T Minus 40: Busted!

I received my one and only traffic ticket while I wasn’t even driving!

My friend Jen was the first of our gang to get her license, so she was our chauffeur for the better part of a year. Even after the rest of us started getting licensed, Jen’s car was still our go-to vehicle. It became our private club. We drove everywhere, but never went anywhere. We frequented fast food drive-thrus, particularly Taco Bell, that way we didn’t even have to get out. From Bellerose to Westbury, we owned Jericho Turnpike.

Cruising along in Jen’s Dodge Neon we honed our rapping skills, wrote scripts for still un-filmed masterpieces and even got guys’ phone numbers all without pulling over. When one of us was lucky enough to have a date the poor guy was expected to pile in and assimilate.

One night in August of 1993 I was out and about with Jen, Christine and Lisa (the usual crew) in our suburban ‘hood. For some reason, I got the idea to start asking people on the street to vote for me. A vote for Amy is a vote for you! I would shout from the passenger’s side of the Neon. We announced my candidacy all over town.

We decided that I was running for Comptroller, mostly because none of us was sure exactly what a Comptroller did. We named no particular town or district and as far as we knew there was no actual election taking place at that time. We thought it was hilarious, and for some reason so did other people. We owned it. We didn’t feel dorky or embarrassed. Even the “cool” kids would wave and cheer when we drove by.

One night we made signs before we went out. They were hand drawn and elaborate, with my tagline clearly visible on each oaktag creation. The Neon was my campaign car. In order to really get my message out there I took to sitting in the passenger’s window of the car “Dukes of Hazzard” style as we cruised our tiny hamlet of Floral Park. We had no idea why we were doing it, but hey, at least we weren’t getting drunk and doing drugs.

As our zest for the campaign waned, the thrill I got from sitting half in and half out of the Neon only grew. I greeted friends we passed on the street in this way constantly.

Just about a week before senior year was to start we were out one night in our four-wheeled sanctuary when I saw our friend John on the street. John had been my date for the junior prom and we made quite the couple due to his over-six-foot stature. So, he was totally recognizable to me standing by a car on the right side of the road.

I popped up onto the car window sill. We were going to pull over to see if John wanted to hang out with us, but I figured I would pull out all the stops with my greeting, so I yelled and waved to him from my perch. As we got closer Lisa reached forward and slapped me on the leg. I thought what the hell? I couldn’t hear the conversation (if there was any) from inside the Neon. Then the car that John was standing next to started to come into view. There was something on top of it. Shit. They were lights. It was a cop car. And crap. That’s not John, that’s a very tall cop!!

I had basically just asked the police officer to pull us over, loudly and demonstratively. I dropped back down into the seat as fast as I could, but it was too late. I had already drawn his attention to my dangerous and illegal activities. We slowed down. I heard him mutter something along the lines of, you’ve got to be kidding me, as he motioned for Jen to pull over. Lisa and Christine were cracking up in the back seat. Jen and I were scared. I knew I shouldn’t have been out on that window, but I wasn’t sure if there was an actual law against it.

The officer came into view as he approached Jen’s side of the Neon. I thought, how in the hell did I think that was John? This guy is so old, he’s like 40!

We were all silent as the officer gave us a stern lecture about safety and the responsibility that comes with having a license to operate a motor vehicle. He asked Jen for her license and registration, then he asked for my license (which I had received only a few months prior). I didn’t know you could be asked to show your license when you weren’t even driving. Once the officer walked back to his car and out of earshot, I ranted about the injustice of what had just occurred.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity for his return. There was a lot of conjecture on the law. We thought maybe he would let us go with a warning. What could he do anyway? I wasn’t driving and Jen didn’t do anything wrong. We had been driving well under the village speed limit, but when the officer returned we could see the tickets in his hand.

We were busted.

We were probably the least trouble making pre-seniors out partying that night and we were nabbed. I was issued a ticket for “clinging to a vehicle” and Jen was issued one for allowing me to cling to the vehicle. It was the worst thing I’d ever done. I was going down. I would have a police record now and never ever get into the right college, panic set in. I tried to play it cool though, I spent the rest of the night bitching to my friends about the cop and how unfair he was.

Clinging to the vehicle. What the fuck is that? I was sitting. My perch was completely stable. It’s not like I was up on the roof in a high-speed chase holding on for dear life! They make it sound like some Mel Gibson “Lethal Weapon” move AND I was just the passenger, what if I didn’t have a license? What would they do then? Huh? It was all so unfair!

Jen was pissed. None of us knew that the driver of a car is automatically held responsible for all the stupid shit her friends do in said car.

Shortly after the bust, we ran into our friend Steve who was a year older than us and had graduated the previous June. He had been in an auto accident during his senior year, so when we told him what happened I received my second safety lecture of the evening. He told me he was glad I got a ticket because now maybe I would stop being so careless. I had a huge crush on Steve, so I took his tirade to mean that he cared and therefore must be in love with me too. It was simple, perfect logic.

Jen and I chose to plead not guilty and a few weeks later we went to court. We were tried together. We walked into that court room terrified, but in the end it amounted to a routine traffic stop. We were kids with no prior tickets so the lawyer pleaded our offense down to “parking on pavement”. I thought, what a stupid ticket! Where else would you park? The whole street is pavement. I did not share my thoughts on that with the judge.

The incident ended up costing me fifty dollars and Jen, forty. Our parents decided that we had been justly punished and chose not to impose further discipline. We settled our debt with the court clerk. It was a fortune to us back then, but a small price to pay for the lesson we had learned.

Keep all of your limbs inside the vehicle at all times and for God’s sake, wear your damn glasses!

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