I absolutely must tell about my morning today. It was unquestionably the best morning I have had in a long time.
It began… Well, that’s hard to say. Technically my morning began after the previous day ended at midnight. I’m sure I woke up at least twice after midnight, so that’s when the morning really began, but I don’t really count that as the beginning of my day. Anyhow, that’s not pertinent to my story.
My alarm clock went off at 5:45 AM like it does every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I hit the snooze button like I do every day. I hit it twice like I do almost every day. I may have hit it a third time like I do most of the time, but I can’t remember. In the end, I was out of bed sometime after six. I had promised a friend I would pick them up at their room (a few minutes away from where we needed to be at 6:45 AM), so I was perturbed that I hadn’t gotten myself out of bed a little earlier. Oh well.
I got ready quickly, even shaved at home in stead of in the car (like I often do when running behind), and headed out the door (forgetting to grab a new water bottle or two, like I usually do). I took my mostly regular route to class, which includes taking the highway (or freeway, whichever word you like better) for a short distance.
What you have to understand is that the freeway empties onto a normal road. I’m sure you know what that is like – anyone who has driven on a highway knows what it is like getting off the fast road onto a slow one. It’s hard to get used to going slow again. Adding to the problem, the usual speed of traffic in that area averages about five miles per hour over the speed limit (40 MPH, the limit is 35). Adding even more to the problem was what I encountered on the road in front of me. Absolutely nothing. The most dangerous thing you can put in front of me on a street while I am driving is nothing. When there is nothing in front of me, there is nothing preventing me from justifying just a little increase in speed. Then another. Maybe just a little bit more. After a while, I’m going too fast and I realize it, easing on the brakes until I’m going almost the speed limit again.
This happens to me every morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The traffic is generally pretty thin at 6 AM, so I rarely encounter the traffic I deal with on Tuesdays and Thursdays after 7:30 AM.
Today didn’t seem to be an exception to the rule. I got off the ramp onto the street, made sure I was going almost the speed limit (speed of traffic, you know? 40 MPH), and checked my rear view mirror (like I usually do) to make sure there weren’t any cops behind me to complain. Everything was running perfectly.
So, I’m driving along like this, everything is cool, and I check the rear view again for the heck of it. My heart always jumps when I see a cop car in my rear view mirror. I don’t think it’s just me either. I think a lot of people’s hearts jump at the sight of a police car filling your rear view mirror (they sure do follow close). At first I thought, “Maybe he doesn’t want to pull me over. He might just be following me for a little to see if I speed.” I looked down at the speedometer and was pleased to find that I was going the speed of traffic. Then I looked up and realized there was no traffic. I was going the speed limit, plus five miles per hour. In the state of California, as I understand it, it is illegal for an officer to pull you over if you’re only going three miles per hour over the speed limit.
That’s when I noticed his lights. “Crud,” I thought. “We can’t afford a ticket.” It’s true, we’re not exactly throwing three or four hundred dollars into unnecessary expenditures every month. In fact, we’re living pretty tightly at the moment. My next thought was one of hope. “Maybe I’m in his way, he might just want me to move over so he can continue speeding along to his destination.”
With this hope guiding me, I prepared to change lanes to allow him passage to continue his noble quest to serve and protect me. Why, there was probably some whack-o at my school right then and the guy behind me was responding to the call. So, glancing over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t going to hit anyone when I changed lanes, I turned on my blinker and… Crud again. There was nobody in the other lane. That means there was no reason for him to need me to move out of the way for him to proceed. Well, he was definitely pulling me over. I began to wonder how I would pay for the ticket and break the news to my wife (that’s the worst part of getting a ticket for me, and I’ve only had to do it once, right after we got married).
Right after I changed lanes I found a parking lot and pulled in. I picked the first space I found and turned off the engine. Most of the details of what happened next are a little fuzzy, so I’m going to have to paraphrase.
I’m sure you know how the dialog began. Everyone knows what a police officer says when they get to your window after pulling you over. “So, you know why I pulled you over?” That’s the classic line. The famous question. No routine traffic stop would be complete without this demeaning, semi-rhetorical question tossed in through your window.
Not this time. No, that’s not what the police officer said. In fact, I was waiting for him to ask that question, and I already had my answer prepared. So when he said something else, it was like trying to fit the square shape into the star shaped hole on that kids’ toy. My brain returned an “invalid query” error message, and my face must have shown it. He repeated what he said (which I can’t remember exactly), which was something like, “how long do you have before you have to be at school.”
You might hear that and expect his line of questioning to lead to a condemning message about time management, waking up earlier and not being in a hurry to get places. Especially if you knew you were going five miles per hour over the speed limit like I had been. My brain was still debugging after the “invalid query” message though, so I didn’t guess that might have been his intention.
I simply responded with, “ten minutes, sir.” I must have sounded pretty nervous. I was. I always get nervous around people who have enough authority to ruin my life (even if only temporarily).
What followed was the biggest, best surprise I could have ever dreamed up. He asked what I was studying, how long I had been there, where I was going after graduation, etc. In the midst of the social questioning, he asked me to get out my license and registration (like they usually do, so I wasn’t off the hook). “Well,” I thought, “I guess if I’m going to get a ticket it might as well be from this really nice guy.” I was still super nervous, and my hands shook a little more than usual while I fumbled around my wallet looking for the license. At first all I could get was my ID, which the officer kindly reminded me would not suit his purposes. I put it back and started looking around me wallet some more.
“It’s behind the ID.” He sounded amused, but he had such a kind tone in his voice.
I handed him the license, and reached for the glove compartment to get the other requested items. He told me not to worry about them! That’s when my spark of hope ignited again. He would need that information to write the ticket. Was there really not going to be a ticket for me?
He took my hard-to-find-when-nervous card back to his patrol car to call me in and find out about warrants and stuff. Since my license and vehicle registration are from another state, he came back and told me we’d have to wait a moment for the request to go through. He made more small talk (continuing the questions I brought up earlier and adding others). I found out he had lived overseas for quite a long time teaching kindergarten in another country. I finally mustered up enough nerve to look at his face. What a kind, gentle face too. No hair on his head – he was shaved totally clean (not the eyebrows though). I looked at and read the name tag, but I forgot the name immediately. I remember there was an “L” in there near the beginning.
A minute or so later, his radio started talking in his ear and the dispatcher told him how clean my record was. He handed my license back and told me that the department likes to monitor that stretch of road in the mornings looking for speeders because they find a lot (like me). He cautioned me to be careful and wished me luck with my studies. I was astonished. I managed to get out a simple thanks. “I can’t thank you enough, sir,” I called out as he walked back to his car.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said (I think). He smiled and drove away. I felt like I had been given a new lease on life. Now I know (kind of) what cancer survivors feel like. I drove the rest of my commute making a rigorous effort to obey every traffic law, especially the speed limit. I’ve always been careful not to speed too much or too often, but only to avoid being caught. That officer actually made me want to do the right thing just because it was the right thing to do.
It reminded me of the New Testament story of Jesus when they brought the adulterous woman to him (they had caught her “in the very act,” which is a little kinky) and informed him that they were planing to stone her, as Moses had commanded in the law, but that they wanted to know what he had to say about it. He said that famous line about whoever has no sins should cast the first stone, and they all walked away ashamed of themselves, but that’s not the part I’m talking about. The officer I encountered reminded me of what happened next. The Lord addresses the woman, asks her, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? ” She answers that no man has condemned her, and Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)
That’s almost exactly what the police man said to me this morning. Go, and speed no more.
And you know what? I won’t.
And you know what else? If I ever become a cop, I’m going to be just like that guy. Granted, there are some people that have a real problem with speeding, and they feel no remorse about being pulled over. They’ll do it again and again. I think most officers can tell who those ones are after doing a few traffic stops, and I’m sure even my good cop would ticket those chronic speeders. However, where a good “go and sin no more” line will do the job, why not use it? I will be forever grateful to that man for changing the way I look at speed limit signs. Now if only my debtors would start feeling the love too…
Well, I thought I had more to say tonight, but this thing already got pretty long, and I need to get some sleep. Perhaps there’ll be more of a technology theme next time, because I’ve been dying to share some cool things I’ve been finding out about Google products and some new services that are popping up around the web. Until then.