Thursday, January 31, 2008
I used to get speeding tickets. Often. It wasn't that I wanted to die young and leave a pretty corpse. I think it was a combination of machismo, not valuing my own life enough and not believing that I could die. Also, I was always running late and if I had died, I would have been late to my own funeral.
I was forced to reevaluate my lead-footed ways when I got a ticket in upstate New York for going 85 mph in a 55 mph zone. Thirty miles over the speed limit is automatic loss of license in New York.
It was looking pretty hopeless because I was caught by radar on Interstate-684, the primary highway through Westchester County to further upstate. The road was a speed demon's dream, several lanes with hardly any traffic. It was a high velocity road.
I was working an hour north of my home at the time, which in blizzard conditions could easily become five or six hours. As the sole support of my children, I had a lot at stake concerning my license. If I couldn't drive, I couldn't work.
As I stared dejectedly at the ticket, I noticed something. I'm sure my mouth dropped open as I read it carefully again, but there was no mistake. The policeman had marked the box for "male."
I decided to fight it in court, and to represent myself as I couldn't afford a lawyer.
My appearance day arrived and the courthouse was full of people. The police officer took the stand first. He described my vehicle, and then he explained lengthily how his radar equipment worked. He told the judge that it had been tested a week before the incident and was 100% accurate at 55, 65, 75 and 85 miles per hour. He was impressive.
When it was my turn, I said there was no doubt that Officer Kelly was a very good policeman and that I was sure his radar equipment was perfect. But I believed he had ticketed the wrong car and the wrong driver because he had checked the box for male, and I had never considered myself a borderline case.
People throughout the gallery tittered and the judge, whose name was also Susan, emitted a snort which she turned into a cough.
"Besides, I don't have a unisex name," I added. Judge Susan nodded slightly.
The policeman, who was a very nice man, said, 'I can't believe I did that to you. I'm so sorry. It's just that most of our speeders are men."
I knew I had to give them something. He was a good cop, and I was going 85. We all knew it.
I told the judge, "I may have exceeded the speed limit, but not by thirty miles per hour. I don't think my old car would even go that fast."
She leaned on her elbow and smiled at me. "How fast do you think you were going?" she asked.
"Oh, maybe 60 or even 62," I said.
Judge Susan turned to the policeman. "Officer, would it be all right with you if I fine this woman for going five miles over the speed limit?"
"I'd pay her fine myself if my wife would let me," he said.
She banged her gavel, I paid the court a $25 fine, grinning the whole time, gave myself some high fives and drove home.
It took all my self-control but I did not exceed the speed limit.