Highwaymen!

in

When I got home from work today, I heard on the news that Dr. Steven Hatfill, the guy the feds once thought was behind the anthrax caper, was given a ticket this weekend after a federal officer hit him with his car. The ticket stated that he had created an accident. According to the news snippet, the "accident" was precipitated by Dr. Hatfill's taking a photo of the agent who was "secretly" supposed to be tailing him. It was then that I realized I had a story to tell.

I work 21 miles from my home, and at least seven miles of my commute, which occurs on the state patrolled interstate, is infested with construction and its corresponding state troopers. The patrol cars are there to ensure that tickets are written and revenue is manufactured from the unnaturally low speed limits that accompany the worker zones. A few weeks back, I saw five commuters pulled over, in what the authorities must have dubbed "Operation Masturbation," as a way to let us all know that they were "on the job." I took little notice of it all, as I am not a speed racer or so self-absorbed that I can't notice the squad cars lurking like pedophiles under the bridges along my path.

Despite alertness and refined driving skills, my time too came to meet the highwayman. It was 14 hours ago and proved that the old clich', "the pen is mightier than the sword" denotes great truth. While taking my usual 6:00 a.m. stroll to work, I was pulled over by an Illinois State Police trooper. The trooper suddenly appeared in my rearview mirror and began tailgating me for no apparent reason. I pulled over and he approached my car. He physically looked like a younger and leaner version of me. He then did the "license and registration" request, with which I complied. I got out a pen and a Xeroxed essay I keep in the car (in case I get caught by a train) and prepared to write his name and badge number on its last page.

After handing me a warning, as opposed to a ticket, he then noticed the pen in my hand and asked why I was looking at his name plate. I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing. The scene then took a surreal turn. He began berating me about "I do you this--I cut you a break and write you a warning and then you try to take my name and--what? What were you going to do? File a complaint? You know." And he went on and on like a Energizer bunny on mescaline.

The officer forgot that gratefulness in being let off the hook is directly proportional to how guilty one actually is. Due to my innocence, I was nonplussed by his grace. He and I both knew that no wrong had been committed. I believe this fact is what genuinely set him off. His rage became marked but had a childlike quality to it. This was one very emotionally reactive police officer indeed. I wasn't sure if he was going to pistol whip me or begin crying on my shoulder. I really had no way of knowing. All that was for certain is that I never expected him to act in such a manner. He reminded me of Jim Carrey alternating between two characters in the middle of a skit.

I had little to say back. I explained to him (in the most respectful voice imaginable and emphasizing the word "Sir") that I wasn't speeding, I was not double lane changing, and that the only reason I had suddenly switched lanes was to get out of his way because he was tailgating me. I emphasized that I hadn't been pulled over in 17 years. I mean, past performance is a fairly good indicator of future performance now, isn't it?

This had no positive effect but it's hard to know if it actually made things worse or not. Maybe it was just his time of the month to explode. Who can say? He told me that the whole incident was on film. I returned, "I'm glad it's all on film." This in no way placated him, and he became even angrier.

He thundered at me that I "had no creditability with him at all." I raised my eyebrows and worried if this would end with him driving me down to the Stateville Penitentiary. I decided that I would say nothing more no matter what. I stared at the steering wheel in a deflated position. Gratefully, he made no move for his gun as, when it comes down to it, I appear neither dangerous nor a criminal. Perhaps he considered how few felons are up and driving to work in ties at 6 a.m. on the interstate. I really have no idea.

It was then, when I thought he was done howling and that surely such a nonverbal person wouldn't have much more to say, that the state trooper upped the ante and threatened me by saying, "Next time I'm going to give you a ticket if I see you out here."

Well at least I got a fair shake! I only go to work 230 days a year. I'm sure the odds are on my side--if I move to Taiwan, that is. It's nice to see that he's given me "a break." I don't know what the future will bring, but the one thing I learned is that the pen, at least, is just as offensive as the sword--until he reads this.

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Bernard Chapin's picture
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Bernard Chapin is a writer from Chicago.