The gentle hand teaches best

January 15, 2013 § 31 Comments

“Didn’t you see the stop sign?” Dude was pissed.

I’d already dismounted and turned to face him. “Yes, sir. I did.”

He had the flashers going on his Torrance PD squad car and he had one hand on the butt of his pistol, in that casual way cops do to let you know that even though it’s a stop sign violation, they can kill you. “So why didn’t you stop?”

“I run that stop sign every day, Officer. My office is right around the corner. I’m trying to warm up and as you can see it’s pretty much in the middle of the hill there.” The stop sign in question was on Spencer and Earl. “I’ve never stopped for it.”

“You sure didn’t stop today.”

“No, sir. I never do. It’s a terrible habit. I keep telling myself it’s a terrible habit, but I just keep on running it.”

“Didn’t you see all the traffic in the intersection? You blasted through that thing with just a couple of feet to spare behind the fender of the car that was going by. What if he’d braked?”

“I’d have gotten all garfed up, sir.” Dad always taught me that the guy with the gun and the handcuffs and the mace and the radio and riot shotgun gets called “sir” no matter what.

“You cyclists have made our ‘Share the Road’ campaign pretty unpopular, you know?”

“Yes, sir. I’m one of the worst offenders out there.”

“Well, I guess you won’t be surprised when I tell you that what you just did is a moving violation?”

“No, sir, I won’t be.”

“And that it’s going on your record?”

“No, sir.”

“And that it’ll mean points off your license?”

“No, sir. I deserve it.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “You do. May I see your license?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. He took it and went over to the squad car. A small huddle of people from the apartments and the local businesses had come out to see what was up. They were laughing and pointing.

“Hey, pink socks!” one of them yelled. “They finally caught you! About time!”

I nodded in their direction.

“Maybe you’ll use the brakes on that fancy bike starting tomorrow!” called another.

I smiled affably and nodded again.

The cop came out. “Where do you work?”

“Right across from the Scott Robinson.”

“Oh, the law office?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You ought to know better.”

“I do know better, Officer. It’s a bad habit. Kind of like smoking.”

“I’m going to do you a favor, but I’m going to ask for one in return.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m going to let you off with a warning.”

“Thanks, Officer.”

“And in exchange, you break that bad habit. I want you to promise that you’ll quit running that stop sign. Deal?”

“Yes, sir. Deal.”

We shook hands. The gawkers could see from a distance that I wasn’t getting a ticket and they were bummed.

The next stop was a stoplight, which was green. I punched it, fearing to look back and see if the policeman was following. He’d sent me a strong message. Running stop signs was dangerous. I needed to take a breath and slow down. I thought about the good deed he’d done and about my errant ways. I was a terrible example to others. My continual lawbreaking angered motorists, exasperated cyclists, and was no longer appropriate.

The next stop sign was at Victor. Complete stop.

The next one was at Henrietta. Complete stop.

“Hey,” I thought. “This isn’t so bad.”

The next one was at Edgemere.

Then Wayne.

Then Tomlee.

Then the stoplight at Prospect.

Every single one, a complete stop.

There’s something about following the law that feels good, and I felt it. Playing by the rules. Doing what was right. “I could get used to this feeling,” I told myself.

Once across Prospect, I noted that the jurisdiction had changed to Redondo Beach. No way that Torrance cop would see me here. Plus, with each stop I’d counted up the ones that remained: Including stoplights, there were forty-four full stops between office and home, and I’d only gone through ten of them. At thirty seconds per stop, all this law abiding nonsense would add twenty minutes to my commute, not counting the extra effort of getting the bike going again.

By Esplanade, I’d ratcheted back from full stops to rolling ones.

From Paseo del Playa I took the stop sign full bore and didn’t stop pedaling until I got home, fifteen stop signs later.

I felt kind of guilty.

But the next time I come down that hill leaving the office, I’m coming to a full stop. Because I’m a man of my word.

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