Wednesday, March 17, 2010

meditations on a roadtrip

On Monday I took off for my first solo roadtrip.  Armed only with a package of rice cakes and the Glee soundtrack (courtesy of Echo) I set off for Unnamed National Park to meet up with some of my homies.  Along the way, I learned some valuable life lessons, and like the self-absorbed Generation Me-er that I am, I decided to share them with all of you.

I have gotten two speeding tickets in my life.  The first time I cried.  The second time I sweetly and effusively apologized.  Neither time did I successfully dodge the ticket. 

After receiving my ticket, I became extremely paranoid about getting another one.  Not only did I drive about five miles under the speed limit (and yes, people did totally love me), but I tapped my breaks every time I saw a white ANYTHING approach.

Intellectually, I know that a white Mazda is not a cop car.  But tell that to my poor pounding heart.

I was told to bring lots of sweaters to Unnamed National Park, and I did—along with my birthday Ute Snuggie.  (Thanks Nelson!)  But were any of them enough to keep me warm during stargazing at 10 pm?  Absolutely not.

On the plus side, I have now seen both Saturn and Mars through a telescope.

That one is pretty self-explanatory.

I’ve referred before to my irrational fear of heights.  It’s not just that they’re scary—it’s that when I get too close to a cliff’s edge, or even when I drive too close to the barrier railing on winding Texas highways, my knees start to get weak.  Then I imagine fainting and falling (or driving) to my death.  Then the weakness gets worse, and is generally accompanied by some dizziness. 

It didn’t help that the snow was so deep in Unnamed National Park that the guard rails were completely submerged, and there was nothing—repeat, NOTHING—standing between me, or my friends, and a horrible, squishy death form which my organs would not even be donateable.  And it REALLY didn’t help that one of those friends (ugh, Nelson again) insisted on hopping around as closely to that horrible, squishy death as possible.  

Look, I know that not all cops are jerks.  But you have to admit—some personality types are drawn to certain professions.  I am whiny and argumentative.  Lawyer.  People with maniacal control issues?  Cops.

Now, I have to hand it to the cop who gave me my ticket on Monday—he was very polite to me, and despite the fact that he declined to give me a warning for my traffic indiscretions, I more-or-less liked him. 

Cop number two of the trip?

Not so much.

As we were leaving the Vistor’s Center at Unnamed National Park, Nelson was pulled over.  (50 in a 40.)  A lady cop brusquely asked Nelson for his license, registration and proof of insurance, which he supplied.  When she returned with his documents, she then demanded his Social Security number.

Nelson paused.  “Um … 555 … actually, do you mind me asking why you need my Social?”

Lady cop did not like that.  “Sir, you were speeding in a federal park, which is a federal offense,*” she snapped. “You can either give it to me or I can find it out, but one way or another, I’m going to know it.”

Awkward pause while LC stared Nelson down; Nelson glanced over at me—less for the advice of the semi-lawyer in his presence, and more for the confirmation that this was Total Weirdsville.

“Ma’am, he’s just asking a question,” I piped up, trying to sound like Extra Cheery Ru, in case that would be helpful.  “Just wanted to know why you needed it is all.”

Nelson gave her his Social Security number, and she walked back to her police car for the second time.  Nelson and I and Other Two Unnamed Friends (it's getting really hard thinking of new pseudonyms) glanced at each other.  “Um, that was weird, right?” said Unnamed Friend Number One.

“Right,” I agreed.

LC returned with Nelson’s ticket, and her attitude was no more friendly as she explained how large his fine was going to be.  That didn’t stop Nelson from trying to smooth things over.  “Sorry about that, it’s just that you can understand why I might feel weird just handing over my Social Security number,” he said (in a tone which I considered very diplomatic).

“Sir, it doesn’t matter why I need it,” LC said huffily.  “When a police officer tells you to do something, you comply.  When a police officer asks you a question, you answer.  That’s all you need to know.”

At this, I made a peep—I think it was a “huh,” like the verbal expression of eyerolling.  LC’s bat-like hearing honed in on that, and then next thing I knew she had ducked her head in through Nelson’s window so she could glare at me directly.  I’ll be honest—I jumped.

“Do you find that funny?” she snapped.

(I know I’ve used the word “snapped” already in this description, but really, her tone was just snapped from the second she pulled us over to the second she let us go.  No other way to put it.)

By now I was kind of losing my temper.  “Ma’am,** whether I find it funny or not is irrelevant in this situation, but the fact is that what you said just isn’t true.”

“Well, it’s the law.  Look it up,” LC snapped back.

“Oh don’t worry, I have,” I replied snottily.

(In retrospect, I wish I’d come up with something cleverer.  Like, “Oh, the law, is it?  Can you point me to which page of the law that’s on?  Do you happen to have an extra copy of the law lying around?  I’d like to freshen up on that.”)

As I drive home on the long stretch of highway between Itty Bitty Town and Slightly Bigger Town, I wonder whether I have it in me to pull over and pee on the side of the road.  I haven’t done that since I was six.  In my last two road trips—one with Nelson to Las Vegas, one with my Dad to Austin—both of them responded to my wails over an inadequately sized bladder with the suggestion that I embrace my inner granola and squat it out on the side of the road.  I had responded huffily that I would not pee in front of another person, and I would hold it until the next possible rest stop.

With no possible rest stops on the horizon, and driving a long distance by myself for the first time, I began seriously considering the squat-and-pee option. 

It was just as unpalatable as before.   I held it for forty-five minutes instead.

* Ok, yes, federal offense.  But still a class-C misdemeanor.  Let’s all calm down, shall we?

** Yes, I said “ma’am” twice to the bitchy cop.  Seriously, my parents raised me too well.


  1. Ah yes "the law," that nice tidy book of all the rules, succinctly and clearly laid out. I can't believe I've wasted so much time on Westlaw when I could have just been looking at "the law."

  2. Can I get a copy of "the law?" It would come in handy when preparing for this whole finals thing.