Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cruise Control

This week, Sam will go for his license. He’ll get it. I’ve spent hours in the car with him and he is one of the best drivers I know. No thanks to me, because I am the worst driver I know. I am not a “clear and present danger,” to quote an attorney friend of mine, and I no longer read novels in traffic jams, but I’ve made no secret of my shortcomings. “Don’t be like me,” I’ve said to my children who, as drivers, can all take me with one hand off the wheel. “Don’t worry,” they respond.

Is there anything worse than people who admit a fault, especially one that bothers other people, and then do nothing about it because “that’s just the way they are?” Yes, there is. It is worse to get stopped for speeding by an officer who is young enough to be your son while your actual son, a week away from completing Driver’s Ed, is in the car with you. I’ll share.

I was driving an empty, main road with Sam. I was telling a funny story and we were laughing and I wasn’t paying attention to my speed which was climbing one mph at a time over the limit until I was limit + ten. A cruiser passed, I glanced in the rear view mirror, and saw it u-turn. “Please don’t be after me,” I said, which of course it was.

“Pull over and don’t argue with him,” said my son, as though I might suddenly become:

Hotheaded and righteous.

Far from it, I thought. Here was an opportunity to overwrite my bad example with a good one and so I said, “I’m in the wrong here.” I looked for my registration, adding, “I deserve a ticket and I’m going to apologize.”
I lowered the window.
“Good evening, ma’am,” said the officer who looked only a couple of years older than my passenger.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
"You know why I stopped you, then?” he asked, sympathetically. He looked past me at my son and said, “Hey. What’s up?”
“I’m pretty sure I was speeding,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
He nodded pleasantly, “Okay, cool. You got a license and registration there?”
I handed it over and he said, “Awesome.” Then he scanned. “So you’re still at this address? On Crowell Road?”
My son stared ahead and shook his head.
“No,” I said, “We’ve moved. Actually. Somewhere else. I’m sorry.”
He looked interested. “Really? Near here?"
“Just over there,” I said, pointing.
“Sweet. You happen to know when?”
“Just recently.”
“So, what, a couple of weeks ago maybe?”
“In May.”
“So, like, five months ago,” he said, squinting while he calculated.
“I’ve been meaning to change the address. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, cool,” he said. “Any special destination for you folks tonight?”
“Just home. I’m sorry.”
He raised my license, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

My son turned to me. “You never changed the address?”
“I thought I had six months.”
“You get ten days. We just covered that in class.”

Moments later, the officer was back. “Okay, ma’am, just keep an eye on your speed, and have a good night.”
“I will. Thank you. I’m sorry.”
“Make sure you get that address taken care of.”
"I will. Thank you. I’m sorry.”
He u-turned toward town, and I resumed my funny story.

Is there anything worse than people who promise to do something and then don’t? Yes, it is worse to get stopped by the same officer twice inside of a week in a conspicuous part of town while everyone you’ve known for thirteen years drives by and waves. I’ll share, again.

Five days later, late and hustling out the door, we headed for the high school. Before long, Sam was telling a funny story and I was laughing and as he finished saying, “Watch your speed, it’s thirty in here,” we passed the half-concealed cruiser on the right.
“Oh no,” I said.
“Busted,” said Sam.
The cruiser left its spot and was trailing me seconds later.
"Please don’t be the same guy,” I said to the mirror.
“Tell me you changed the address,” said Sam.
I looked at him.
“You know what?” Sam said, “Just let me drive from now on.”

The same officer appeared at the window. I wanted to hand him my keys.“Hey! How are you?” he asked, cheerfully.
“I’m sorry,” I said, handing him my documents before he asked for them.
Looking past me at my son, he said, “Hey there, again! Where are you two headed today?”
“School,” said Sam.
“Cool,” said the officer, “I’ll be right back.” He turned and headed back to the cruiser.
“I will be disappointed in our police force if he doesn’t ticket you this time,” said Sam, as his calculus teacher passed us.

Which was worse than being busted.

It’s good to know you have shortcomings and accept them. But as I sat there waiting for my example-ticket, it occurred to me that refusing to change your flaws isn’t the same as accepting them.

And so over the river and through the woods at well under the speed limit we will go to the DMV where Sam will become a real driver, and I will have my license updated. And then, I’ll show it to Sam, and promise to be a better driver and he will probably say something like, “I’m the best driver you know. Be like me.”

And I will do that, because that’s just the way I am. And then, in honor of the occasion, I’ll hand him the keys and ask him to drive.


  1. TM. Really? You STILL haven't updated your license?! After all of that?!

    But in all seriousness, posts about Sam make me laugh a lot! Well done!

  2. Very charming....giggled out loud all the way!!!

  3. This week I kept two hands on the wheel. It was fun!

  4. Hysterical....I was right in the car with you. Actually....glad I wasn't in the car with you.