I remember complaining to my friend Dave about being ticketed in Cleveland Heights for a rolling stop. I knew I'd come to a complete stop because – for a change – I'd seen the police car sitting there and knew how much the Cleveland Heights cops love to write tickets.
"Yeah," Dave shrugged. He was sympathetic because a friend had a ticket to pay but, as always, had a pretty balanced view of the world. Dave's also been a cop for many years. He's used to hearing people say they didn't do what they were stopped for.
"Did you ever speed, or park illegally, or do something wrong and not get ticketed?" he asked."Sure," I said."Well then," he reasoned, "this ticket might be wrong. You might have come to a complete stop and he says you didn't. Think of this ticket as one of those things you get for all those times that you should have gotten a ticket and didn't."
I didn't buy it. If no one was there when I'd done something wrong, then those somehow weren't on the slate anymore. We aren't talking about balance. We're talking about injustice.
Dave let me rant a bit and then raised his eyebrows. "Maybe your right," he said. "But so what. There's really nothing you can do about it. You say you came to a complete stop, he says you didn't. Even if you're right, just pay the fine."
I hate it when he's right like that. But he was. And there was a time that I had forgotten until this morning. Back when I was working those crazy hours teaching high school during the day and doing night time radio ninety minutes away. Starting the drive back home at midnight knowing I'd be getting up the next day at six a.m.
One night I dozed off driving home. It was only for a second or two, but when you're driving at sixty five miles an hour that's a long time. I woke up when the police car next to me hit his siren and lights. I had been drifting into his lane. I pulled over terrified at what could have happened. I could have been killed. I could have killed someone else. I'd never been so happy to see a cop in my life.
He was incredibly nice about it and, once he determined I wasn't under the influence of anything, he drove behind me for the next mile until I pulled over in a truck stop and promised to sleep for a couple of hours. I hadn't thought about that night for years. Not until I was walking back to the house this morning a little after five.
About quarter til five I thought I heard a woman screaming. I looked over to see if Kim had heard it but she'd been unable to sleep and had moved downstairs to the couch. I listened at the window and didn't hear anything so I got back into bed. The power went out for a few seconds. Just long enough for all the clocks near me to start blinking twelve.
The screaming started up again and this time there were sirens. I threw on a pair of shorts and headed down the street. A couple of neighbors were standing there well clear of the three cop cars, the fire truck, and the ambulance. They said that a kid had fallen asleep driving home from prom. One of the neighbors had talked to the kids and reported that all of them were ok but they had hit a pole and the car was in pretty bad shape.
I know this had nothing to do with Elena and Dave but in a way it did. All of those times that Kim or me or Maggie or Elena had done something dangerous or had an accident that could have really harmed us didn't count. Thank goodness these kids were ok. But it doesn't stay on the slate. If something later happens to them when they're not doing something wrong, it's not a cosmic balancing of the accounts.
Of course, that's not what Dave meant. He really meant what he said. "There's really nothing you can do about it." The rest was just a context to think of things the magnitude of a traffic ticket.
I got home and told Kim what had happened. We went back up to bed. Half a block away it sounded like the emergency crew was pulling the car off of the pole. The electricity went out again. We listened to the clean up operations and said nothing.
The sky began to brighten a bit. Kim finally dropped off to sleep. I hear Maggie start to stir in the next room. I paused to thank whatever was responsible for no one getting hurt and thought of four kids I'll never meet. Four kids who got to see the sun come up again this morning.