Speediest way to learn a lifelong lesson

Do you remember your first speeding ticket or that first car accident you had after getting your license? Those are the moments that stick with you, causing pain, embarrassment or hopefully, years later, just laughter.

That’s the case for me with my first speeding ticket and my first verbal warning.

Growing up on a farm, I started driving young — not as young as some of my classmates, but I was probably 12 or 13.

So when I turned 14, I was prepared to get my school permit to make the two-and-a-half-mile drive to school each day.

My parents, like most, wanted me to be safe on the road and would have preferred I drove a WWII Sherman tank. My grandfather did the next best thing by gifting me his 1957 Chevy Bel Air four-door hardtop. While the car wasn’t a literal boat or a tank, it was the next best thing. It’s long, wide, made of metal and ready to take on the world.

The car was a real beauty, cruising down the blacktop north of my hometown and easing over the hills as I pressed down on the gas pedal. There were days when I would push the engine past the speed limit to feel the wind in my hair and my stomach turn as I came over the next hill.

Then there was the day I got caught.

I don’t remember the time of year, but it was a beautiful day. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. The sun was shining and I was cruising. I was heading into town to pick up a classmate before we went on to school. I had come over the last hill and was on the flat stretch of more than a half mile when I saw a cop car come around the corner. Cops don’t drive on this rural blacktop, so I knew he was coming after me.

I won’t tell you how fast I was going, but suffice it to say, I feared the ticket I would receive. So knowing how far away he was, I slammed on my brakes hoping to reduce the ticket by a few digits. By the time he clocked me, I was still going way too fast and the cherries came on. I remember him pulling me over and the absolute fear that was rushing through my body.
I’m a people pleaser at heart, always have been, and the idea of doing something wrong like that creates a feeling of fear and pain in my core that I can’t even describe. After I pulled away from the cop, I started to sob. I cried until I got to my friend’s house a few minutes later.

All day at school, I was mortified about telling my parents the news that not only had I received a speeding ticket, but it was for more than $100. I knew I would never hear the end of it from my dad, who for years afterward would remind me that he had a perfect driving record without a single mark on it.

All day my stomach churned this way and that. Tears would come to my eyes as I thought of how I had disappointed my parents. By the time I got home, I was in panic mode. Nearly in tears, I remember sitting down with my mom as a look of concern spread across her face.
When I told her the news, I didn’t hear yelling. The sound that came from her mouth was laughter.

I was mortified. I had just told her awful, life-altering news — and she was laughing.

To this day, my mom still laughs as she recounts the story. She said the look on my face said someone had died and maybe I had a hand in it.

It was less than a year later when I was stopped again by the same cop in my same bright blue-and-white ’57 Chevy. This time the cop — with a smug look on his face — said, “Haven’t we met before?”

I had just turned onto the highway and was accelerating. I went a bit over the posted speed limit and he stopped me. The cop gave me a verbal warning, but I remember the anger, embarrassment and sickness that filled me as I sat there.

That was the last time I was ever pulled over for speeding, and I hope it stays that way. While there have been accidents and fender benders along the way since then, I’ve kept the speed down. I have my friendly hometown cop to thank for that.

Shay Burk

Veteran Tribune reporter Shay Burk writes whatever is swirling around her mind each week. Read her columns on Tuesdays for her humorous thoughts on everyday life.

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