By Bruce H. Mero
We had just passed the sign welcoming us to Dundee when the speed limit changed from 55 to 30. I had anticipated the change and was doing just a tad over 30 when a Yates County Sheriffs cruiser passed me going in the opposite direction. I watched in my rear-view mirror as the brake-lights on the cruiser lit and the Sheriff did a U-turn in the road. He started to follow my truck. Crap, I thought, I was not really speeding when he passed me.
My friend, Bill and I were on the way to Mitra's house in Campbell to pick up some bulky items she had recently purchased for me. We were about a half-hour from her place when we entered Dundee.
I carefully signaled a right hand turn and cautiously lingered at the stop sign for an extraordinarily long time. Very slowly, I turned and approached the only stop light on Main Street. The signal turned to green before I had to come to a complete stop, so I accelerated a tiny bit and then set the cruise control at 28 mph. Slowly I crept my truck through the half mile or so of houses. The Sheriff's car followed me still. The speed limit changed to 55 as I started to exit the village. The cruiser's gum ball lit up and spun red and headlights on the car flashed. He was pulling me over. Whatever for, I thought, what the hell?
My friend Bill, beside me in the passenger's seat snickered. "You're going to jail Mero, in Dundee, no less. I'll send you cigarettes and a file."
I pulled my Dakota over onto the shoulder of the road opposite the Dundee Speedway and turned the ignition off. The Sheriff's cruiser pulled up behind me, lights flashing and gun ball spinning. Already I could see opposing traffic slowing and drivers looking to see who the cop had stopped.
In my mirror, I watched the Deputy swagger up to the side of my truck. I'd already rolled-down my window and was mentally preparing my defense, whatever that was since I had no clue why he'd pulled me over. I had already found my driver's license and truck registration and had both ready to give to the Deputy.
Bill stirred and said "He's on foot. You got him. Make him chase us. Fire up this puppy up and floor it."
I gave my friend a disapproving scowl, smiled and greeted the Deputy as he stooped to my level. "Good afternoon, sir. What's the problem?" I said.
"Can I see your license and registration, please," said the Deputy?
"Sure," I replied and handed them both to him through the window. I noticed the ID tag over his pocket said his name was Crowfoot. "Why did you stop..." I attempted to say. He had already taken my license and registration with him back to his cruiser. Several minute elapsed before he came back to my truck.
"Do you know why I stopped you," he said sternly?
"No clue," was my feeble reply. Bill snickered beside me and motioned for me to floor it and speed away.
"Your New York State Inspection sticker is not current," was Officer Crowfoot's reply. "In fact it expired nearly two years ago."
"No way," was my immediate answer. "No way. I just had this vehicle inspected."
A discussion ensued between Officer Crowfoot and myself about how old my State Inspection actually was. Crowfoot told me he'd noticed when he passed me on the road west of the village that the inspection sticker was the wrong color and that was why he followed me. He also stated that he could have pulled me over in the village, but waited until we were passed the town to pull me over as a courtesy and to save me some embarrassment. More rubber-neckers slowed down to see the criminals the cop had stopped in their town.
I insisted that my inspection was current, though I was beginning to doubt myself. He insisted that a current sticker was red and mine was blue...the color from two years back. He pointed to a slowly passing car, the driver rubber-necking to see who the Sheriff had stopped.
"That sticker is red. That car is current. Yours should be red. Look at this guy," as another rubber-necker passed. "He's legal. Here's another and another. All red.," said Crowfoot. "Your sticker is blue, its expired. I'm issuing you a ticket." He walked back to his car. He had convinced me.
Bill insisted that we give "this rube a chase. He'd never catch up with us until we've crossed the county line," he argued. "I'll go back to talk to him."
My disapproving glare kept my friend in his seat. Ten minutes passed, then twenty minutes.
"He's checking you out," Bill exclaimed. "You're clean, Mero, you wuss. He's got nothing on you, not even a library book overdue. Got to let you go on this...why the hell is this taking so long? I'm going back to have a talk with that guy." My stare told Bill to stay put.
A second Sheriff cruiser pulls up behind the first, gum ball spinning and flashers resplendent. A huge guy in a Sheriff uniform squeezes out of the second car and approaches the first cop car. "Great'" I thought. "Now two cops."
More rubber-neckers slowed to peruse the scene. Surely the townies from Dundee thought that the cops had nabbed a couple of terrorists. Two Sheriff cruisers. More excitement the town had not seen for years.
The fat guy slid into the driver's seat of Officer Crowfoot's car. More time elapsed, now forty minutes since I was told by the deputy that he was going to give me a ticket.
Forty-five minutes. Officer Crowfoot came up to my window. He said that I had a pretty clean record, according to the files. No tickets. I pleaded that I'd never had a traffic ticket in all of my years driving and that he could let me off if he wished. He acknowledged that my record was completely un-besmirched, but said something to the effect that this was going to be my lucky day. I was getting my first traffic ticket. He said that he was sorry for taking so long, but the computer in his car was giving him issues and that he was unable to print my ticket. The second Deputy that had showed up and had parked his gum-ball flashing cruiser behind his was an "IT specialist" and would fix the problem. It wouldn't be long before I'd be on my way with my very first traffic ticket. He stood there sheepishly for a minute and I decided I'd play my trump card, something I'd always thought I'd do if I'd ever been stopped in Yates County.
"By the way, Officer," I said. "Do you know Daryl Jones? He works for your department."
Daryl was my former brother-in-law. He was a Deputy Sheriff and told me that mentioning his name would give me a pass in Yates County if I ever needed a favor. Seems as though I might need one right now, so I mentioned his name to Officer Crowfoot.
"Nope," replied Crowfoot. "Don't know him." He went back to his car and peered into the window at the second Deputy sitting in his cruiser.
So much for that, I thought. Daryl wasn't going to be much help to me this afternoon.
Fifty minutes. More rubberneckers. Even an Amish guy in a horse and buggy slowed as he passed to take a look.
Fifty-five minutes. Crowfoot came back to my car. He explained that the computer in his car was a second-hand unit that the Sheriff Department has been given as surplus from the Air Force Base in Rome and it was apparently malfunctioning. He explained that he and his IT guy could register the citation with Albany from his car, but they were not able to print the ticket and give me a copy. He was required, by law, to provide me a hard copy of the complaint against me. If he couldn't give me a paper copy of the ticket, he would have to let me go. He certainly didn't want to do that, after all of this delay, intent to leave me with a souvenir of my time in Dundee. He went back to his car.
Sixty minutes had now passed. Crowfoot again approached my truck, this time slumped and appearing contrite.
"You are free to go," he said. "I can't print your ticket, dammed computer. I'm so sorry. You have nothing to show for all of this time. Get your truck inspected before I stop you again and write your ticket by hand."
Good advice. Within the next couple of hours I'd had my truck inspected in Corning and had a fresh new, red inspection sticker emblazoned on my windshield for all, especially Officer Crowfoot, to see. Bill busted my balls all of the way home, but it mattered little. I had skated. My first ever traffic ticket had been avoided. When told of the day's adventure, Gretchen swore that she was going to add an epitaph to my tombstone that boasted of the "no traffic tickets ever" thing. That all changed a few months later in a small town called Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks, but that's another story.