Driving Highway 125 south through Chula Vista this weekend, I suddenly realized I was out of quarters for the toll.
If I didn’t feed it three bucks, the bastard robot machine would photograph my license plate and email it to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, who would then send me a traffic ticket. Like everything else in California, it was bound to be ridiculously expensive.
The exit was just over two miles away – how was I supposed to get off?
I might have kept on driving, but that would only take me to Mexico, and I’ve already seen enough of that place. I was in deep mango.
And then I had it: those high-speed cameras were quick, but not that quick. If I drove fast enough, maybe they wouldn’t be able to take my picture. I could zoom right through. And even if they did manage to capture an image, it would be too blurry to read. Perfect.
With less than a mile to go, I hit the gas.
As I neared ninety, my heart racing, I swung the wheel and headed for the exit ramp, accelerating towards the narrow gap between the small brick structure of the tool booth and the concrete t-rails lining the opposite side.
I laughed aloud at the STOP – PAY TOLL HERE sign; jeered at the red stop light as it whizzed past. I was hundreds of feet away by the time the auto-attendant’s stupid electronic brain realized it had been tricked. FLASH, FLASH, but too late. I was outta there.
Everything had gone according to plan. Now safely past the cameras, I slowed the vehicle so I could safely make the turn at the bottom of the hill. That’s when I saw the flashing red lights in my rearview mirror.
Shit. There was a State Trooper behind me. I pulled onto the shoulder and stopped the car.
I watched in the rearview mirror as the trooper stepped out of his cruiser and came up to my window. “What seems to be the problem, Officer?” Did I really just say that?
“Son,” he said. “Just what the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing?” Wow, this guy had a Minnesota accent like he’d left his 300-hundred-head dairy farm in western Belle Plaine just that afternoon.
“I’m sorry?” His name tag read ANDERSON.
“Do you know how fast you were going?” ANDERSON?
Actually, I’d been too busy trying to steer between the toll booth and the concrete barrier and avoid killing myself to look down at my speedometer, but I had a pretty good idea. “No, Officer.”
“Son, I clocked this here Ford Expedition going one-hunnert ‘n seventeen miles per hour. And you did it while passing illegally through a toll station. Can you explain that?”
“Ummm…” That’s when I thought Officer ANDERSON. Could this be the same cop who’d once tried to arrest my brother on a snowy Minnesota night?
“Let me guess, son – no money for the toll, and you were trying to outrun the cameras.”
It had to be him. He must have moved to sunny San Diego for retirement. “No, sir. It’s just that my favorite TV show is coming on at five and…”
“Okay, enough of your smart-assery. Let’s see your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.”
While he was checking my paperwork, I took a chance. “Say, you’re not from Minnesota, are you?”
He glanced up from his inspection of my license with a suspicious look. “Yes. I am. Hopkins, Minnesota. Now how would you know that?”
“Oh, um…just a guess,” I stammered. “You have a bit of an accent, that’s all.” Uh-oh. What had I done?
He stared at me for a long minute. “As do you, son. You just sit tight now. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” Jesus, why did I ask him that?
From my mirror, I could see him on the radio. Five minutes later, he walked back to the car. Handing me my driver’s license and the rest of the paperwork, he asked me the question I’d been dreading most. “You wouldn’t be related to one Kirby Hanson, would you? From the town of New Hope, Minnesota?”
I tried to act surprised. “What’s that? Who’d you say?”
He gave me a knowing look. “Kirby Hanson. We’ve been looking for him since 1979. Destruction of property, avoiding arrest, and leaving the scene of an accident. The lessons learned during his flight from the law that night are now required reading at the police academy.” He paused. “I was the officer in charge of the case.”
“Really? Well, I’m awful sorry about that. Never heard of him.” Jesus, I had to get out of there. This guy was still holding a grudge against Kirby, thirty-some years after the incident with the Ice Cream truck.
He gave me another thorough stare-down. “You know, you look a lot like him. And you certainly drive alike. Are you sure you don’t know him?”
Wanting nothing more than to say yes, I shook my head urgently. After a pause that seemed like eternity, he handed me two citations, one for speeding, and one for failure to pay the three-dollar toll. All told, it cost me two-hundred and twenty bucks, just because I’d forgotten to bring some quarters.
Officer Anderson turned to go back to his cruiser. “You drive safe now, Mister HANSON. Have a nice day.”