The first time I was stopped by the police I was only 15 with a learner’s permit, and received my first traffic citation a month after getting my license at age 16. Since then I have been asked for my license and registration 31 times, so far, during my driving career. One of my New Year’s resolutions, that I always repeat, is to go a year without getting a ticket or being pulled over by any form of Johnny Law. I have been stopped for just about anything you can think of, that doesn’t include drugs or DWI, like: excessive acceleration, reckless driving, faulty taillights, illegal window tint, speeding, expired tags, failure to control vehicle, failure to stop at stop sign, or just because racing stripes count as probable cause. I have always had an almost insane amount of luck when it comes to avoiding points on my license. Out of the 31 stops, I have only been ticketed 6 times of which I’ve only had to pay once. The rest were dismissed and all others have been warnings. Here is one story of my run-in with Texas’ finest that expanded over 6 months.
It was February, 2012, when I received a warning for reckless driving by two members of the Sheriff’s department. I was driving home from school on the dirt roads near my ranch, and I was in a particularly good mood. That meant I started goofing off by power-sliding around turns like a kid who has seen too many Dukes of Hazzard reruns. As I slid sideways in a four wheel drift around the last corner that lead onto my street I spotted a white Crown Victoria that I instantly recognized as a patrol car, which was coming the opposite way. I straighten the truck out exiting the corner when suddenly the Crown Vic steered sharply to the left to block my path, I was only 500 feet from my house.
I knew I was in trouble, but I still chuckled at the idea of getting stopped so close to my house. I lowered the windows and cut the engine as two husky police officers approached me. Once they saw that I was just a dumb kid with a smile on his face their demeanor changed as they asked me what the heck I was doing. Now, in those days the truck had worn out tires so I only had to go 30 mph to throttle out and get the truck sideways, so I argued that I technically was not speeding. They took me for a smart-ass, and they asked me to step out of the vehicle so they could search my truck for reasons they never fully explained. I had nothing to hide so I didn’t make a fuss and I stood with one officer as the other searched all over my truck. I chewed the fat with the cop, talking about car control and how the road they were on was a private road and that I was surprised they were patrolling this section in the first place – just being a wise-ass. The street where the family ranch is located is actually a private road so they really had no right being there, and they probably figured that out when they decided to only give me a warning. I received a second warning for having an expired inspection sticker as well. It wasn’t until I got back in my truck that I remembered that I had a switchblade in the glove box, I was amazed the officer did find see it.
The rest of the week came and went, and it wasn’t until I was leaving for work one afternoon that I spotted another white patrol car on my street. I gave a friendly wave as I passed it and muscle memory made my glance in the rear-view mirror to notice the car quickly turn around with its red and blues on. It was the same two cops from the previous week! They rolled up on me because I still had not gotten my inspection sticker renewed. I told them that work and school was keeping me from going to get it taken care of. However, the real reason was because I knew my truck wouldn’t pass inspection. I got my second, and finale, warning from them and they went on their way, but not before almost T-boning my neighbor’s Mercedes Benz because they did not look to see if a car was coming up behind them. It gave me a good laugh at the sight of my neighbor giving them a not so friendly gesture as she drove by.
Getting away two times with this inspection sticker gave me a cocky attitude. I decided to see, in true young and dumb fashion, how long I could go before getting popped for it. It took 6 months until a state trooper, who must have had the eyes of a hawk, spotted the sticker from three lanes away on the highway. Now I had one month before my date with the judge to get the truck street legal to pass inspection. Having friends in the local car community comes in handy in these types of situations, I had a good friend who knew a guy that ran a body shop certified for state vehicle inspection. I’m sure I’m not the only Gearhead here who has been given the, “friend of a friend”, treatment when getting their hotrods to past inspection. Cash under the table later, the truck was sporting a glossy new inspection sticker on its windshield, but there was still a chance I would pay a fine when it came time for court.
For all my younger readers, take it from me, first impressions are vital in the eyes of the legal system. When it came time for me to appear before the judge, I wore my Sunday best in a suit and tie. Looking sharp as I waited on the bench for my name to be called out, I looked around and could see I wasn’t the only teen there holding a Department of Public Safety pink slip. I was, however, the only one who bothered to dress up for the occasion because all the other kids were dressed to go to the food court. Finally I heard my name and walked to the front to stare up at the judge, feeling like a cartoon at the gate of heaven looking up at Saint Peter and his big book. He asked why I it had taken me 6 months to get the vehicle inspected, and I told my violin strummed tale of a struggling college student who was working part time and simply forgot to it get taken care of. Next he asked if the truck was legal now, which I answered yes, then he asked where the new sticker was. Later on I realized that he wanted a photo of the vehicle showcasing the new sticker, but I didn’t know, so I answered, “Umm, on the windshield of my truck where it is supposed to be?” I probably sounded like a smart-ass again, but the judge just looked me up and down and told me to get out. “What just happened?” I thought to myself as I existed the courtroom and walked to the cashier office to ask what fines I would have to pay. Turns out the judge had dismissed the ticket and I was free to go, and free of charge.
Whenever I talk about my driving record people usually respond with, “Wow, you must really hate cops now.” Given that 2014 dealt with a lot of tension between police and the public, I felt I would end this article with my opinion on Law Enforcement. I love cops, there was even a time when I considered joining Texas Highway Patrol, and they are just doing their job. The bottom line is that working in law enforcement is one of the hardest career paths out there. Hours are a pain, it is a thankless job most of the time, mind numbingly boring 98% of time except for the sudden 2% that turns into hell on earth, you have to see horrific things on a daily bases that could depress the most optimistic of souls, and the paycheck is not nearly enough as the burden you take home. Gearheads and police have a love hate relationship, but Gearheads sometimes forget that cops can be gearheads too. As for my opinion on what happened in 2014 between the police and public, all I can say is that every stereotype is born out of a truth and that a few rotten apples cannot spoil a whole batch.