It had been been awhile. Ten years since I’d gotten a ticket. Now the bubble has been busted, and the streak is over.
I was heading east on 58 near Weedpatch Highway. I had that leaving-town feeling. That heading-for-the-mountains exuberance.
Naturally I wanted to share that exuberance with a friend. Exuberance that required a phone call. Exuberance that had me putting the phone on speaker because I’m too savvy to hold the phone up to my ear.
I held the phone in my right hand, the phone even with the bottom of the window, high enough where the CHP who pulled up beside me could see it.
This is not a phone, it’s a slim, dark rectangular thing that looks like a phone but isn’t.
When the officer looked over, I zipped it up. I was never talking on the phone. I am incapable of speech. I’m almost a mute.
He gave me that look. That I’m-not-buying-it look. That I-got-you look.
He slowed down, fell back, changed lanes to the lane in which I was driving, and turned on his flashing lights.
If hope didn’t spring eternal, it hadn’t died either. He probably wants the guy ahead of me. The guy who was going 80. The guy who would soon be going 90 because the fuzz wasn’t there.
“Don’t pull over close to the on-ramp,” he bellowed over his loudspeaker, when I started to move right.
He pulled up behind me, stopped, got out of his car and walked to the passenger side window.
“You were talking on the phone,” he said.
I wasn’t talking, I was sharing my exuberance. I was leaving town without a care in the world, and now I had a care.
He asked for my license, which I had already removed from my wallet, and the registration, which I had fished out of the glove compartment in order to be Mr. Cooperative.
I decided to go with a charm offensive. Cooperative and charming. I gave him a smile that I hoped would change his life. The kind of smile that makes a man go to divinity school and forgo law enforcement.
Charming notwithstanding, I had the sense I might have been his first collar. The officer was relaxed but professional. He wanted to do his job. Could I get mad at somebody wanting to execute his responsibilities?
He walked back to his car. Maybe he’d give me a warning. Sometimes they do that. Give you a warning and tear up the ticket like you're old friends.
A few minutes later he walked back, carrying his book. That wasn’t a good sign. The book would soon mean “Abandon all hope, ye who sign here.”
I signed. Continuing a charm offensive that now had no practical value, I thanked him as if he had given me tickets to the Rodney Crowell concert.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the state budget deficit. Thank you for lightening my wallet. Thank you for reminding me that the charm offensive may not be what it once was.
He waved as he went by. I waved back. We were friends, yet we might never see each other again.
Having been the subject of a rout, I became philosophical. How many times had I talked on the phone in the car? How many times had I shared my exuberance and gotten away with it?
Not only was this justice, but I had been running short of things to write about. One ticket — one column, and maybe a second one when I go to traffic court and unleash "Charm Offensive: The Sequel."