Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!"  ~ Robert Browning

I love to get up early... always have. In the morning on my drive to Orange High School, I'd stop at the donut shop along the way and get a really fresh, really sugary, frosted donut. As I waited in line that day, a very tall, very handsome, very young firefighter came in to the shop and got in line right behind me. Then, suddenly, he tapped me on the shoulder.

"You're Mrs. Waldron!"

"Yes, I am," I said, trying to search through the years' loooong list of students who I'd taught, but coming up blank. Who was this darling guy? ALL the high school girls in my classes would have been swooning... 

"I'm Bill... Billy Young... remember? I was in your 8th grade English class at McPherson Junior High. Don't you remember me? You were my favorite teacher!"

I looked really hard at him, trying to dig out some hint to his identity... and there it was, at last. His eyes... The eyes never failed my remembering. He'd been a great honors student and a nice one, even though he'd had a kind of whiny high-pitched voice in those days. Now he risked his life fighting fires! He was a full-grown, deep-voiced, quiet, strong Man!  

"Billy!!!  It's YOU? You were a little tiny guy back then... You're a firefighter! That's so dangerous! You're a full-grown man! Wow! I'm sooo proud of you!"

The next morning, as I was driving to school again, I thought of Billy and so many of the other students I'd taught... My profession was a very special, very important one... one that a teacher must not just talk about, but one she must live, too. Do the right thing! I was proud and humbled by it, all at same time, as I turned into the post office parking lot on the way to school.

What a great day it was! It was so early that I'd have plenty of time to set up my lesson for the first couple classes...  Boy, life was goood!  I plunked my mail into the box, stopped at the "No Left Turn" sign, looked both ways... and... there wasn't a car anywhere to be seen... nowhere... so I turned LEFT, anyway!

But there WAS someone... a motorcycle cop. I never knew that motorcycle policemen had flashing red lights on their "bikes." They DO! It was me he was flashing them at... the only other person on the road for blocks. I'd never been pulled over before. I didn't know how far I should drive or where I should stop. The parking lot in front of a bunch of unopened shops seemed good, so I pulled in with the officer close behind me.

He took his time climbing off his Harley, and then he strode over to my window, not acknowledging my "Hello, Officer, Sir."

"Do you know what you just did?" he asked, as he glanced into the back seat of my car where my Bible was resting.

"Yes... I turned left, instead of right, out of the post office parking lot, didn't I?"

"I see your Bible in the back seat. You're a Christian, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am!"

"Well so am I, and that's why I'm going to give you this ticket. It's not good enough to just READ the Bible. Ya gotta live it, too!" and he handed me my first ever traffic ticket. Before he climbed back on his motorcycle, he said, "God bless you." Then, off he went.

Well, my pristine driving record was sullied! "Now what? " I asked a friend at school. "My inusrance will go up, and my husband will be ticked... and ..."

"All you do is sign up for Traffic School! Then they erase it so your driving record will be OK. No problem... it's easy! I've done it myself," he said.

So there I was, early Saturday morning, walking into the "bad drivers' class" with at least 300 other jerks! The "teacher" was a retired Highway Patrol Officer, and we were there for the entire day. As I looked for a place to sit, I realized that there were nearly no other women in "class." There were lots of "tough guys," though. You know, guys with bandanas down over their eyebrows and tied behind their heads, looking out through half-closed, surly eyes, their jeans just barely covering their "behinds." 

I did see one guy who was sitting alone, quivering, and I figured he'd be a good seat-mate, so I plopped my quivering self down right beside him. He looked as scared as I was, and then the class offically began.

"OK, OK, SHUT UP!" is how the "teacher" introduced himself to the class. "How many of youse are here for speeding? Raise your hands..."

At least half of the hands went up. As I dared to sneak a peek at many of the owners of those hands, I saw that they were the "cool" guys with the bandanas, tats, and sneers.

"How many of youse are here for drunk driving?"

The other half of the hands that went up belonged to guys with their eyes closed, their mouths open, their heads resting on the backs of their chairs, or slung forward onto their chests as though they didn't have the strength to hold their heads upright.

And then our "teacher" looked over at me... "What're YOU here for, if it isn't for speeding or drunk driving???"

"Well, I turned left instead of right when I was driving out of the post office parking lot, Sir."

That was good for loud, grunting laughter from the "cool" speeders. The drunk drivers, on the other hand, just wanted everyone to shut up because their heads hurt from their hangovers...

"You did WHAT?" said our teacher. So I had to repeat it again... and this time, even the drunk drivers were awake enough to laugh! "Humiliated" doesn't cover what I felt. For two hours I had the "should-a, would-a, could-a's." Why hadn't I said that I was driving the get-away car for some guys who robbed a bank... or my hopped-up Mustang just couldn't go as slow as the stupid speed limit sign said... or....

When I finally got my head back into what our highly exerienced teacher was talking about, boy, was I surprised. He was telling us ways to "beat the wrap!" There was soooo much I didn't know about the exact wording of the laws and, what he was telling us was really interesting... in a kind of perverse way. I learned a lot!

Well, I walked out of the courthouse that day with a clean record... and lots of new information. I had still got guffaws during the lunch time break out at the "roach coach," but I was used to it by then.

Time passed, and I obeyed all of the traffic laws, thwarting those cars that careened around me on the highways and byways. No more tickets or "driving school" for this teacher-lady! There was one more problem, though...

Down in Costa Mesa on my way to church one day, a motorcycle policeman was sitting on his "bike" with a radar gun pointed at the cars that drove past him. One of those cars was mine!

His red lights went on! He rev-ed his motorcycle and took off to pull ME over!  ME!!! 

I knew the drill... I pulled off the main road onto a side street, rolled down my window with my driver's license clutched in my hand.

"You were speeding! I'm givin' you a ticket!"

"Officer, I wasn't speeding! I was looking at my speedometer, and I was right on the button."

"YOU WERE SPEEDING! My radar gun PROVES it!" He wrote out the ticket and told me to sign it.

I read the ticket first... both sides of it! I signed it. But, as I gave it back to him, I said, "I signed the place where it says that I contest this ticket, and we're both going to court about this, because I WASN'T SPEEDING!"


"The motorcycle you were sitting on was idling, wasn't it?" I said in my best "teacher-voice."

"Yeah, so what?"

"The law says that if the policeman is on a motorcycle whose engine is running, the hand-held radar gun cannot be used to prove that a car was speeding! We're going to go to court! And both of us are going to tell the judge about this. Let's see what HE says."

I went to court, but the policeman didn't appear. The judge excused my ticket, and I was free and clear.

The moral of this event: Reformed-criminal teachers like me LOVE learning, and lots of that learning sticks with them. 

Another moral of this story: I REALLY WASN'T SPEEDING IN COSTA MESA! Cross my heart and hope to die.

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