I purchased my first car at sixteen, a 58 Chevy Biscayne. It was an ugly beast with two tones of blue, rusted chrome trim and an oxidized white roof. The paint was bleached out like an ancient barnacle and the body had more dings than a school bell. The matching interior seats were worn out and ripped like a Goodwill sofa set. Though my high mileage vehicle showed a lot of wear and tear, for a fourteen year old jalopy it ran like a Timex watch. I had done okay for $125. Nor could I argue with the payment plan, $25 every other week. That’s how often I got paid at Rustler Steakhouse where I bussed tables. It’s funny how life goes when you’re sixteen. You need a car to get to work and you need to work to get a car. It seems all my money went into my Chevy with insurance, gas and maintenance. My car and my job depended on each other so I kept them both.
It wasn’t long after I bought my putter that I received my first traffic violation. This was like a rite of passage for cruising the boulevard. If you didn’t have a ticket to wave out your window you weren’t anything but a road rookie. I became boulevard worthy on December 31, 1972. It was about eight o’clock in the evening; Roxanne and I were on our way to a New Year’s party. I was proceeding to make a lane change on Sherman Way when, all of a sudden, two motorcycle cops decided to pass around my Chevy in pursuit of a speeder. Common sense says that you should never swerve to the left of a vehicle merging in that same direction, even if you have a badge on, but that’s exactly what one of the coppers did. The other had a little more sense and passed me to the right. The poor little officer to my left almost took a nasty spill but fortunately for him he quickly regained control of his ride. Nevertheless he wasn’t too happy even after saving himself from what may have been a fatal wipeout. The angry policeman hastened ahead to catch up with the speeding vehicle but not before yelling to his partner, “Get that #*&^* s_ of a #$^*” It was obvious from his expletives that he was referring to yours truly.
Before I knew it I was being pulled over for obstructing the way of the foolish. I was confused as to why the citing officer would have me take a sobriety test so early into the evening, besides I was en route to a party. It would have made more sense had he caught me on the way home. But he was bent on vengeance and needed a sound reason for pulling me over. So I stood there on one leg, extended both arms, touched the tip of my nose, did the hokey pokey and turned myself around. Following my impeccable performance I was quickly found guilty of sobriety in the first degree. Since there was nothing on the books that would prohibit a person from driving in his right mind I was cited for an unsafe lane change.
I agree that there was an offense committed on that scandalous night, someone had indeed made an unsafe lane change, but it wasn’t the squirt in the 58 Chevy. It was that Ponch-wannabe with the trash mouth, the one who referred to me as a bleepity-bleepity-bleep. I did not appreciate the vulgar commentary which was expressed by this officer of the law and also felt the citation to be unwarranted. When I told my mother about the incident she recommended that I challenge this charge in court and also share with the judge how I had been assaulted with vile remarks. Either that or I’d pay a handsome fine for something I didn’t do. Naturally I decided to have my day in court. However, the citing officer decided not to have a day in court, most likely due to the inevitable embarrassment he would face, so the violation was excused. I was happy the ticket was dismissed but felt robbed of an opportunity to repeat those four-letter words uttered by the foul mouthed cop.
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It is amazing how slow we are to recognize our own sin but when we see that same sin in others we stand ready to condemn. The officer, who obviously exhibited poor driving skills, wanted to condemn me for mine. And then there was me, the biggest trash-mouth of all. I wanted the cop to pay for the very offense I was so often guilty of. Neither of us showed interest in mercy. We were both pointing fingers and both bent on justice. All the while we each had three extra fingers pointing back at ourselves. The fact is, whatever I thought that officer deserved, I deserved ten times more.
Years ago I attended a pastor’s conference at Calvary Chapel Vista in California. During the lunch break there was a case of road rage in front of the church. One driver shot the other and the victim died right in the church parking lot. I can’t begin to tell you how it changed the mood of our meeting. By God’s sovereign design, Pastor Chuck Smith was scheduled to speak next. He had just left the scene of the crime after ministering to the victim’s family who were also passengers in the car that was shot at. He was obviously shaken over the ordeal but one thing he said about this incident has never left me. He explained how the police arrived to find fault. They came to identify the guilty party and make an arrest. That’s their job. But the paramedics had a different agenda. They weren’t concerned with who was guilty or who was innocent. They were simply there to offer help and bring healing. Then Chuck asked us, “Are you a policeman or a paramedic?” I have come to the conclusion, after years of being on patrol, that I’m not called to be a cop. It’s not my place to find fault. My job is to bring healing. That’s how I roll today.
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Calvary Chapel of Austin Church
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