The blob this week about failing my eye test while trying to renew my driver’s license reminded me once again of my erstwhile driving days of yore. While no one has ever suggested that I was a good driver, I do believe I should be recognized for my tactical skills in avoiding getting traffic tickets.
During the years I was driving, I can’t count the number of times I was stopped, questioned, investigated, scolded, warned, and threatened by the traffic police, but only a few times did I ever get presented with an actual traffic ticket. Please don’t applaud. Anyone can do it. It just requires strategic thinking — and being accompanied by a toddler like my daughter Judy.
To demonstrate the strategy, I’ll first set the stage by borrowing this excerpt from my previous Blog #18 called Traffic Jam.
“Years ago, when daughter Judy was between 4 and 6 years old – and our only child not yet in school, – she, and my friend Aline Felzer, and I used to pile into our old Ford station wagon every Thursday morning and go to the Pike Place Market. This was before the artist Mark Tobey produced his paintings of the Market that turned it into a tourist mecca. At the time Aline and I shopped there, trust me, it was anything but.
Back then, the Pike Place Market was the place to go if you were a hard-core penny-pinching grocery shopper. We could find everything in bulk, day-old, marked down, below cost, overripe, cracked, a little bruised, or free.
It was the only place we could buy the brand we called ‘El Cheapo’ in the #10 cans. Or oatmeal in 15 lb. bags. Or where we could find bargains like what we carefully referred to as “used candy”.
Used candy was always full of surprises. It meant that the children might be finding in their Easter baskets an assortment of pumpkins, witches, bats and candy corn. I don’t think the children were excessively disappointed because they knew full well that the bunnies, marshmallow eggs and jelly beans were on their way. Eventually, they would turn up later in their Christmas stockings. You just have to be patient in a big family.
Getting to the Market was always an adventure. Aline couldn’t drive a car, and actually, neither could I, but since I had a driver’s license and access to a vehicle, I was the designated driver by default. Aline served as navigator, and little Judy in the back seat acted as our passenger decoy. Her role was to capture the pity of the policeman with the traffic tickets. Policemen like and protect toddlers, and, more importantly, they don’t want to put their mommies in jail.
As long as I could avoid the traffic hazards like one-way streets, hills and parallel parking, getting to the Pike Place Market was usually uneventful. Speeding tickets were never a concern because we never went faster than 10 miles per hour. Freeways hadn’t been invented yet in Seattle but if they had, we would have studiously ignored them.
But the left turns – the left turns were our nemesis. We took great pains to circumvent them but sometimes they couldn’t be avoided.
As the navigator, Aline would yell “Look out! Turn left. Turn left!” And I would. Usually this maneuver was quite successful but not always. I would say that on most of our Traffic Incident reports, the term “left turn” figured in prominently.
They may not point this out in Driver’s Ed but left turns are much harder to negotiate than right turns. Even Judy could have made some of our right turns. But when it comes to a left turn, that’s where you separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the skillful from the more-or-less competent.
It didn’t help any, but we eventually decided that the problem might have been this: as a lifelong Republican, Aline had had more practice navigating to the right and she just couldn’t get the hang of turning left. It was a problem that was simply out of our hands.” (End of Excerpt from Blob #18.)
While we were at the market, our shopping was fast and furious. Between the two of us, Aline and I were feeding 16 people so we used to buy everything in BULK.
Little Judy riding along with us in her stroller was always well received by all the fruit and vegetable and meat vendors. Many of them knew her by name, and everybody used to smile at her and give her a slice of bologna or a ripe banana.
When we were done with our mad shopping spree, it would take one of us two to four trips to haul our loot up to the car, while the other stayed with Judy and the stroller. Once all of us were back in the car, it was time to prepare for the always suspense-filled drive home.
The times we got stopped by the police were nearly always in leaving – not arriving at the Pike Place Market. I think that it was because I was so unnerved by the procedure of un-parking the car. The street we were on was on a street so hilly that it was perpendicular to the market. As soon as I would try to un-park, the car would start rolling backwards and then I would have to “gun” the motor to propel the car forward up the hill – and very often it would burst forward and accidentally go through the red light that was always waiting for us at the top.
It was at these times – when we heard the police whistle – that we needed our passenger decoy – little Judy in back of the car.
This is how it worked. Whatever the policeman was upset about, he’d get off his motorcycle and plow his way over to us.
First he’d glare at me, and then Aline. Then he’d turn to peer fiercely into the back section of the station wagon.
Car-seats were unheard of in those days. There, seated atop our newly purchased 50 lb. bag of non-fat dry milk would be Judy – a small blue-eyed toddler, blonde ringlets a-tremble, clutching her banana, and gazing in absolute terror at the big scary policeman who was going to shoot her.
Sitting very quietly in the front seat, Aline and I always waited in hushed anticipation for the inevitable melt-down, and the magic words, “This time it’ll just be a warning, but next time . . .”.
After we completed our conversation with the very nice policeman, we would drive away as carefully as we could.
We would go straight to the Red Mill eatery across from St. Joseph’s Church. There, Aline and I would smoke our Pall Malls and drink our coffee, and Judy would finish her banana. Then we would all have hash-browns and eggs to celebrate yet another successful adventure at the Pike Place Market.
After Judy started to first grade and couldn’t accompany us anymore, it was never the same. She kept us safe. Those were the last times the police were ever nice to us.