Monday, February 13, 2006
There is a difference between altruism and the inability to say no. So when a tiny library an hour distant calls up and asks if I will give a talk for their coffee break series, I gape like a goldfish for awhile and then say yes. I know I will kick myself later, when I've got to practice my slideshow and find the old projector and wipe the hairballs off its lens, load up the car and blow an entire day getting to the tiny library. Today, I overslept and had to get the kids dressed and brushed, pack their lunches and (an extra wrinkle) make sure all their hand-made Valentines made it to school in one piece. I had to feed the animals and the wild birds and then get myself cleaned up, dressed, and packed for the show, put the kids on the bus, and hit the road--all in 50 minutes.
But I enjoyed the ride up the Ohio; it was a pearly bluegray day and the great blue heron rookery was looking hopeful and ready for tenants.
I always love seeing Mail Pouch barns, an icon from my childhood that's still a common sight around here.
I shot pictures through the windshield, out the open window... Oh yeah, having fun. Life gives you lemons, you make beef stew.
The funny thing about little Ohio towns is that you can be in deep doo-doo before you've even seen a speed limit sign. I know every speed trap around Marietta dead to rights, but I was out of my territory. This little kitty gave me a knowing look as I came into town.
aren't you going a little FAST, Missy?
Ooh, 35 mph. I pumped the brakes--OK, slammed them on, and decelerated. Lights flashed in my rear view mirror. Oh, turbobummer.
I looked at my watch. I had left a half-hour to set up my nasty old projector and deal with whatever lighting and screen situation I'd encounter, to strew my offering of books and cards and stuff to sell, hoping to at least make my gas money back. And I knew this small-town officer would take every bit of that half-hour in painstakingly checking my license, registration and proof of insurance and then writing me up some god-awful ticket. I could see I didn't have a snowball's chance of impressing him with my "Give Turtles a Brake" and John Kerry bumper stickers, my nature girl altruism, traipsing along on my way to give a talk on hugging hummingbirds at the library. I told him I was sure his radar was correct; that I knew I was speeding, but would he mind expediting the process, because I was due to give a free program at the library in five minutes.
That hint rolled off him like water off a duck's back. He was half my age, and he was gonna stick it to me. Ever notice how the younger the cop, the less mercy they seem to have? 46 in a 35 mph zone, that's what I was doing, and he must have clocked me just beyond the place where the speed limit mysteriously changed from 45 to 35. They've got it all figured out in these little towns, just where to lurk to maximize their chances of grabbing the inattentive out-of-towners and hummingbird huggers.
He wrote me a ticket for $90, which was $90 more than I was making for my day's work. I thanked him very much.
I staggered into the library at 10:03, to find 14 retirees sitting expectantly, smiling at me, eager for their morning's entertainment. I didn't feel very entertaining, but I smiled and said, "Well, I'd have been here a half hour ago, but one of your finest just wrote me a $90 ticket for doing 46 in a 35 mph zone. Heh heh heh." Now there's an icebreaker.
"That was you?"
"We saw you stopped there!"
"Oh, that's just terrible!"
"He's always grabbing people right there, and he always blocks the road!"
"Let's go down to the mayor's office and talk to them!"
That last suggestion sounded pretty good to me. It could be kind of a Milagro Beanfield scene. I hoped they meant it. I could make placards for them. We'd march together on Town Hall.
So I gave my talk about homesick hummingbirds and bird-eating bullfrogs and other nature esoterica, sold enough books and cards to cover my costs, took a picture of the happy people filing out of the library (having forgotten their promise to accompany me to the mayor's office)
and set out, alone, to find the mayor.
My first stop was the mayor's office, which also seemed to be the fire and police station. The cruiser that had nabbed me was sitting ominously outside. I forged on, my jaw set.
There was a big NO SMOKING sign on the door, and two more inside, one in Spanish. The office was thick with cigarette smoke. Hmm. I squinted through the bluish haze and found a clerk. "Would the mayor be in?" I asked. She put her cigarette down. "Is this about a citation?" she replied. Answer a question with a question. I realized I was still holding the ticket in my hand. Duh. I am soo smooth.
"Well, yes, it is."
"He's not in his office. He's not going to be back until late late this afternoon," she said, a little smugly.
"I expected that. I was told he lives nearby."
"Well, yes, he does, but he's probably busy." She looked at me significantly. I wondered how busy the mayor of this itty bitty river town could be. Pretty busy, from her look.
"Would you mind telling me which house is his?"
"Gray with white trim," she said, a little sheepishly, then looked down and started shuffling papers.
I walked outside, looked around and found a gray house with white trim. I knocked on the door. It was not the mayor's house, but the occupant told me which one was.
I knocked on that door. Dogs barked and a TV blared.
The mayor and his wife were watching TV. Bob Barker was holding a Pet Quiz. They invited me in. The TV went on with its business. Two doberman mixes sniffed me all over, seven times. Luckily they liked me. Probably because I could have aced the Pet Quiz with both hands tied behind my back.
"My name is Julie Zickefoose. I'm a freelance nature writer, and I was coming into town this morning to give a free talk for the library's coffee break, and I got written a $90 ticket for doing 46 in a 35 zone. I'm sorry to bother you at home, but I just hoped that you might be able to help me out. It seemed a little harsh, when I was coming here to do a public service."
That sounded good to me, and I hoped it sounded good to the Mayor.
He said, "Here's what I can do. I'll cut it to $50, and I won't give you points on your license, but that's all I can do."
I took it, thanked him warmly, kissed the Dobies on their long noses, walked over to the police station, paid up, and headed home. I stopped to admire some geese planing into an embayment along the Ohio. There's grace all around, all the time, even on crappy days. My heart lifted.
I got home at 3 p.m., with just an hour left before I had to pick the kids up and start dinner. Phewwww. Whatta day. The phone rang. It was my beloved editor at NPR, telling me that my commentary on blogging would air this afternoon on All Things Considered.
Beats getting a speeding ticket in an Ohio river town. All things considered, it was a good day.
Posted by Julie Zickefoose at 8:14 PM