"Well, how are ya?" my mother's voice rings out. It’s our weekly call, her turn.
"Fine," my voice sounds flat. Sometimes it’s a chore to talk. The topic is usually her troubles at work. I have enough of that on my own during the week. I need week-ends to re-coop. I work a high stress job as an art therapist to severely emotionally-challenged children and young adults in schools that are overpopulated and under-staffed because of the economic recession. It’s all I can do to manage the day-to-day overload.
"You don't sound very fine," she says. "What's wrong?" When I pause, she attempts a more casual tone, "Anything wrong?"
"Not really. I'm just tired. What's going on your way?"
"Well, I got another speeding ticket. What I mean to say is that I almost got another ticket. Coming back from Chickasha yesterday. It's just ridiculous."
"You gotta watch it, Mom. You have a red car and you're an older woman."
She snorts defensively, "What's that got to do with anything?"
"The police don't want to stop these young guys with gun racks and big monster trucks, Darlene. They gotta get their quotas somehow. You’re an easy mark."
"Well, basically that's what I told him."
I groan. I seem to do that a lot when I talk to my mother on the phone. "You told the policeman that you suspected he stopped you so that he could fill his quota for the day? Darlene...."
"Not exactly that," she interrupts. "Well, I guess I did say as much. More actually. I didn’t say I suspected him of anything. I told him directly he was doing it."
"I'm sure," I say barely audible, then wait. I just can’t take her on this morning.
"I picked Vernon up because I had to get out of town. I had worked my butt off this week.” My mom works at the local Red Lobster as a food preparer, is divorced from my father but goes to his house—her old one with him—and does her laundry while they cook and have suppers together at least once a week. Occasionally, they go out on dates—my view, not theirs, at least not hers—picnics to the park, dining out at the Pizza Hut or some diner or cafeteria, day trips to Lexington Wildlife Area and state parks, shopping at the Salvation Army, Homeland Grocery or browsing the library for loaners and sharers. They are married in every way except for the sex and living quarters, and I’m not certain about either of those. “We had a Christmas in July special on seafood, and I peeled more shrimp this week than I care to count. I was exhausted so I just wanted to take a drive and get out in the country for awhile. So I called Vernon up and asked if he would like to go with me to that little diner in Chickasha we sometimes go to, he likes that, you know, so we went out there to eat and on the way back, this black and white stops me in New Castle."
It wasn't in Oklahoma City like before, I thought. "Lucky," I say with a grin.
"Oh sure. Right! Well, he makes with the flash—he came up from behind or I woulda seen him in time to hit the brakes—well, anyway, he stops me and comes over and leans on my window, peering in. You know Vernon. I looked over there and he was hunkered down in his bucket seat. This cop says to me that he has to see my license and all that stuff. Then while he's holding it like he's never going to give it back, he starts saying to me in this monotone about how I was doing excessive speeding etcetera, etcetera. So when he gets done, I ask him in a very civil tone, 'Can I say something to you?' And he says 'Sure.' So I say, 'You know if you drive the speed limit out here you can get killed? Nobody, I mean, nobody is driving 55 miles an hour on these highways and you guys know it. How the heck am I supposed to drive the speed limit without these people coming up on my bumper and riding my gas tank while they're waiting to go around me?'
"So he squints over at Vernon, then back at me and says, 'I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to tell me here because I've never seen a report in my life that states that somebody ran over another driver because he was going 55 miles an hour.' Caroline, I want you to listen to that: 'Ran over another driver.' I say to him, 'Of course not. That's not what makes going 55 risky. It's these guys who want to go a 100 miles an hour behind you when you are going 55 miles an hour who are willing to take chances when they pass you. They're the ones who’re gonna make you a statistic.' Then he says to me, 'That's exactly what I am trying to do. I'm trying to keep you from becoming a statistic.' 'Don't make me laugh,' I'm thinking, but I say to him instead, 'My going 55 is going to
keep me from being a statistic, huh?' Caroline, all at once I was so mad at the stupidity of this conversation, I just thought, 'I'm not afraid of you guys, by God.' They think that because they wear these uniforms and have the power to write out tickets that they can say anything to you and you have to take it even if it's stupid and untrue. Well, I'm not about to take that kind of stuff anymore, so I said, 'What is going on here?' And you should have seen him look at me. I was very polite and all but I decided to just tell him the truth because if he decided to write a ticket he might as well be writing it after he heard what I had to say. 'You know as well as I do that everybody, I mean everybody, out here is driving 75 and 85 miles an hour.'
"'You were going 70," he says, smiling a little.
"’I beg your pardon’," I say back, ‘I was going 65. I know because I keep track. I look at my speedometer often, and you know what? These people are going around me like I'm standing still. I just had a guy pass me before you stopped me that had to be going 80 or 85. He just now passed me. I don't see how you could have missed him. He cut me off because a car was coming up on the lane he was in when he was passing and Vern and I were just talking about it. So I'm not going to sit here and have you tell me that I'm going way over the speed limit and nobody else is. These people are driving around Oklahoma City on the by-pass 85 and 90 and you know it."
"I'm from New Castle," he said with a smart-alecky edge to it, and
I was furious!"
"I bet," I interjected even though I didn't need to.
"Yeah," she said, revving herself up. "Liars. All this lying everywhere. It's just a goddang game with everybody anymore. It's just like at work. My manager, Larry Castleberry, forgot to write down the date and time like I told him to when I fell in January on their slick floor that I’d told them about twice already and I got the 'yeah, yeah, yeah' response. Now, their insurance company doesn't want to pay so according to contract—it was an accident due to their negligence—well, now they have to pay; and Larry's supervisor is really upset with him for not writing it down, plus not taking care of the slick floor problem. So here they both come to me, the supervisor driving all the way from Del City see, asking me when 'the accident occurred,' and 'what time I accidentally fell' they want to know, when it's their job, not mine to keep track of these things when they're reported. I can't remember now and I did the right thing when it happened so I say they can live with it. You can't believe how nice the manager is to me these days. Hooooo. I get the right hours, and lots of them, and you know how I had to fight like hell over each and every hour all summer and spring in order to make ends meet. It's all a goddang game and I'm sick of it. Do they think I'm stupid or something? So I say to this cop, 'I know you're from New Castle. I see it on your arm!’
"Good God!" I say.
"No, wait," she says to me, "he laughs. He laughs. At least it broke the ice. Then I say, 'Look at my car. I want you to really think about what I'm telling you. This car has a 120 mile-per-hour speedometer. Why is that? These cars are made to go fast. All these commercials on T.V. have them speeding around on racetracks or on Salt Lake or in and out of those obstacle courses with mud flying in the air and that's why most people buy them, because they're built for speed. Even the little ones, like mine. Now I bet if you looked it up, you would find that most congressmen are attempting to keep the speed limit at 55. I know because I listened to the whole oil embargo thing when Jimmy Carter was president back in the 70s and he lowered it to 55 for everyone. Now that the embargo is over with, only a handful of states are threatening to raise their speed limits. Why do you think that is? I don’t wait for an answer. I tell him. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Detroit and the government are in cahoots over this one. The car makers get to keep on making the cars they can sell—everybody wants one that goes way, way over 55—and the police can keep issuing tickets on this kind of set-up any time they want. The government tries to tell us these lower speeds are all for our own safety and the national interest but it’s really just to help with states revenue, so they don’t have to give so much federal funds to help the states.' Well, his smile was gone now. I saw that he was getting a bit ticked again. Hey, these guys don't want to hear the truth, you know. So I said, 'Look I hear what you’re telling me and I will try to watch it, but...." And he slides in there real fast and says, 'That's what I want you to do. I want you to drive 55 miles an hour.' 'Well, okay,' I say, 'but I don't know what you all are going to do about this exactly because you need to take a look at how this is working out for us out here on the road. The people driving are the ones losing out in this one because we’re caught in the middle, between the police and the car manufacturers.' He just sort of smiled and told me to wait right where I was a minute. Well, I turned to Vernon and said, 'Where am I gonna go? Take out down the road at 85 miles an hour like I'd like to do right now and leave New Castle standing there?' And you should have seen Vernon. During this entire conversation, he sat there moving back and forth in his seat, grunting an 'uh-huh' sound here and there like 'yeah, that's right,' every time this policeman said anything. He was scared half outta his mind, you could tell it plain as day. So when New Castle comes back he hands me my license and says, 'Here's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to give you a ticket or anything. Not even a warning. I'm just going to talk to you. It is my job to see to it that people out here are obeying the law. The law is that you’re supposed to be driving 55 miles an hour. I saw you disobeying that law and I am telling you that I want you to be safe by obeying that law. Speed kills.' Caroline, I thought I was going to throw up. I know it probably does kill; though I have to tell you there’s lots of talk about how this isn’t true. I know because I’ve read about it in the paper and watched it on TV. All these states that are challenging the national speed limit law are doing research because they want some leverage to combat this ridiculously low 55 speed law. So getting this lecture from this cop was more than I could take. I wanted to say something like 'You got to be kidding,' but I knew I would get a ticket if I did, so right here, this once, I stayed quiet. Then he leans through my window and looks at Vernon and says, "I think you know what I’m talking about," and he nods his way, like they have this male thing between them. And Vernon nods back real big like 'Yes I sure do!' I tell you, I could have slugged him. So then the cop looks back at me, held my eyes with this slick smile on his face, slaps the window frame of my door several times with his finger, like he is tapping a pencil on a pad, like I need a big reminder, right?, and he says, 'You folks have a nice day now.' And I said, 'Thank you,' big as you please. And then he says just before he leaves, 'Thanks for the input.' Can you believe that? Thanks for the input. Wonder if he will take all that input to his chief?"
I laugh. "You know, Darlene. This is a lot like the reaction of the sheriff who handled your case when you got arrested for going into that old abandoned house and taking that stuff, you remember? Wasn't that in Chickasha? Wasn’t Chickasha the seat for your court hearing?”
"Rush Springs, yeah. My God, I haven't thought of that in years." She laughs. “And Vern and I were on our way back from Chickasha when the New Castle cop stopped me. That’s hilarious, really.”
"You talked your way out of that one too, remember, and the sheriff's reaction was very much like this cop's. It's like you get them to listen to what you have to say."
"I'm telling them the truth, that's why. These cars are going around me out there like their tails're on fire. New Castle knows this. Oh, and I told him that too. I invited him to get in my car and take a drive down the highway with Vernon and me."
"You said that to him? You're kidding! Why?"
"No, I'm not kidding. I said to him, 'If you don't believe what I'm telling you, get in the car with us and go for a 55 mile an hour drive down this highway here and watch the cars speed by me. I can even go 65 miles an hour if you let me and you still will watch them speed by me. Course," I said, "you will have to take your hat off so they don't see you're a cop.'
"Darlene, you're something," I say. She doesn't even know her magic. Of course that's what makes her work, I thought. If I said these same things to this cop, I'd be in jail in New Castle overnight.
"I knew he wouldn't get in the car with us, of course. Probably figured we'd run him in the brush and slit his throat or worse," she laughs good-naturedly. She pauses a beat, then asks: "So you think he stopped me because I'm old, huh?"
"Not old, exactly, Darlene," I said, feeling tender. "But with a little red car built for speed and with a guy like Dad by your side, he figured he had at least one tag for the day. It's not all his fault, you know. I wouldn't want to stop these guys out there either. They get in their big cars and trucks and they get mad anymore if you just want to make a left-hand turn. They think you're in their way. I'd hate to be the one to make them obey the rules! Remember that cop outside Oklahoma City who stopped us when you were coming off the by-pass ramp? He had his hand on his gun when he held his flashlight on the trunk while I opened it to get out your purse you'd left there and forgot to take it back out when we got in the car. We had to get it out of the trunk in order for him to see your license. He was nervous and rightly so. I was mad, Darlene, actually for the same reason you feel that New Castle stopped you this time. I could've had a gun in there and blown him away, you know. He was a kid. A rookie probably. It's a hard job, really."
"Okay but when they stop me instead of the guys with the Tonka trucks they don't have to get off on it, you know? What is that? This cop getting himself a ticket for the day with an older woman that he tries to intimidate. Not right."
"There are days," I say to her then, "when Thelma and Louise seem a reality just around the corner for me."
She giggles and says, "They want to play games, we might just change the rules around on them one of these days. My kind of thinking, exactly!"
"Say hi to Dad for me," I joke toward a close.
"Tell him yourself, if you want to. Right now I'm not wanting to hear his voice or see his face!"