The lights appeared out of nowhere in my rear view mirror. “What the hell?” I said. I was driving through Banner County, Nebraska, which is all wide open plains. I somehow missed seeing the police car.
I looked down at my speedometer. 80 mph. That’s only five over the speed limit. I pulled my car over to the side of the road, turned my four-way flashers on, and grabbed my documents from the glove compartment.
I was returning from Cheyenne, Wyoming, where I had taken my Hyundai Accent in for a new clutch. The Accent made it 99,950 miles with its original clutch. The Hyundai dealership provided a loaner car until mine was fixed. I assumed something was wrong with the loaner car and that was why I was pulled over.
As the police officer came up to my car, I unrolled the window. He leaned down and asked me, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Seriously? Why do they always ask that. Even if I was doing something wrong, I’m not stupid enough to admit it.
“You were driving 80 mph.”
“The speed limit is 65 mph.”
“Shit.” I put my head down. I totally spaced it off. I had only lived in Nebraska a few months. I forgot once I got off I-80 the speed limit dropped from 75 to 65.
I gave the officer my license and the registration and insurance from the loaner car. I watched him walk back to his patrol car and get in. When he returned, I got the usual spiel. You were speeding. Here’s a ticket. You can show up in court and fight it. You can pay the ticket. Here’s the address to mail the check. Have a nice day.
Seriously, cops shouldn’t tell you to have a nice day after they give you a ticket. I’ve gotten tickets in at least eight states. They always tell you to have a nice day.
The cop gave me my documents back. I signed the ticket and got a copy. The cop walked away. I rolled the window up.
“God fucking dammit. Fuck.”
The next day at Cedar Canyon Elementary School, I explained to my coworkers how my day off went.
“Don’t you know never to speed in Banner County?” Judy Land said. “They always get you there.”
“Uh, no. Not from here,” I said.
“Oh right. Well, don’t speed there.”
Thanks. I’ll remember for next time. Because there is always a next time. I informed my coworkers I was going to fight the ticket. Some seemed confused you could fight a speeding ticket. I assured them it was possible.
You show up in court, beg for mercy, and they work with you. My tickets have never resulted in points on my license.
Several weeks later, I got in my car and drove north to the Sioux County Courthouse. I still don’t understand why a ticket in Banner County has to be fought in Sioux County.
The courthouse is in Harrison, Nebraska: Population 251. I was nervous when I entered the courthouse. This was small town Nebraska and I didn’t know what to expect. I found the courtroom upstairs. It was locked. I waited fifteen minutes. No one showed up.
I walked downstairs and entered the county clerk’s office. I explained my situation. They were confused. No one ever fought speeding tickets.
I turned over my ticket where it was clearly filled out. I had the right to dispute this ticket.
The clerk didn’t know what to do. She suggested I talk to the county attorney, but he wasn’t in the courthouse. I sighed deeply.
The attorney’s office was a block away. I crossed the ultra-wide street on foot and wondered if this was worth it. I entered the office. There was no secretary. I was getting frustrated.
A man came out of a back room. I explained why I was there. He said he was the county attorney and invited me into his office. He asked to look at the ticket.
“Are you saying my officer lied?”
Oh great. Here were go. No dude. For fuck’s sake. Did you not listen to me?
“No, sir, I never said he lied,” I said. “I’m here to ask for leniency because I’m new to the state and I honestly didn’t realize the speed limit.”
“Because if you’re calling my officers a liar, I can’t agree with that,” he said. “They’re good, honest people.”
I sighed. Dude. Please listen to the words that I am saying. I began to respond, but the attorney cut me off.
“I wouldn’t say my officers lie,” he said. “I need to defend them in court. Are you saying my officer lied?”
Fuck. Okay, bite your tongue, Irene. Don’t get drawn into this argument. It’s not going to go well for you and you really don’t want to be jailed in this tiny-ass town.
“No,” I said. “I’m not calling anyone a liar.”
“Good,” he said. “Because it would not look good in court if I called my officers liars.”
I really wanted to respond. I wanted to unleash my anger and rage, but clenched my jaw instead. I honestly didn’t know how to respond without making the situation worse.
“Well, I’m not going to get rid of the ticket,” he said.
“I never asked you to do that,” I said.
“Good…because I’m not,” he said.
At this point I was ready to just pay the ticket to get the hell out of town.
“There is a class you can take,” he said. “It’s not technically approved by the state, but if you take it and pass, you won’t have any points on your license and the ticket will be dismissed.”
I thought, why couldn’t you just say that to begin with instead of jerking me around? I kept my mouth shut and let him explain.
The National Safety Council, Nebraska chapter, offered a STOP class in Alliance. Great. I get to travel to another city to sort this crap out. Okay. Whatever. Let’s do this.
The attorney made a few phone calls. I had missed the deadline to register, but he got sorted it out. I was to show up to take the class a few weeks later.
I thanked him for his help. As I left the office, he told me to have a nice day. I clenched my jaw and replied with the standard, “You, too.”
On the appointed day, I drove 57 miles to Alliance. It was a straightforward defensive driving class, much like the ones I took in New York to reduce my insurance rates. At the end of the day, I passed. I headed back home to Scottsbluff.
I had been driving about ten minutes when a police car passed me, driving in the opposite direction. He immediately turned his lights on and turned around.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I said. I looked at the speedometer. 72 mph. The speed limit is 65 mph. I pulled over and waited for the stupid cop-perp questioning to begin.
“Do you know why I pulled you over,” the officer asked.
“Nope,” I said.
“That crack in your windshield is impeding your line of sight,” he said.
Oh great. Fix-it ticket. I got this.
“And you were going 72 mph,” he said.
Fuck. I handed the officer my paperwork.
“Where are you coming from?” he said.
“STOP class,” I said.
“Seriously,” he said. I nodded. “How did you do?”
“I got 100 percent,” I said.
The officer smiled and then started laughing. He laughed all the way back to his patrol car.
I sighed deeply. I resigned myself to the fact I was getting another speeding ticket and I was going to finally have to fix my windshield.
The officer came back to my car with a smile still on his face. I received a warning for speeding. I also received a fix-it ticket for the windshield. I had ten days to fix it, get any cop to sign off on the fix-it ticket attesting the windshield was fixed, and then mail it in.
“Really? 100 percent?” he said.
“Yep,” I said.
The officer tapped his hand on top of my car door and stood up.
“Try to drive just a little bit slower, okay?” he said.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Have a nice day,” he said.
“You, too,” I said. I meant it this time.
I smiled, shifted into first gear and pulled back onto the highway. As I shifted into fifth gear, I look down at the speedometer. 73 mph. Nice, I said to myself. I drove the rest of the way home with only one hand on the steering wheel.