It just so happened that the gift exchange would be taking place on a Friday and about a week and a half before Christmas. The early evening rendezvous would happen at the Shell station just off Interstate 75 in Wapakoneta at approximately 5 p.m. The transfer would be simple. My wife and I would get our three grandchildren, a diaper bag, their luggage, a few toys, a couple stuffed animals, an inflatable bed cushion, boots and winter clothing, and their respective car seats. In turn, we would hand over the 60-year-old kitchen table I ate thousands of meals at while growing up in northwest Chicago, two leaves, and four wooden chairs. In my book, a swap both fair and square.
So, my wife and I headed south out of Ottawa on the well-traveled state Route 65 with enthusiasm given all we had planned. The chock-full itinerary included dinner out at Five Guys, a bedtime movie and a quasi-slumber party in the master bedroom. Saturday would bring a pancake and sausage breakfast followed by a trip to Kaleidoscope Farms to pick out the annual Pollitz family Christmas tree.
Off we went, traveling a comfortable five miles over the speed limit. There was nothing to distract us as we almost mindlessly made our way in the swiftly fading early evening light.
My first inkling to check my rearview mirror came while waiting at the stop light to turn left onto West Sycamore and into downtown Columbus Grove. From there it was a right on Slabtown, left on Bluelick, then the interstate entrance ramp south. I had little reason for concern as we were in no hurry, but the glance revealed a vehicle that distinctly resembled a Putnam County Sheriff’s Department cruiser. Though unwarranted, the “halo-effect” kicked in ever so slightly as I looked down just to be sure my turning indicator was blinking. Check!
Cautiously, after all oncoming traffic had passed, I slowly proceeded through the intersection making my way over the town’s railroad crossing. For curiosity sake, I peeked again to see if the deputy joined me in the turn. He had!
As I approached the only stoplight in town, much to my dismay, I found there were some other lights flashing; the ones atop the deputy’s vehicle behind me. “No way! You’ve got to be kidding me,” I offered to my copilot, then adding, “What’s this all about?” I drove through the light and obediently pulled over. I looked over toward my wife, in part to shield my face from being recognized by any of the locals, to see her reaction. She was as puzzled as I.
The officer’s arrival finally came whereupon he called to my attention that I had been traveling 60 mph. No big deal, I thought. He then alerted me to the fact that the speed limits had been changed on State Route 65 around Columbus Grove. I’d no idea and rather sheepishly mumbled how I’ve ventured this way “thousands of times.” He apparently had no interest in my prior navigational history in this locale and promptly asked for my license which I awkwardly dug out of my wallet.
Oddly enough and as fate would have it, the Ohio authorities had just recently increased the speed limit from 40 to 45 mph as one neared the state route stop light, and added a decrease further out from 55 to 50 mph. Go figure.
My beloved spouse gave a resigned look of “Oh, well,” as a ticket would dampen our evening somewhat not to mention reducing “what’s in my wallet.”
A few minutes later, the kindly law enforcement officer returned to the side of our vehicle and said to my surprise, “You have a perfect driving record, sir.” Before I could even have a moment of glory, my wife chimed in, “No, officer, he got a speeding ticket in Pennsylvania once!” Needless to say, she almost ruined it and I quickly retorted, “That was almost forty years ago and before we were married!”
It wasn’t so much the cost of the ticket I dreaded but all the grief I’d have to take from friends after discovering that in addition to my name in print as a “guest columnist,” it would also be in print under the column heading of “Traffic Violations.” Never a good thing, especially for a “man of the cloth!”
The inevitable finally arrived. You guessed it. Through the open window he returned my license along with another item. Not a ticket but a $30 gift card to the Village Hardware Store in Leipsic! Yes, you heard right! “You gotta be kidding me,” I said in disbelief. Talk about an unprecedented gift exchange and most gracious gesture of goodwill from one of our county’s finest. Not only do they serve by keeping our roadways and community’s safe, they can also serve up a smile by “showing some love” in stunning ways.
Go figure, and I certainly did, with the purchase of a new pair of much needed tree pruners for exactly $29.99.
Note to reader: Driving over the speed limit in hopes of a similar “love gift” is not encouraged.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org