“You’re such a leadfoot. You’re lucky Officer Stiller likes all of us cheerleaders so you never actually get a ticket.”
I laugh as my friend Jennifer teases me from the passenger’s seat of the Gutless Cutlass, my 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, her chestnut hair flying as we speed through town. Every day was a race against the clock. Lakeside High School offered a perk to the seniors – open campus lunch – but with one small caveat; we had exactly 28 minutes. Thankfully, the Breadeaux Pizza that was just a few blocks away from our school always had a steaming hot pizza buffet waiting for us and our amazing government teacher, Mr. Carlson, always looked the other way if we were a couple of minutes late.
“Why does everyone call your car The Gutless, anyway?” Jen asked, shoving the rest of her pepperoni slice in her mouth.
“Even when I floor this thing, it barely moves,” I respond, demonstrating by pushing the accelerator all the way to the floorboard. The speedometer slowly crept up from 30 to 35.
“Isn’t it 25 along here?” she asked, glancing around, keeping an eye out for Dave Stiller, everyone’s favorite town cop.
“Yup,” I shoot back, “and I haven’t gotten a ticket on this street yet.”
“Yeah, just every other street in Lake Vista,” she shot back.
“Whatever. I’ve talked my way out of more tickets than I have actually gotten. It’s an art form,” I explained, as I expertly guided my boat of a car into the last parking spot on the commons’ side of the school. We hopped out of the two-tone brown vehicle, slamming the monstrous doors shut.
“Well, let’s see your other art form,” she whispered, nudging me and nodding her head towards the door. Mr. Cunningham, the school principal, was heading our way.
“The 5th period bell already rang, ladies,” he called out as we crossed the lawn towards the door.
“We, uh, forgot to put the windows up and there is a trick to them, since the car’s so old, so it takes two people,” I quickly gush my excuse. “Mr. Carlson said it was OK since it looks like rain and we’ve only been gone a couple of minutes.” I gesture frantically at the cloudy, overcast skies as Jen hides her Breadeaux napkin.
“Alright then, get to class then and enlighten your minds about our US government,” he responded, a smile on his face.
“Seriously, have you ever gotten in trouble for anything in your life?” Jen muttered under her breath.
“Not yet,” I whispered, “And I plan to keep it that way.”
“Hey Sarah,” Bryan yelled down the hallway, “can I catch a ride home from you?”
“Yeah, just give me a few minutes to get my stuff together and meet me at The Gutless,” I respond.
“Thanks,” he calls, slamming his locker. “See you in a few.”
I grab my pink, Esprit canvas tote bag and sling it over my shoulder, filling it with four ridiculously heavy textbooks that I needed for my homework that night. All of my AP classes had homework every single night, but tonight I had government homework as well. I grab the keys to The Gutless off my locker shelf and head out to the parking lot. Bryan is leaning against the passenger door when I arrive.
“Thanks again for taking me home,” he says as I come over to his side to unlock the door. He climbs in, leaning over to unlock the driver’s side for me. I wasn’t totally lying to Mr. Cunningham when I told him my car was jacked up. Driving a “vintage” 1979 car in 1992 meant each day was filled with new, car-related challenges and the driver’s side door lock only opening from the inside was the latest.
“No problem,” I respond, tossing my bag in the backseat and starting the engine with a roar. “Listen to the purr of The Gutless.”
“You gotta love this car,” Bryan responds, his dirty blonde hair flopping over his blue eyes. His dimple appears as he tosses me a wry smile. “But at least you have a car. I wouldn’t have to bum rides off you every day if I had my own. A slow, old, ugly car is better than no car at all.”
“Excellent point,” I declare, popping my new Bell Biv DiVoe cassette into the tape deck and turning up the volume as “Poison” comes blaring through the crackling speakers.
“Girl, I must warn you…” I wail, slowly cranking down the driver’s side window, “I sense something strange in my mind.”
“Boy, you really like this song,” Bryan says with a laugh. “You might want to slow down though,” he warns.
Just as he finishes his sentence, I look down at the speedometer and it registers how fast I’m going – 68 miles an hour. Crap. As I slam on the breaks, blue lights begin to flash in my rearview mirror and the sound of a siren drowns out my radio.
I signal to pull off the side of the road, my hands shaking. I had been pulled over countless times and I could usually cry on demand, but I had never been going this fast before. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the new, younger officer approaching my car, instead of my buddy, Officer Stiller. I knew this was going to have to be the performance of my life. I snapped the stereo off and straightened in my seat.
“Good afternoon, Officer…” I questioned, looking at his nametag, “Townsend. Was I doing something wrong?”
“Do you know how fast you were going?” he asked, his voice low and stern.
“I am so sorry. A song came on that I absolutely love – do you like Bell Biv DiVoe? And I think I just got to going a little fast without even noticing. I’m so sorry. I slowed right down as soon as my friend pointed out how fast I was going. I promise I won’t let this happen again,” I stammered, smiling.
“68 miles an hour. You were going 68. Do you know what the speed limit is along here?” he demanded.
“It’s 45, I know,” I said, my eyes turning downcast, “and I am so, so sorry. I have never gone that fast in town before and I promise, promise this will never happen again.” I hoped the dishonesty was not apparent in my high-pitched, frantic voice.
“It’s 35,” he stated, “and in a few more blocks, it drops to 25. You were about to be going 43 miles over the speed limit in a school zone. And school gets out in a few minutes. This is going to be a seriously hefty ticket.”
“Officer, please, I am super confused right now,” I say, my brow furrowing. “I am absolutely sure it’s 45 along here.” At this point, I was no longer acting. I could have sworn it was 45 along here when I took Bryan home the week before. “And 68 sounds like a lot,“ I continue. “Are you sure that’s what I was doing? When I looked at my speedometer, I swear it said I was going 55. So I honestly thought I was going like 10 over and I know that is still a lot, but I was slowing down, I swear. I started slowing down as soon as I realized…” I glance over at Bryan as I trail off, hoping he will chime in and testify.
“Yes, Officer, she is absolutely right,” Bryan started. “It was 45 along here just a few days ago and she doesn’t drive on this road that often. I live just around the corner so I am on this road every day and I swear, they just took it down to 35.”
“Well, I’ll have to verify that, son, but it doesn’t change the fact that it turns into a school zone and I clocked her at 68,” he responded in a firm, direct voice, his eyes darting back and forth between me and Bryan.
“Officer, I swear that it looked like she was only going 55 at the most. I glanced over when she started belting out her ridiculous song and that’s what I saw when I told her to slow down.” Bryan looked like a trustworthy Boy Scout as he lied straight to the young officer’s face.
The officer took a deep breath and stepped back from The Gutless. I lowered my shaking hands from the steering wheel to my lap, realizing as pain shot down both wrists that I had been clutching the wheel this entire time. Bryan took in a deep breath and shot me a sideways questioning glance, his thoughts saying, Do you think we have a chance here of getting out of this? He knew of my uncanny ability to talk my way out of tickets, but this one was a bit more serious than even what I was used to. Officer Townsend pursed his lips together and stared down at the ground alongside the driver’s side door, thinking. I held my breath, not wanting to get my hopes up, but taking his pause as a good sign.
“Well, to be honest, I have been having a little trouble with my radar gun. Get your license for me and then sit tight for a few minutes,” the officer said, drawing in a sharp breath. I grabbed my wallet out of my bag in the backseat and handed him my license. He took it and strode back to his police car.
“Holy crap, do you think we are going to get off?” I gasped, looking over at Bryan.
“Well, you’d better hope so,” Bryan responded. “It’ll be a huge ticket if he writes it for how fast you were actually going. You could even lose your license.”
“Yeah, thank you so much for covering for me. Even if he does give me a ticket, if he reduces it, it will be so much better. I guess at this point I am praying for that,” I clasp my hands together to keep them from shaking harder. A few minutes of tense silence passed.
“He’s coming, he’s coming,” Bryan whispers, darting a glance over his shoulder.
“OK, Miss Severson, will you look this over and sign at the bottom please?” My trembling hands took the metal notepad with the ticket clipped to it. Speed: 55 miles per hour. Speed limit: 45. Charge: excess speed violation – 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. Fine: $36.00. I breathed a sigh of relief. I cast a quick glance over to Bryan, my pupils huge. He hid his grin and looked away.
“Thank you so much, Officer Townsend,” I gushed, handing the ticket back to him. “I promise, this will be the first and only time you stop me for speeding. I will never let this happen again. Thank you so much!”
“Please slow down,” his serious expression bore into me. “I know you feel invincible. I was your age once, so I know how you feel. But when you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, you are not only taking your life into your hands, you are taking the lives of everyone else on the road and all those kids at that school up there you were about to barrel by. Please stop speeding!”
“I will, I promise,” I said with a forced smile. “Thanks again.”
I slid the gear shift into drive and slowly pulled back onto the road. “My dad is going to be so pissed at me,” I say finally, after a long pause.
“Not as pissed as he would have been if you would have gotten a speeding ticket for going 43 miles over the speed limit,” Bryan responded. “Silver lining?”
“Silver lining,” I smile, turning the stereo back on and signaling to turn left and head up the hill to Bryan’s house. “Situation is serious,” Michael Bivens crooned out at me from the speakers and I nodded my head in agreement. But it could have been much worse.
Kate Leo has worn many hats in her lifetime: daughter, sister, friend, student, teacher, wife, parent, adult caregiver, and most recently, writer. An Iowa native, Kate has her bachelor's and master's degrees in English Secondary Education and is a certified reading specialist. Kate knows the power of reading and writing and wants to encourage her students to write for an audience beyond the teacher. Kate hopes to share short stories that mirror the experiences from many hats she's worn. Kate is the author of the blog "Write When Life Happens" on Substack.