My first traffic ticket was before I ever had my actual driver’s license, which should have been my first clue.
I had the piece of paper that said I would one day, very soon, have my first official driver’s license. I had my provisional. And, if memory serves, I used that responsibility to drive to Vienna for a friend’s birthday dinner and then kind-of, sorta race my friend Rob back to the Burke area (He had passengers in his car. I believe my father had expressly forbidden me to take anyone in my car – or is that a Virginia statute about provisional licenses? Either way, it was a good thing).
I was driving my father’s 2005 Hyndai Accent, a new acquisition and one he got because it was under $14,000. The car that would later become Barbara Ann was a two-door hatchback – no power windows and, more importantly, no CD player. Barbara Ann was the reason I became obsessed with having cloud music services that I could jack into my phone’s headphone plug.
I also didn’t know how to turn on the car’s lights in 2005. Which is why I got pulled over.
I mean, I was also speeding, but it was probably the lack of headlights that caught the officer’s attention. He pulled me over into my Colony Park neighborhood and asked me to check if my lights were working. Like an inexperienced lover, I fumbled around the dashboard and managed to find the knob, turning the lights on. So he only gave me a ticket for speeding.
Anyway, that my was my first traffic ticket. In the decade that followed, I’d be involved in the following:
- Bumping into the back of a Lexus SUV on I-66 in the middle of rush hour on the way back from an internship with the Fairfax Connection newspapers
- Smashing the right wheel of my mother’s Honda Accord into a curb on the way to a public gym
- Causing a five-car chain accident on a rain-slicked Fairfax County Parkway that completely accordion’ed the front end of Barbara Ann
- Getting pulled over for breaking 90 in a friend’s car on a flat road in Kansas
- Turning right on red in a blind-spot intersection in Blacksburg, Va.
- Speeding on Virginia Tech’s campus past the Duck Pond (I never showed up to court, but neither did the officer)
- Accidentally staying on I-66 past the Vienna Metro stop during HOV-only hours
- Missing a stop sign outside of the Springfield-Franconia Metro station the week after my license had expired for being 25 years old
But this particular traffic ticket was my first and only time I had to hire a lawyer.
I was heading back to Blacksburg after completing an important Faceback interview with my high school friend Matt. It was also a trip I needed to take to get away from Blacksburg during a major party weekend. It’d been almost a year since I graduated and I’d been working a big-person job since September. But I was still living in the same college house where I’d finished out undergrad and I was living with (mostly) students. The environment was…a bad fit for professional life.
On my way back from Richmond, I was, as usual, thinking about a girl. For most of the trip, I was thinking about how I would get this girl back.
Until I saw the cop car ahead of me on the hill and then looked at my speedometer. My thought process changed pretty quickly.
I was charged with going 83 in a 65, or something like that. The officer told me I’d have to have representation in court because of the reckless driving offense. I told the officer I thought reckless driving only happened if you were going 20 or more over. The officer informed me that, in Virginia, reckless driving is anything over 80 miles per hour, which of course meant many, many cars driving along the Virginia interstates were driving “recklessly,” especially since the institution of boosted speed limits.
I’ve taken a certain attitude toward getting stopped by police officers: There’s just no damn point in freaking out about it. So I drove back home, probably still thinking about that girl, but also making sure I never, ever broke 80 in Barbara Ann again.