I've watched my share of Judge Judy and understand that the likelihood of ending up in court increases in direct proportion to the amount of jewelry you wear, the number and placement of tattoos visible on your neck and the times you use "conversate" in a sentence. Well into my 50s and woefully lacking tattoos, I thought any potential to have a run-in with the law was well behind me. I was wrong.
There is an endless ribbon of highway well known to those of us on the east coast called I-95. It clings to the east coast from Florida to Maine, punctuated by boredom and exits promising gas and fast food. Oh sure, there are ways to avoid it. You can seek out rambling two-lane roads that our grandparents likely used, staying in small motels with neon signs. Some people find that charming. I prefer I-95. Since my daughter is in her fourth year at a university in Philadelphia and my parents live in New Jersey, I have had ample opportunities to learn the nuances of the highway.
So it was that I set out from my home in Northern Virginia on a rainy fall Saturday morning, eager to take my daughter out for brunch in Philly before heading to my parents' home. To get to I-95, I had to successfully pass through Washington's Beltway which is unnerving in the best weather. In the rain, it was like I was dodging bullets.
All went well and soon I was cruising north on the highway, listening to music and the heavy drumming of rain. Traffic was steady, but it was early enough that all was flowing well.
And then came Delaware. A small state, home to our Vice President, famous for its tax-free shopping. And there's something no one talks about: If you don't pay tax on your purchases, how does the State Police Department come up with funds for its holiday party? Listen, friends, and learn.
Delaware charges a huge toll to cross into its tiny state. More holiday party money. To expedite the exchange of all that money, Delaware has two special lanes for those of us with EZ Passes so we can pay by passing under sensors. I was in the far left lane coming out of those sensors and back into traffic. To my right was a Megabus, going fast and throwing prodigious amounts of rain water onto my windshield. I could have slowed down to let it pass. I wish I had. But I sped up to pass it.
And then I heard the sirens. An unmarked Delaware State Police car was in hot pursuit. So I did what any middle-aged law-abiding citizen would do: I maneuvered onto the right shoulder hoping the cruiser would go after someone with more evil intent. When the cop showed up at my front passenger window, he asked, "Do you know why I am stopping you?" Sure, many responses passed through my head: For being adorable? Because you are lonely? Because it's Be Kind to Mothers Day? But I nodded and handed him my registration and license.
As he returned to his car, I began texting my daughter. What if he tasered me? Should I flash a boob? As the minutes passed, I realized that this was a novel experience and one that I had only seen on TV. I was the poor schnook stopped by a police car. Like all novel experiences, this one didn't seem so terrible. I had no criminal record, wasn't in imminent danger and was only mildly inconvenienced. By the time the cop returned to my car, I was feeling pretty giddy.
"Cleanest record you ever saw, right?" I asked him. Yes, he admitted, and told me that he had written the ticket for going 60 in a 55 mph zone even though I was clocked going considerably faster. As he began to tell me my options for challenging the ticket, I interrupted with a phrase I had heard only on television: "Guilty as charged, officer." This he found funny. When he stopped laughing, he announced that I was his most cheerful traffic stop of the day. He also informed me that this was the day that the state of Delaware was cracking down on speeders and, as I still had another 20 miles of the state to traverse, I had better be careful.
Later, driving toward Pennsylvania, I passed no fewer than 12 cars pulled over by Delaware state troopers, including the one who stopped me. It may have been a rainy fall in the state, but it is going to be a bountiful holiday season in the barracks. As the troopers eat their venison or pheasant in December, I hope they are thanking those of us who made it possible.
You're welcome, Delaware.