It was a Tuesday’s end in early November, and I’d just left Troy heading back to Lima after doing some housekeeping inspections for my employer, Mid-American Cleaning Contractors. I figured I just might get home in time to enjoy an hour’s worth of light working of that autumnal ritual that would have mystified pioneering men of an earlier generation: chasing those leaves around and bagging them.
I was keeping up with the flow of traffic in the right-hand lane, setting the cruise at just a couple ticks above the posted 70, not bothered at all by the steady stream of cars, many bearing Michigan plates, zipping by me in the passing lane. Anyone from Ohio that does a high volume of highway driving knows that most Michiganians, or Michiganders, whichever demonym you prefer, treat Ohio posted speed limits as minimum expectations.
It was then that a driver came up on the left lane to pass me, drew exactly even and then backed off. Of course, we all know what that signals, and I immediately started looking to the left to see where the state trooper was parked in one of those emergency-vehicle strips. While I saw none, as the driver eased the vehicle into the right lane behind me, his action became clear when that scary silver Dodge Charger came into my rearview-mirror view riding the left lane a few ticks under 70.
Of course, I pressed the cruise control twice bringing me into alignment with the posted speed. Seeing a trooper in wing position in the left lane without passing is of course unsettling, and when he signaled and slid into the right lane directly behind me, I got that rollercoaster feeling in the pit of my stomach.
No, no, I thought, please not a speeding ticket for a couple miles over…don’t hit that scary bank of lights! Seconds later, he did indeed activate those hideous lights, ones I imagine to be the same shade as the old man’s eye that drove Edgar Allan Poe’s narrator to murder in the iconic short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
I eased over onto the shoulder and pulled out my license and reached for the glove box to get the registration. My last speeding ticket was about eighteen months earlier, so I thought maybe I was due, but a couple miles over…really? As he approached the passenger’s side of my company car, I, of course, committed to politeness and full compliance, always, I firmly believe, the absolute way to go when interacting with law enforcement.
The patrolman greeted me, saying, “How are you doing today, sir?” to which I replied, “Pretty good, officer, right up until the time you activated those lights. I wasn’t speeding, was I?”
Surprisingly, he said no. He then told me that he’d been behind me for a while observing the flow of traffic and noticed I’d drifted a bit toward the center line before correcting a couple times.
While I’m certainly not one of the some 145,000 of MENSA International members, I knew where he was headed with this. He noticed my work shirt and cap with my company logo and asked me about my job and what I’d done that day. Following a bit more chatting, he asked the money question, which, of course, was whether I’d been drinking, to which I immediately said no.
Satisfied, he returned to his cruiser with my license to call it in. Five minutes later, he returned and gave me my license back along with a yellow slip entitled “Traffic Safety Reminder,” which listed in the violation box “Marked Lanes,” a term, to be honest, I didn’t even know existed. He told me to make a more conscious effort to eliminate drifting. He said he used to work night shifts and had trained his eye to notice any path deviations while patrolling that indicated a possible DUI.
After thanking him and assuring him I’d make a much more conscious effort to maintain a truer course, I pulled back into traffic and had some flashbacks to an impossible 55 years ago when I took my driver’s test. I remembered my losing some points for driving a bit too much toward the middle, a habit, I know, had sprung from a fear I’d developed in driver’s ed, worries about hitting a parked car.
I also thought about my times working summers for Lima Parks when I did my share of dragging diamonds. I’d drive the tractor with a drag affixed to the tractor’s towing ball from the Central Services Building on South Collett to Robb, Cook or Faurot parks. The steering on that tractor was rather loose, causing some sway to the drag, and I was constantly fearful of that drag swinging over too far and clipping a parked car. So I again, not unlike those who drive farm machinery on rural roads, took a line as left as possible as often as possible.
As for my early November encounter coming back from Troy, well, call it the muscle memory that transcended the years. Since my encounter, I’ve made a far more serious effort to heed the admonishments of my dear mother so very long ago, that warning used by mothers of miscreant little boys from time immemorial, as in, “Straighten up and fly right!”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]