the inside lane. The driver revved his engine in an obvious challenge to the yokel driving his Mama's station wagon. I grinned at David and said something to the effect that that jerk didn't know the old wagon had a mean V-8 under the hood. It was Sunday night. There were no other vehicles on Broad that I could see. Why not show this jerk a little something.

I revved the V-8. The light changed. Two accelerator petals were floored. I pulled past him, then slowed for the red light at Second Avenue. The 56 Ford turned left and I followed. And just behind us were flashing lights on the only other vehicle on Broad - one that I had somehow overlooked -- a motorcycle cop.

I richly deserved a ticket for my irresponsible behavior. The officer signaled us to stay put as he walked past to handle the other guy. David says he remembers the officer saying something like: "So it's you again, Wes." When he walked back to our car the officer informed me that he was going to take my license and the young man seated next to me would have to drive me home. David, bless his heart, showed off his leg braces and informed the officer that, though he could drive, the stodgy old station wagon was not suitably equipped.

At some point the officer, from embarrassment or mercy or divine intervention, decided I looked like maybe I'd learned my lesson, and if I'd promise to behave he'd let me off with a warning and not tell Charles Shaw or Raymond Jones -- both of whom he knew!

And there's more than you likely want to know about Terrell's criminal career.

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