Don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

It was a dark night.

He was comfortably cocooned in his car, headed down the road while listening to Van Morrison’s greatest hits on a CD.

Email newsletter signup

E. B. White wrote, “Everything in life is somewhere else and you get there in a car.”

A police car was driving behind him as he drove down the two-lane highway. He checked to make sure his seatbelt was in place. The highway had been worked on recently so the ride was fairly smooth. He was traveling at the speed limit, not a mile beyond. Oh, sure, he might have been traveling a few miles over the speed limit before he noticed the squad car in his rearview mirror. He slowed down then. His father had often admonished him, “If you’re in a hurry, you shouldn’t be driving.”

He hoped that cutting the speed wasn’t too little, too late.

The police car in the rearview mirror served as a reminder to what the speed limit was. Sometimes there aren’t enough speed limit signs on the road and he forgets the posted speed limit.

It reminded him of his friend, the former sheriff, who had pulled over a woman for driving her Buick at 22 mph on a highway.

Approaching the car, the sheriff noticed it held five older ladies — two in the front seat and three in the back. The passengers were wide-eye and as white as ghosts.

The driver said, “Officer, I was driving the speed limit. What’s the problem?”

“Ma’am,” the officer replied, “You weren’t speeding. Driving too slow can be a danger to other drivers.”

“I was doing the exact speed limit,” the driver protested. “Twenty-two mph!”

The sheriff explained that “22” was the highway number, not the speed limit. The driver thanked the officer for pointing out her error.

The sheriff asked if the stunned passengers would be OK.

“They’ll be fine. We just got off Highway 169.”

The driver respected police and their good work, but he wondered why the police car continued to follow him. Why didn’t it pass? Didn’t the officer have anything better to do than to make a law-abiding citizen nervous? It was like a cat irritating a mouse. He considered slowing down even more so that the police officer would be forced to pass, but why should he need to do that? Where was the law-enforcement officer when all those other cars were passing him as if he were backing up? He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been pulled over. He knew it had been for speeding. It had to have been before he was married or his wife would be bringing it up during their historical arguments. No, not hysterical. Historical — they bring up everything from the past. He did an inventory in his mind. He had his wallet. It was in the glove compartment with the registration papers and insurance card. He used to keep it in his rear pants pocket until his doctor warned him that might cause him to have a hitch in his get-along. He certainly was in no danger of being injured from falling off his wallet.

He worried about crossing the centerline because his attention was drawn to the rearview mirror, but that was needless. He’d never be pulled over.

Cans of tuna are filled with those that thought they’d never be caught.

He was almost to his destination when the lights came on. Cherries and blueberries! Lights and cameras! Drat! It was curtains for him. This stress-inducing
occurrence would certainly mar the day’s perfection. It released shockwaves of suppressed memories regarding an ancient citation for speeding. He pulled over and waited for the officer to come to the window. He hoped that no one he knew would drive by. The officer was polite, nearly friendly. The officer asked for a driver’s license, looked at it, and called the driver by name while asking, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

He didn’t. He was confounded. If he’d known, he’d have made it so he wouldn’t have been pulled over. He replied in the negative.

“How long have you been driving without a tail light?” asked the policeman.

The driver jumped out, ran to the rear of his car, groaned painfully, and put his face into his hands in a great impersonation of the Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.”

“Please, sir,” said the officer, “you don’t have to take it so hard. It’s not that serious.”

“It isn’t?” moaned the motorist. “Then what happened to my boat and trailer?”


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.