2000 Anne Horton Writing Award
Winter has finally given up. Spring has been battling for about a month and has finally won. It is the type of day that begs for pushed-up storm windows, rolled-down car windows, and short sleeves. IÃƒÂ•m rolling down Interstate 88 with sunglasses and a big grin riding my face. Later tonight on the evening news weathermen on every channel will proclaim, "Spring has sprung," and smile like they're the first person to think of that clever little word play.
I got a phone call earlier today from my best friend, Dereck Fisher. "I'm off today," he said. "Let's go golfing." He knew the answer before I could even tell him to meet me at Duck Creek Golf Course in two hours. So my clubs are in the trunk and I'm cruising.
Beside me on the passenger seat is a half-eaten bag of green grapes. Grapes, like warm sunshine, are one of the first treats of spring. Unlike winter grapes that are dull and flavorless with saggy skins, these are firm, sweet, and juicy. Occasionally I get a real tart one that makes me wink my left eye and shutter, but man, are they good.
The radio is set on 96.9 FM, 97X, a rock and roll station in Davenport, IA. The volume is turned up as loud as it will go, and .38 Special is imploring me to hold on loosely and don't let go. I'm singing at the top of my lungs, and I laugh at myself when I mumble through the lyrics I don't know. The Guess Who is now revving up to sing "American Woman" and a storm cloud suddenly hits my beautiful day. I glance in the rearview mirror and I get a sour, dead feeling in the pit of my stomach. That feeling you get the instant you realize you've locked your keys in your car, or when you've snuck in an hour and a half late for curfew to find your dad sitting in the dark, waiting to talk to you. Right behind me, drafting like some state sponsored NASCAR driver, is an Illinois State Trooper.
"Damn," I mutter to no one in particular as I instinctively reach over and turn down the radio. My mind is racing: What does he want? How long has he been behind me? I glance down to check my gauges: 70 miles per hour, oil temperature normal, odometer reads 35023. Do I slow down, do I speed up, what's the best plan? My friend Shawn O'Neil, a Roanoke city cop, once told me if you stay within seven miles an hour of the speed limit, you're o.k. Is that just in Virginia? Does this guy know the rules? My hands are now glued to the two-and-ten position, and I'm faintly aware of a small but growing headache right behind my eyes. I feel my chest and make sure I've got my seat belt on; unfortunately my shoes are not. I hear my mother's nagging voice, "You know it's illegal to drive without your shoes on." Was she right or is that one of those things mothers tell their sons because it's something they'd prefer their sons didn't do? I convince myself to maintain speed and I'm begging myself to relax.
Think, donÃƒÂ•t panic. Do I have any unpaid parking tickets? No, I've never even had one. Unpaid speeding ticket maybe? I did get a speeding ticket once, eighty-nine miles per hour in a fifty-five zone right outside of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. That was twelve years ago, and I know I paid it. You don't forget a $140 ticket when you're only making $5 an hour. My thoughts are racing faster and faster. Maybe he's the father of some old girlfriend, sworn to get revenge for breaking his little girl's heart. No, that's just silly. I check the mirror again, careful to move just my eyes, not my head. I don't want him to know that I know he's watching me. I can see him in my mirror just sitting there motionless and presumably emotionless. He's wearing those mirrored sunglasses like all the bad-ass cops in the movies wear. I remember Beuford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit wore them, so did the cop in Terminator 2 and Ray LeotaÃƒÂ•s character in To Serve and Protect, and it strikes me that maybe I watch too many movies. How long is he going to torture me like this? My headache is getting worse. My hands hurt from squeezing the steering wheel, and I'm sweating under my hat. I take a mental inventory of the glove compartment. Do I have proof of insurance? I just paid that recently. I hope that I've put the new card in there. I don't even remember seeing my registration.
License plates, I think. I must have forgotten to put on my new registration stickers. He's still right behind me. I'll bet he's a jerk, and he won't even let me off with a warning. He's been pacing me forever. There's an exit coming up; maybe I should take it and maybe he'll leave me alone. Then again he could follow me and accuse me of trying to get away. My head is really pounding and rings of sweat are forming in the armpits of my Nike golf shirt.
Just now he swerves over into the other lane and he's passing me. A feeling of relief and gratitude washes over me. I'm ready to wave or smile or salute, anything. But he passes me without a glance. I check my gauges, 70 miles an hour, oil temperature normal, and the odometer reads 35024.