My father-in-law John is one heck of a guy. He’s told me that himself. And if he hadn’t, his wife, Bev, known by appreciative family members as the saint, would confirm it.

Recently, it was Bev’s 89th birthday and “one heck of a guy” wanted to do something nice for her. This is not to suggest he doesn’t do something nice for her every day because he does. He makes her laugh and then you have to count the sheer pleasure of being married to him for 68 years, a privilege that cannot be underestimated.

John and Bev have grown to like Little Italy, which in addition to having good food, is close to their home in a senior gated community in southwest Bakersfield. Lunch sounded just like the birthday ticket and lunch it was.

Good plan but the plan went south as good plans sometimes do. They were either heading east on Stockdale Highway or north on Gosford Road toward the restaurant located in the Trader Joe’s center, which is at the corner of Stockdale and Coffee/Gosford.

When John told me the story, he detailed his route. I acted like I was listening but I wasn’t because I really didn’t care. I nodded like I cared but that’s sort of a typical son-in-law response. Nod all the way to pouring yourself a cold beer.

The point was he ran the light at the intersection of Stockdale and Gosford and was photographed by a traffic camera, proof of which arrived in the mail a couple weeks later.

“Here I was taking Bev to lunch on her birthday and I get a ticket,” he said, by way of trying to raise the general level of sympathy among the family members with whom he was dining.

“Look at this photo,” he said. “It’s blurry and you can’t really see the light or the car.”

Is the photo blurry or is it your 91-year-old eyesight? The picture looks pretty good to me. It looks like it was taken by Ansel Adams.

Blurry or not, he had a decision to make: Pay the ticket or go to court to contest it.

“I think I have a good case if I go to court,” he said. “I’d tell the judge that I was taking my wife to lunch on her birthday.”

I know that defense. It’s called the “I’m a heck of a guy” defense. I know it because I’ve used it.

If he chose the “heck of a guy” defense, he’d be better eschewing the homemade poster with the street grid and arrows pointing here and there and instead memorizing some Romantic poetry. Keats and his love letters to Fanny Brawne might be a good place to start:

“My love is selfish. I cannot breathe without you (Bev).”

Then, when the judge is moved and visibly tearing up, follow it with:

“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days — three such days with you (Bev) I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.” (Also from the love letters of Keats to Brawne.)

"Your honor," you could almost hear a defense attorney chiming in, "this is a man who was so lovestruck that when he drove his wife to Little Italy for her birthday lunch, he was blinded by his ardor" — and he'd use “ardor” because it sounds old-fashioned — "and may have blown a light."

“Dad, you may want to think about this,” said his daughter, Sue. “What if they look at your license and see that you’re 91 and make you take a driving test?”

The courtroom went quiet. So did John and some of his guests who had bought Romantic poetry stock.

Now, John is a heck of a guy and there is no question he loves his wife but John is not stupid. John loves his independence and so John paid the ticket.

However, John can still drive Bev (safely, we trust) to Little Italy on her birthday. On her birthday and before her birthday, because guys like John do that kind of thing and women like Bev deserve it.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.

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