Of course, any traffic incident inevitably takes me back to my first ticket experience, which took place the night of my Senior Prom. It was a surreal event to cap off a surreal time in my life. Aside from the usual craziness that surrounds high school graduation, my comic supporting role in the school play had been getting big laughs, and for some reason Cheetahman--the junior class president at the time--decided that it would be a good time to nominate me for prom royalty. In a rare fit of social confidence, I called up the captain of the drill team--a girl I'd exchanged maybe a dozen words with in three years--and asked her to go to the dance with me. Inexplicably, she said yes.
And that's how we wound up sitting in my parents' Honda on a gravel parking lot at the west end of Smoot Park round about 11:30pm the night of the dance. The early stages of the evening were pretty standard: our group had gathered in downtown Salt Lake at Benihana for dinner, then migrated over to the State Fairgrounds for the dance itself. After getting pictures and doing a few obligatory dances, we drove back up north to a home in Centerville we'd designated as a way-station to get out of our formal clothes before meeting at the park to hang out for a couple of hours.
But even though we were the last couple to leave the changing house, when we got to the park no one was there. What I didn't understand was that Smoot Park was an elongated strip of property that stretched from west to east, and I was only familiar with the west end, where I'd meet friends to play football. The east end had a traditional paved parking lot and a jungle gym for little kids, and that's where everyone else went.
If we had cell phones back then, it would have been easy to address the problem. But we didn't, and in my teenage zeal, I came to the conclusion that everyone else must have driven their cars into the park to form some kind of automotive drum circle. No really, I actually thought this.
"Maybe they all pulled up on the grass," I said.
My date didn't have any better ideas, so I flipped on my brights, stepped on the gas pedal, and began driving through Smoot Park, searching for my friends. I was very careful to go slow over the foot bridge that crossed the creek that ran through the park--after all, I was in my parents' car--and after a while, I saw some lights up ahead.
The drum circle, obviously.
But when I got a little closer, my lights illuminated the words "Centerville City Police Department" on the side of a large white squad car. The police had already arrived to break up the party, which was taking place in the normal parking lot next to the jungle gym, about five minutes before I pulled up on the grass.
After a brief awkward exchange with the officer, I handed over my license and my parents' registration before he walked back to his squad car, leaving my date and I to wonder if I was going to be arrested. My friend Dustin came over to check on us and see if I wanted to give him my last will and testament, or just give my date a ride home. But then the cop came back and stopped at my window.
|I didn't feel like scanning in my Prom photos, so instead|
I'll let this image act as a metaphor for my evening.
Quietly I got out and followed the officer over to his squad vehicle.
"Get in," he said, pointing to the passenger seat.
I opened the door and got in next to the officer, who ignored me for ten full minutes while running my name through the system and filling out some paperwork. The distorted robotic voice of the dispatcher--which mentioned my name a time or two--was the only sound in the car amid all the blinking lights and the flashes of static. I kept waiting for the officer to start reading me my rights, but eventually he just got my signature and gave me a court date before kicking me out of his car and driving off into the night, presumably to break up another of Viewmont's wild prom parties.
A couple weeks later I found myself in the Centerville City Courthouse with my dad, waiting to visit with Judge Jensen about my citation. The room was more of an office than a courtroom, smallish and packed to the hilt with offenders, all of us waiting on the judge who sat against the wall in front of a window behind a massive wooden table in his vast black robe. For an hour or so we sat quietly while the city's finest felons filed up to the table to address their various DUIs and other violations. At one point a county inmate in an orange jumpsuit and shackles was led into the room to discuss some kind of heinous crime I've since blocked out, though I think it had something to do with armed robbery or murdering seventeen people or maybe just using an Arby's for illicit purposes, and I got the feeling that I was just a little bit out of my element.
But then Judge Jensen called me up to his table. He sat there for a moment looking over my citation, looming in the tall frame that had fathered some of the area's most successful basketball prospects, then sighed and asked me this question:
"Josh, are you familiar with city statute 347Z-211B?"
I squinted my eyes and concentrated for a second, as if there was a chance I actually had encountered that statue in my travels.
"No," I replied.
"It pretty much says you can't drive through public parks."
Five minutes later, the verdict was official: $40 fine and nothing on my permanent record, since it wasn't a moving violation.
It wasn't a moving violation because I wasn't driving on a paved surface.
And so I walked out of the courthouse a free man, my father by my side, tasting the pure spring air. Now it was time to dial back in and finish up my high school career, maybe work a couple of extra hours at the grocery store to make up for the citation money, and look forward to a bright, criminal record-free future. To be honest, my biggest surprise during the whole ordeal was how easily my parents had taken the news of their son's socially deviant activity.
They let me borrow the car again, but I never did get another date with the drill team captain.