Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Objects may be closer than they appear

Tooling along in the passing lane on the Thruway yesterday afternoon, making my way past a line of slower moving cars, I'm doing between 70 and 75, and I look up and see in my rearview window the hood ornament of big shiny new Cadillac. If objects in mirror may be closer than they appear, than the Caddy's front bumper must have been parallel with my rear one and we were traveling with less space between us than a couple of subway cars. I've been tailgated before, but I've never had anyone attempt docking maneuvers.

There was no room to move over to let him by. I should have pushed it up to 80 and gotten away from him and out of his way as soon as possible, but you know how it is. Drivers like that bring out the worst in other drivers. I didn't tap my brakes to put a scare in him because he was too close and I didn't slow down for the same reason. But I did not speed up. I continued on, coolly and deliberately, until the last car on my right was safely distant in my sideview mirror----my rearview mirror was still full of Cadillac---and then got over...

At the same instant he was trying to get over in order to go around me.

Fortunately we both had good reflexes. I hit the gas, he veered back into the passing lane, and everybody's insurance agents were spared a phone call on their day off.

When it was clear, I got over into the right lane and the Caddy shot ahead, catching up quickly to the next pack of cars where he drove up on someone else's bumper and then did the Boston Weave in and out and around and past those cars and then the next group and the group ahead of that until he was out of sight.

As he passed me I noted his license plate.


Guy didn't need the license plate to tell me he was a jerk but I thought it was nice of Munnyman to put it out there like that so nobody would have any doubt when he did something to incite the rage of peaceable strangers. I like knowing when I curse someone that they actually deserve it.

I'm sure everybody Munnyman bullied out of his way and cut off and scared half to death thought what I thought as he blew by---"Where's a trooper when you need one?"

One of life's true pleasures is seeing the car that took ten year's off your life a mile back sitting by the side of the road with a large, dark-uniformed peace officer leaning in its window and the driver slumped down inside, doing his or her best to look contrite.

Almost never happens. We drove 60 more miles in Munnyman's wake and didn't have the satisfaction of seeing the Caddy idling on the shoulder with a state police crusier, lights flashing, behind him.

Sometimes, though, the jerks get theirs, and I'm sure that if it didn't happen yesterday, it'll happen soon enough. Munnyman will meet some younger version of our old friend Chris the Cop.

Chris started his career in law enforcement with the New York State Police, patrolling a particularly lonely stretch of highway between a point in the middle of nowhere east of Syracuse and another point in the middle of nowhere west of Schenectady.

It's the kind of empty road where most of the few cars that are on it are at least an hour from where they want to be and have reached that point by having driven at least an hour already. In short, when you are driving a road like that you are probably tired, bored, and impatient to be at the end of your trip, and under those conditions even the best and most careful and law-abiding among us are tempted to find out how well our cars handle at 85.

One evening Chris stopped a guy who had given in to the temptation who thought he had a really convincing excuse for his failure of willpower. Chris hadn't been on the job long but he had already heard a lot of excuses. Most people he pulled over had what they thought was a convincing excuse for speeding. His favorite so far was the guy whose excuse was very simple.

"My grandmother's in the back seat."

That was it. He wasn't taking grandma to the hospital even. She was just his passenger and that made it necessary for him to floor it. He didn't say if it was the case that granny was a thrill freak and demanded her grandson drive like a maniac or if her company was so irritating that any amount of time spent in the car with her was a trial and a tribulation not to be endured. Granny didn't offer to explain it either.

"My grandmother's in the back seat, officer."

"Your ticket is now in your hand, sir."

At any rate, this particular evening Chris pulled over a guy, who had no relatives in his backseat, no passengers of any kind in fact, but who had what he thought was a humdinger of an excuse.

He was a Very Important Person.

Not only in his own mind, though. He was the commissioner of some department for the State of New Jersey on his way to Syracuse to deliver a speech to a convention of other Very Important Persons.

So he had clout, but clout counts for only so much, and at first he had something better to offer Chris---remorse. He was sorry. He knew he had done wrong. He wished he had watched his speedometer more closely. He would be more careful the rest of the way.

He had Chris about convinced not to write him up.

If only the guy's vanity hadn't tripped him up. He couldn't get over what a Very Important Person he was.

"Say, trooper, I've got an idea," the commissioner said, "I really am late for the convention. Why don't you give me a police escort the rest of the way?"

Chris was a good cop and in most important ways he had---still has---the temperament of a cop, as well as a cop's outlook on life. He has a very strong sense that some things are just right, and some things are just wrong, and there's no arguing with it, no fudging, and that if you and he are meeting on a professional basis, it's because you have profoundly screwed up in some way.

But he also has a rebellious streak. He's a closet anti-authoritarian. This is probably why when he left the State Police and joined the city police department he was so successful as an undercover cop. There's a part of him that is, not exactly sympathetic to, but at least forgiving of the casual attitude towards the law and civil authority held by the lowlifes he invesitigated and that part of him encouraged the lowlifes to talk to him as a friend about things they later wished they had kept to themselves.

So when the Very Important Commissioner of Something from New Jersey, having for the moment talked himself out of a ticket, then asked Chris to help him speed the rest of the way to his destination, the rebel in Chris bristled.

He didn't show it though. He smiled cordially, told the Commissioner he'd be back in a moment, and then went and sat in his cruiser where he whiled away the time comfortably for ten or fifteen minutes until he was pretty sure the Commissioner was on the point of explosion, then sauntered back to the guy's car, and handed him the ticket.

But Chris wasn't done. He told the Commissioner he would be glad to escort him into town. "Follow me."

Which the Commissioner did, at the leisurely pace of 45 miles an hour Chris set for them both the whole way.

Needless to say the Commissioner was very late for his speech. Needless to say when he returned to New Jersey he did what guys with clout do when they're vain, full of themselves, and feeling aggrieved. He tried to use his clout to have Chris fired.

He told his friend and boss the Governor of New Jersey who called his friend the Governor of New York who called in an aide who called the head of the State Police who called the next guy down from him who called a captain who called a lieutenant who called a sergeant who called in Chris.

"You shoudn't have done that," the sergeant said.

Chris agreed he shouldn't have.

"I'd have done it too," the sergeant said...or implied.

Chris said he didn't doubt it.

"Don't do it again," the sergeant said.

Chris promised not to.

The sergeant thanked him and then called the lieutenant who called the captain who called the commander who called the governor's aide who told the Governor who called the Governor of New Jersey to tell him that the trooper who had offended the Commissioner had been severely reprimanded.

Holiday traveling is done. Regular blogging has now resumed.


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