"How can you be in two places at once when you're really nowhere at all?"
- The Firesign Theatre
The story begins, as most do, once upon a time.
In a sleepy little town called Exeter, nestled in bucolic Southeastern New Hampshire. It was here my parents settled when we followed the footsteps of so many colonists before us. Life was reasonably good, and growing up wasn't too bad (they tell me now that I was an "easy" teenager), resulting in the usual outcomes, one of which was to obtain that classic American document of freedom, my Driving License. I lived at my parents house in Exeter for about a year after being awarded that distinct privilege, and again two years later for about another year while I figured out how to waste the rest of my life, since sleeping through my college classes just wasn't going anywhere fast.
For many hazy years after moving out in early 1982, I lived in various crummy and nice apartments around the Seacoast area, always taking care, no matter how late the bills were, or how decrepit my car was, to inform the State of New Hampshire of my whereabouts so they could keep my little piece of plastic updated.
There were many handsome pictures affixed to the these pieces of plastic, generally ranging from the "please don't arrest me again" look to the "just got out of jail" one. I just have a guilty face...
Fast forward a few years now, gently though, to avoid vertigo, and catch up to April of 1996. I happened to present myself in a rather noticeable manner to one of Eliot, Maine's finest, by travelling at a rate of 78 miles per hour in a section of the road clearly marked with a 45 mph speed limit. This resulted in a subsequent visit to the York County Courthouse to plead my case (I was passing someone going 40 who sped up while I was doing it), which at least caused the judge to halve the fine for me. I paid the amount due and drove out into the garish New England sunshine, believing I was a free man once more.
What did I know?
Last June (this is 1999 now) I was driving casually along Route 1 through York, Maine, on my way to the Monday night festivities at the Cape Neddick Lobster Pound. In case you didn't know, Monday night is when Lex & Joe's Blueswing kicks it out for a capacity crowd of attractive young people and a few decrepit old fans like myself. For once I wasn't using my trusty cruise control to guard against vehicular malfeasance and its associated unpleasantness. I had just passed the 45 mph speed limit sign (up from 40) and was gently speeding up, probably to about 60, because it's so easy once you know how, when I noticed a car pacing me off my left shoulder. Preferring not to be used as a guiding light by some drunk, I slowed down a little to let them drift by me. No such luck, he slowed down also. Then... the oh so familiar blue lights in the rear window started their merry dance.
I pulled over quickly and neatly, getting well off the road. I prepared my documentation and sat waiting with my hands on the wheel and the window open, better to put the officer at ease as he approached my vehicle. We had a brief discussion about the speed limit, my point of origin, intended destination, etc., and he returned to his prowler (as they call police cars in Fargo, N.D.) to run the usual cursory checks.
Upon his return to my car, he asked me to step out of the vehicle. Hmmm, maybe he actually ordered me to step out of the vehicle. "This is going to be fun", I chuckles to myself, "beating a sobriety test cold sober...", which merry thoughts soon faded as he asked me to stand behind the car and "assume the position". "Put your right hand behind your back", he said. I did as he asked (whether these were orders or requests is irrelevant, he was armed with some serious firepower and all I had was my shy wit), and heard and felt the clicking of cold metal about my wrists, one after the other...
What could I have done to deserve such treatment? He said the computer showed some sort of administrative hold on my license, had I perhaps been stopped for OUI recently? Um, no...
I was shaking. My car was going to be towed and I wasn't going to be there to supervise. When you've put as much time and energy into your car as I have, you don't really want some guy crawling down out of the Maine woods yanking it around with a bunch of rusty chains. But I was not even to be allowed to observe the process, as my friendly arresting officer and I had an appointment with the back rooms of the York Police Station.
(A few notes about the York Police Station. They have a great street map of York and York Beach, which really helped me straighten out how the various roads I have followed through that fine town are actually arranged. They also have the same flash on their portrait camera as I have on my beat up Pentax - a nice automatic Vivitar.)
The officer in question was really very nice about this whole thing. I was obviously clueless as to why he had to arrest me - I hadn't received any nasty letters from the Maine Motor Vehicle folks, and it had been many years since I was last stopped there, during which interval I had succesfully guessed my way through the eyesight test and renewed my New Hampshire driver's license. So what could it be? Although "Driving Under Suspension" is a pretty major offense, and with an out of state driver would usually result in them requiring some real cash bail, he offered to let me out on Personal Recognisance. Of course I didn't even have the $25 cash I would need to pay the Bail Bondsman.
Now, I have a good friend who works the door Monday nights at the Lobster Pound, and she knows everyone in York and they all know her. A friend actually describes her as "The Ambassador of York", buts that's another whole story I guess. Anyway, I had been trying to call her there, but I kept getting an answering machine. Well, no kidding, it's damn loud in there and no one is expecting any phone calls at midnight. I look up in frustration, and another officer asks me who I'm trying to call... so I finally drop her name. "Oh, I know 'X'!", he exclaims, and offers to go get her to come bail me out. So off into the night he drives. Which is ok, since the Lobster Pound is only about 1/2 mile up the road from the Police Station. Forty minutes later, my arresting officer brings me out to meet... my friend 'X's mother (!) who was just visiting her briefly while she worked. It seems 'X' was very busy minding the savages at the door when the officer arrived, first asking for 'X' and causing a minor flurry of worry, then asking her, amusingly enough in front of several acquaintances of mine, if she could come bail me out. Between her and her mom they managed to scrape together $25 to achieve this. I am so glad this did not happen in some out of the way hamlet 'way Down Maine, where I could have languished for days, or even weeks, trying to sort out the details.
So, bailed out but still a bit nervous, I was finally at the Lobster Pound, which was closing down. 'X' was very helpful, giving me a ride home, and meeting me the next day to go get my car, after I had contacted the Maine Motor Vehicle folks in Augusta to clear up my little "administrative default". It seems that in Maine when you speed over 30 mph over the posted limit, you are obliged to undergo a 30 day automatic suspension of driving privileges, after which you must pay a $30 fee for reinstatement. After giving them a credit card to pay the fee, the nice lady at Motor Vehicle said they would mail a copy to me (as well as fax it to the York PD), and should that go to "25 Bell Avenue in Exeter...?!"
I asked, "Is that where you mailed the letter telling me of these arrangements in the first place?", and she confirmed my suspicions. I also asked why they didn't mail it to the address on the ticket, from my current license... "We don't have that information here!" Well. I offered up my current address so they could update their files, and to make sure I got the hard copy of my certificate of freedom. Amusingly enough, the irony of the situation was completely lost on this bureaucratic pawn.
By the way, in case you were wondering, my car was towed with a "ram it under and yank it up" dolly, rather than a ramp truck, and they did quite a bang up job on my oil pan which now leaks copiously around its gasket.
So what is the moral of this little tale? I wish there were something truly useful one could educe from my experience. Let's see, I'll try a few:
1. Don't ever drive a car.
2. If you must, never, ever, ever, get stopped anywhere.
3. Never drive out of state.
4. And, if you cannot obey these simple rules, be certain to file a "Change of Address" form with every state in the Union every time you move, just in case they need to contact you about some important matter!
By the way, it's worse. To write this epic accurately, I had to dig out my folder on the incident. It seems my court date was today, not in the middle of August as I recalled (can you say "denial"?). So as of 8 AM today I have jumped bail. Anybody know how much is a one way ticket to Borneo...?
© Huw Powell