Anyone reading this story I am sure remembers his or her first time they were issued a ticket for speeding. How many of you though recall it with great fondness? I do – it was a fine moment in my young life.
I was a high school junior and did not yet have my own car. (read me) It was late in the school year, March or April, and my mom had allowed me to borrow her white station wagon to drive to school that day. I was a very inexperienced driver as I had a late start in driving plus the fact that I did not have my own car until my senior year. On the day of this story, I can recall a somewhat close call, avoiding a fender bender immediately after leaving the school parking lot. I had left the lot and then made a right hand turn at the corner. Today I cannot recall if I edged out in front of someone or if the other driver had made a left hand turn through a late yellow light, but what I do remember is that I felt very nervous about it. Likely, it was my error given my inexperience.
Regardless, I had made a right hand turn and then soon afterwards, I signaled to get into the left lane of a double lane road, past a McDonalds where a little further up I intended to make a left hand turn. Soon after that left hand turn was made, I got my car up to speed. The road was a posted 25 mph zone and I was traveling 28 mph….or so I thought. This street that I was on was a popular shortcut from my school area to our local Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurant and other local places. So after school, I guess it was probably a favorite spot to set up a radar speed check.
Sure enough, only a half mile down the road, there he was, standing outside his vehicle and waving me to pull over. So I pulled over. The policeman was having a bad day or was just one of these guys who didn’t like dealing with teenagers. I received the standard ‘let me see your license and registration’ comments. I asked what the problem was and he told me that ‘the problem is you’re getting a citation for driving 38 mph in a 25 mph zone’. That can’t possibly be officer. I just looked at my speedometer and I was only traveling about 28. “38 kid, maybe you need some glasses too”.
I had just finished up driver’s education class not too long before this. These were the days when schools had stronger budgets and we actually had an after-school class for all the would-be Mario Andretti’s. I also used to have a pretty decent memory, so I distinctly had remembered that our driving instructor had told us that if ever we get stopped for speeding and the officer had a radar gun, by law he had to show you the result if you requested it. Now, I don’t really know if that was a law or not, but I was absolutely positive that I had been told that it was. So I very politely repeated this ‘fact’ to the officer, “I don’t believe that I was speeding. Can I please see the radar gun results?” The Officer – “nope”. Me – “well I thought you had to show it to me if I asked to see it. Isn’t that the law?” Officer – “not the way I run it kid”. And with that, I was told to have a nice day and sent on my merry way.
On the reverse of the speeding ticket there were instructions on how to pay and how to plead out if you wanted a court appearance. I had to phone in a ‘not guilty’ plea if I wanted a court appearance and had to do this within 48 hours. So I picked up the phone and made my call. I wasn’t guilty, damn it, and I intended to tell all about my story.
My step father Joe raced sprints and stock cars on most Saturdays out at Lawrenceburg Speedway. I told him about my incident and his response was – well, maybe the speedometer is off. He said he and his buddy could check it out at the shop. So he ended up taking the car to the shop and he came back and said – sure enough, the speedometer is off so I guess you were speeding. Uh, oh – several weeks had passed and I already had a court date. I guess I would have to just show up and then change my plea.
My court date arrived. I was a minor so my step father Joe took me to court that day. I didn’t really know anything about the court system or what to expect so I had to just watch the proceedings before me and figure it out as I went. When the judge asked each person how they pleaded, I noticed almost all of them were saying “no contest”. Unbeknownst to me at the time, when you plead not guilty, the police officer issuing the ticket has to appear in court. That makes total sense – I just was uninformed at the time. I saw the officer walk in slightly before it was my time to appear before the judge.
My name was soon called so I got up and walked up to the spot I was supposed to stand. Next, the judge asked me how I pleaded. Even though I had phoned in a plea, it was just a formality so that the court can have the right level of preparation. What I said was the following, “is it ok if I ask a question?” He said – of course. So I asked him what ‘no contest’ meant. He told me that it’s not necessarily an admission of guilt, but you’re throwing yourself at the mercy of the court. I asked him if I pleaded no contest, would I still get to tell my version of the story? He said that I would – so I pleaded “no contest”.
What I did not know ahead of time, (and could not have worked out better if I had planned it), was that since I was throwing myself at the mercy of the court, the police officer that had to show up because I had intended to plead guilty, now would be required to remain seated and would not have an opportunity to speak. I glanced over his way and could tell that he was absolutely thrilled with this development.
And so I recounted the entire story, every single detail, every single account. I told the judge that my step father and his friend had tested the car’s speedometer and found that it was off by about 8 mph and so I guess I really was speeding. The best part though was this – I told the judge that if the officer had just showed me the radar reading, I would have just pleaded guilty. I told him about my driving instructor telling us that we had a right to see the radar reading and how I had told the officer about this. And then….the best part – I told the judge that when I said this to the officer, he said to me “not the way I run it kid”.
I didn’t realize how sweet this was going to go and to feel. When I said that last “not the way I run it kid”, the judge looked over at the police officer. The officer didn’t flinch, but his face did redden slightly. I suddenly experienced only what I could describe as an epiphany! I realized what had happened – I, a 17 year old kid, had just ‘gotten revenge’ against the police officer that had acted quite a bit like a jerk to me. It had not been planned, but it couldn’t have played out any better. This was my first experience with the judicial system. I remember the next words to come out of the judge’s mouth with exactness, like it was yesterday: “Well, since you pleaded no contest and found your speedometer was off, I will have to find you guilty. However, all fines and court costs are waived. You’re free to go.”
I would love to be able to write that this was a master minded plan and to finish with a quote from Muhammad Ali – “you kill my dog, you better hide your cat”, but it was all accidental. In any regard, this is one of my favorite ‘what goes around, comes around’ memories.