About every six months I get the urge to cook. Usually I ignore it, but this time my craving for homemade pot roast was too strong.
That craving coincided with a rare Friday I’d taken off from work. I dusted off my cookbook, checked the recipe, made a grocery list and headed to the store.
The street in and out of my subdivision, Douglas Drive, was one I’d traveled hundreds of times going to and from work. The speed limit was 45mph, and I’m very conscientious about not exceeding the speed limit. From day one of driving I’d never gotten a ticket, and was proud of that.
There’s a school on Douglas that I’d never paid much attention to – why would I? Besides, today I was focused on how good that pot roast was going to smell in a few hours, and taste for dinner that evening.
It was around 8:15am and there were a couple of cars ahead of me and one next to me, all of us doing the speed limit. There was also a car behind me, which suddenly transformed from an innocuous sedan into a monster with blue and red lights flashing, siren screaming, and a terrible voice saying, “Turn right at the next street and pull over.”
It was the police. And they were talking to me.
Heart pounding, I turned, parked, shut off my engine and stuck a smile on my face. I had no idea why I’d been pulled over. My license plate tags weren’t expired. Did I have a burned-out taillight? What could it be?
The police car parked behind me, and I watched in my side-view mirror as the officer approached. Stocky, thick neck, buzz haircut, pristine uniform, all business. “Ma’am,” he said, “do you know why I pulled you over?”
“No, sir,” I said.
“You were speeding.”
Speeding, I thought. Me? I’m always the one in the right lane, going the speed limit. Buses pass me. School buses pass me. Bicycles pass me. Speeding? No way!
I didn’t say this, of course. I didn’t say anything. Picture deer in the headlights, but with its mouth dropped open in shock. Like mine.
The officer continued, “Did you see the sign back there with the flashing yellow lights? It says the speed limit along here is ‘25mph when children are present.’ Kids are in school today. I clocked you at 45. I’m giving you a citation for 20 miles over the speed limit.”
He collected my driver license, registration, proof of insurance and walked back to his car.
I said I’d driven this street hundreds of times and that was my problem: I went to work before school started, and came home after school was out. No school, no kids, and no flashing lights to think about during the week, or on the weekend. But this was Friday and school was in session and I was in deep trouble.
For the ticket: $332, according to the “Courtesy Notice” mailed from the San Diego Superior Court. (This event happened several years ago, so rest assured these amounts have increased since then.)
The notice went on to advise that if I was eligible to attend traffic school and if I chose to attend and if I successfully completed it, then the violation would be dismissed and no points added to my DMV record. There would, of course, be an additional fee of $52 for processing the traffic school paperwork.
New total: $384.
Cost of online traffic school: $20.99.
Cost of the trip to make pot roast: $404.99.
After the officer concluded our get-together and drove away, I sat in my car and stewed. Then I went from stewing – to steaming. First, why me? At least three other cars were going 45, so why did he choose me?
Second, this “when children are present” stuff. What does that sign mean? If there are no kids in sight because they’re all in class, are they still “present”? If the kids are on the playground but the playground is fenced in, are they still “present”?
Now my steaming evolved into something bordering on self-righteousness. When I got home from the grocery store – yes, I went ahead with my pot roast plans – I called the police. They advised that whenever school is in session – any time kids are in, going to or coming from school – the speed limit is 25mph. Period.
So now I’m painfully aware of where the school is. When I drive by Monday through Friday between 7:30am and 4:30pm, I slow down to 25mph.
People behind me are not happy. Expressions of displeasure range from fist shaking to extending the middle finger to illegally passing me. So far no one has followed me home to share their road rage, but I continue to be vigilant.
What’s my takeaway? Any school with a “25mph when children are present” sign means what it says.
And the next time I feel the urge to cook – I’ll ignore it.