"Can I see your license?" I get that question a lot. Partly because it's the start of my favorite sexual role-playing game, Naughty Out-of-Season Bonefisher Happened Upon by Unmerciful Game Wardeness. But in this instance, it's because a cop has me pulled over and is initiating the traffic citation sequence.
I've been ticketed many, many times in my driving career. Mostly for speeding. A few for running red lights and stop signs. Two for driving under the influence of Brian Wilson's psychiatrist. At one point, the critical mass of my violations cost me my driving privileges for a full year. Worse, when I got them back, it cost me big money, as my insurance company informed me I'd been re-rated and would now be paying the same premiums as "a drunk 6-year-old boy driving a new Jaguar with 'iffy' brakes."
As the cop looks at my license, I can sense he's ready to begin my most hated part of the ticketing process: the rhetorical quiz. "Do you know why I stopped you?" "Do you know how fast you were going?" "Are you in a hurry?" "Do you know what the speed limit is on this road?" "If this traffic stop were taking place across the International Dateline, would you be in trouble yesterday or not until tomorrow?" As always, I volunteer to be maced if we can skip right to the "running my plates" part.
The first few times I was pulled over, I was very polite with the officer. I agreed a lot — something I almost never do in "real life." I ended sentences with "sir" and "ma'am," often correctly matching it to the sex of the officer. I went the extra mile, not only keeping my hands where they could be seen but employing them in an entertaining "trapped in a box" mime routine as well. I even resisted asking if, based on Kent McCord and Martin Milner's portrayals on Adam-12, I should assume all uniform cops are closet homosexuals. All this niceness, I figured, might dissuade the cop from writing the ticket. It never did. But on the up-side, I saw enough cop handwriting flourishes to get a loud-and-clear on my Adam-12 question.
He's checking for wants and warrants, a process that makes continental drift seem frenzied by comparison. I sit in my car, the cruiser behind me, its lights flashing, time frozen. I feel so conspicuous. So busted. I look at the drivers whizzing by. They turn to look at me — me, the vehicular miscreant — and shake their heads, condemning my pathetic example. Vroom, there goes my kindergarten teacher. Vroom, and my old boy scout leader. Vroom, that guy looks just like Jesus. Whirr, and damn if it isn't that self-righteous bastard Ed Begley Jr.
There have been instances over the past couple years, where I'll be "making good time" (a euphemism I like because it makes speeding sound like a conscientious business practice) and suddenly — too late! — I'll see a cop with his radar gun pointing right at me. I drive on, of course, backing off the gas just enough to get legal and, for the next minute or two, checkcheckcheck the rearview, waiting for the flashing lights to explode on, to start gaining on me. But they don't. Prompting me to throw my head back in a mocking laugh. Then, because this reaction is so hopelessly clichéd, I snort derisively at myself. The predictability of which triggers a dismissive chortle. Begetting a scornful sneer. Etc. And before long, I come to the realization that cops are the least of my problems.
"I clocked you doing 57 in a 35-mile-per-hour zone," I'm informed. The officer pushes the ticket toward me, instructs me to sign, then hands me my copy along with a fine schedule (that's "fine" with a dollar sign, not "fine" with a connotation of excellent graphic design and quality paper stock). Now, just because I'm no longer polite in these situations doesn't mean I've become sassy. I know responses like, "You blew it, Columbo, I don't fit any of the racial profiles your force is currently persecuting" and "Thanks to you, I'll never make it home before the PCP kicks in" will not serve me well.
Instead, "Um-hmm" is all I say. Better to take the high road.