I didn't come up with anything too stellar for him. I think I said something dumb like, meeting kids like you. An eye roll later the kid's expectations unmet, I slinked (or is it slunk) away and rode my Hawg (a very loud, SUNBURST YELLOW with double pipes and totally chromed out macho ride) out of the parking lot. THAT he liked. I could tell by the double thumbs up as I blazed out of there, the MACHO RIDER WRITER or is it MACHO WRITER RIDER? Neither really that even though I myself didn't impress him much, my ride did.
BUT, it did remind me of this yellowing page from the front page of a Wyoming newspaper up in Green River, WYO that I have kept in a drawer all these years after "the incident". SO, here is the story behind his inscription "To the nicest guy I have ever written a ticket to."
I was coming back from a mini book tour through Utah and entered Wyoming on a very long, straight highway. The kind of highway that takes so few turns you could steer with your knees and your eyes half-shut. A highway that runs horizontal, cutting through Wyoming - West to East and East to West. I was REALLY in the mood to be home and so was John, the illustrator riding shotgun on the tour, in my convertible M3 BMW. Now, I mention the car specifically because there is one very specific purpose for having the M3 engine and that is SPEED. Having been away from home for a bit and knowing at the time there was NO speed limit in Montana, the bordering state, I decided to see what the car could really do... 65... 75... 85... 95... 105... 115... and I still hadn't come out of third gear.
The "scenery" was zipping past us in a blur and we were like the male version of Thelma and Louise, hair blowing, car going.... 125... Man Oh Man was that fun! 130... up ahead a little town called Green River, Wyoming... Maybe I should slow down near a town?
NAH! 135... WHEWIE!!!!!!! YOWSA! THIS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT! THIS IS WHY I HAVE THIS CAR! I'VE NEVER THOUGHT TO DO THIS BEFORE, AND WHAT A GREAT OPPORTUNITY. NO ONE CARES ABOUT SPEED LIMITS HERE, RIGHT? WE HAVEN'T SEEN ANOTHER CAR FOR A HALF HOUR AFTER ALL...
The look on John's face was a mixture of elation and fear. I was just having a blast and we were covering territory FAST! We'd be home in no time! Man oh Man, what could be better? As we blew by Green River in a blur of liquid silver something felt a little off to me. I wondered (to myself) if possibly I should have let off a little for the duration of town passage, thinking logically about the fact that a State Highway Patrol Person would likely hover near a town in this desolate part of Wyoming for snacks, coffee, fellowship or simply because that's where he or she lived.
By the time logic hit me it was just a bit too late. I think I let off the gas and watched the needle begin to plummet from somewhere in the red or was it blue. As I felt the little nervousness creeping up my spine, out of reflex I looked in my rear view mirror. All the cars we had passed going upwards of 150 miles per hour had only owned the real estate in my rear view mirror for a few seconds. But what caught my eye was a car that wasn't retreating... it was advancing.
Just then, the advancing car turned on an assortment of lights that looked like a very sad Christmas for this celebration. I eased completely off the gas, thinking that if I didn't abruptly hit the brakes I might just fool him or her as they advanced. DESPERATION will allow the mind to think anything. As I realized a State Patrolman with a very red face was sitting on the shoulder behind me, I realized also that I had likely been doubling the speed limit when he "clocked me".
He advance very cautiously, hand on his gun and at the ready, as though there was something very insidious that I was fleeing from and now trying to put miles behind me because of. As though he had possibly come up on one of the Ten Most Wanted. As though I had stolen the sports car and had a kidnap victim next to me... as though, well maybe I watch too much television?
As he came to the driver's side door, he demanded in a very gruff tone that I hand him my driver's license, insurance and title... oh yes and then he said, "and your keys." and then as I glanced over at John with a little bit too much desperation on my face, he said something like , "and you are under arrest" and that is when the entire world went into slow motion.
I handed him the information he demanded and didn't even hear the lecture he was giving me. Well, bits and pieces of it bore their way into my cerebellum for sure. I heard "dead bodies all over the road" "absolutely stupid to drive that fast..." "You have no idea what happens to the human body in a small car like this when it collides into the ground at that speed." "If you saw what I see weekly..."
I wasn't a reckless person. I had responsibilities at home. I was a respected member of my community. I felt like a mega-dummy, then right before he walked back to his patrol car to end my life as I knew it, he looked in my backseat where three identical boxes of books were sitting on the seat. "What are those?" he asked in a super grumpy voice.
"Books..." I squeaked.
"Why so many books?" he asked."
"I wrote them. He illustrated them." i nodded in John's direction. John looked like he'd rather remain anonymous.
"What? Really? I'm a writer too!" He said proudly, already a changed person toward me. The grimace replaced by a wide smile. "So, you are really published?"
"Why yes officer, I am. Did you say you are a writer too?" I poured on the charm. John rolled his eyes.
"Well, I'm not published yet, but..." He paused, looked reflective for a moment as if he were caught between two worlds. The world of, I want to hand this guy the best lesson he's ever gotten world and Hmmm, I wonder if this guy could help me get published world?
"Well, Officer, since we are going to be spending some time together, why don't you tell me about your writing. Maybe I could give a bit of advice...?" I said with a certain growing confidence. John said under his breath, "Only you could get out of this one. I bet you do..." he was smiling and I felt a bit of a challenge.
"Mr. Matott, please step out of your car and come back to mine with me." The officer said.
My heart sunk a little. This is where I sit in the caged back seat and am driven to the police station, to the lonely one cell jail where three hairy chested, tattooed, angry muscle men who are on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Violent Criminals are going to use me as a human punching bag all night as I rot waiting for the one lawyer in town to finish his brunch before he meets with me..."
As we neared his car, me expecting hand cuffs and a rough push on the top of my head into the back seat, he motioned for me to walk around the car like a buddy would after I called shotgun. I was a bit confused, after all, I had never been under arrest before. He motioned for me to sit in the front seat with him. I opened the door and slid in. "Now, tell me, what is it like to be a real published author?" he said with almost childlike zeal.
I did what comes naturally: I launched into a full blown, exciting, embellished story about the prats and pitfalls, sprinkling my story liberally with statements like, "...after all the experiences I have had, I feel much more able to help people who are struggling to get noticed and want desperately to have their dreams come true like mine and be able to travel anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat, ride one of their fleet of motorcycles anytime anywhere, visit their homes on sandy beaches and have dinner with people most only read about in People magazine..." okay, I mentioned embellished previously...
He sat mesmerised, like a fan more than an arresting officer. After I felt I had set the hook adequately, I asked the question that spelled his doom, "Now Officer B____, am I pronouncing that right?" nod. "Tell me about your writing and your dreams for it..." Suddenly, very excitedly he pulled a newspaper out from under his seat and I noticed with it came about four more copies of the same edition, "Check this out! They just wrote about me in our paper. Look at that picture!"
"Whoowee, I've never had a full shot like that in any of the articles written about me..." I buttered him up. The newspaper, opened up to the picture of him leaning on the very squad car we were sitting in sat faced up on my lap as he launched into a story about his idea for his novel for about ten straight minutes. His excitement was palpable. Mine was growing.
After he had told me about his "book", which actually sounded very interesting, I said, "Wow, it's too bad we met under these circumstances. We seem to have a lot in common... Oh, well, doesn't keep us from being friends."
At that point he launched into a very heartfelt appeal to me to NEVER drive that fast again. He told me about the heartbreak people go through because of reckless decisions like mine. He told me one of the saddest stories I have ever heard about a teenage girl with so much promise, dashed because of one split second mistake at 100 miles per hour. "YOU WERE GOING MUCH FASTER THAT THAT! YOU HAVE KIDS, YOU HAVE A WIFE, YOU HAVE A LIFE! IT ISN'T WORTH IT TO RISK ALL THAT FOR A LITTLE FUN."
So, there it was. Our bonding moments a thing of the past. I was a criminal and soon to have a record. Yes, we could still be friends, but it would be on opposite sides of jail bars.
He interrupted my mind drift, "Promise me Justin..." (note the first name basis now) "...that you will NEVER drive like that again." He held his hand out for me to shake on it and seal a promise.
I am a man of my word, so I said, "I promise." and shook his extended hand. Then I bowed my head and waited for what was next.
He said, "You know I called in your plates before I pulled you over... I have to give you a ticket." He said it somewhat apologetically which let me know, even though I was a criminal, I was a nice guy.
"I know, I know. Shoot, wish I weren't so dumb. But do me a favor. This has been nice up until now. So I have something positive for this whole experience and since you have your pen out... would you do me a little favor?"
He nodded blankly.
"Would you sign a copy of the article about you, so someday when you are a famous author, I can say I knew him when and maybe by then I will forget the pain of what you are about to do?" He laughed and scribbled out the inscription on the picture. Then he scribbled his autograph onto the bottom of my ticket and handed it to me to sign along with my keys, driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. My eyes went to the line where it described my offense. DEFECTIVE HEADLAMP. I was stunned. I looked over at him and he smiled and said, "I meant what I wrote about you on the picture and you made me a promise. I expect you to keep your promise."
I said I would and I have. Right before I got out of his car I thanked him and knew he had indeed given me one of the best lessons of my life. Compassion and a promise made.
So, if I see that kid at the gym again, maybe I'll tell him this story. It has all of the elements a boy looks for in a good story, suspense, danger, criminals, speed, fast cars, police officers, friendship...
On the other hand, I think I'll keep my law breaking practices just between me and you.