Shell Out

Part 5

“Traffic Ticket”

Shell Out

Part 1

“Chapter Title”

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When his position at the Psychic Friends Hotline came to an end, Greg decided he would change gears and head for something less unconventional and more competitive. His first inclination was to apply at a local fast-food joint, but he reasoned that fighting for cashier or line cook status wasn’t glamorous or profitable. So he resolved to go to the city football stadium where he’d apply to become a janitor.

At first, he thought it was a smart decision–for a total of two minutes. Then he remembered that his father had made a living doing exactly the same thing. So he U-turned in the middle of the street in protest of his momentary lapse of reason. It was a risky move for his clunky 1986 station wagon, but his wheels held on to their axles, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he straightened out and realized he was still alive and upright. However, his illegal maneuver went noticed by law enforcement, and the blue and red lights flashed in the rearview mirror just a few seconds later.

If Greg were running any sort of lucky streak, this sure wasn’t that time. As the squad car pulled him over, he searched his mind for ways to get out of receiving a ticket but wasn’t sure how thick his charm ran. He knew of people that had eluded tickets before, so he tried to recall their countless advice. Unfortunately, as the nerves in his stomach rose, and as the damage a ticket would’ve caused him took root in his thoughts, all his plans for a smooth exchange went blank. And, as the smug officer with a handlebar mustache strutted to his window, Greg lost all sense of prediction about how the conversation would go, which, incidentally, started off badly:


The officer stood at the smudged window, gesturing him to lower it. A moment passed before Greg realized what the cranking of the man’s hand meant. He fidgeted for the rusty handle and lowered it halfway before the officer spoke.

“Good afternoon,” said the slick looking police officer with toothpick dangling from his lip. “May I see your license and registration?”

Greg nodded but said nothing. He was too preoccupied with the number of times sweat dripped from his forehead to realize he was poking around the wrong pocket. When he realized how empty it felt, he scrambled for his other pocket, which he found by the slight weight on his leg. The cop noticed his sudden shift in behavior and sported a twitchy smile.

“Whoa, no need to be nervous. Just need to see the cards. It’s a simple request.”

“I’m not nervous,” Greg spat. “I just don’t want a ticket.”

Greg shoved his hand in the weighty pocket and found his wallet buried deep.

“Well, no, I didn’t think you did. Don’t know of many people who ever really want a ticket.”

Greg removed his wallet and fidgeted around the top before opening it. Once the interior opened its maw, he jabbed his thumb against his license and fumbled it from the center pocket. As it slid away from his credit cards, the license slipped out and tumbled to the floor.

The license landed close to his feet but was too far to reach. He deliberated a moment whether to remove his seatbelt while an officer of the law stood just inches away. But he resolved that there was no way he’d recover his information if he kept the harness intact. As Greg clicked at the safety release button, letting the belt escape into a stationary position, the police officer tapped his ticket pad with his pen.

“Sir, are you fit to drive?” The officer’s head rolled on his neck.

“I’m fine, officer,” Greg said, as he pawed around the footwell. “My license fell on the floor. That’s all.”

“Well, you seem exceptionally nervous. You sure you’re not trying to hide anything from me?”

Greg shot him a furtive look.

“Of course not. I just dropped my license.”

“Sir, you don’t need to develop an attitude with me. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will do.”

“I’m not . . . I’m not developing an attitude. Sorry.”

Greg finally made contact with his license and shot upward, displaying it in hand. The officer lurched back at Greg’s sudden movement.

“Here it–”

But Greg’s grip failed as he returned to an upright position, and once again the license escaped his hand, this time flying out the window, nearly hitting the officer in the eye. The officer watched stone-faced as it flew past his neck and landed on the shoulder of the highway.

“Okay, now see if you can show me your registration without trying to take my head off.” The officer’s patience was wearing thin.

As the officer bent over to confiscate Greg’s flighty license from the street, Greg reached in his glove compartment to search for his registration card. It had been a while since he last saw it, and he could only assume it was at the bottom of the large stack of receipts and envelopes taking up most of the room. He stuffed his hands inside the papered mess, searching hastily through each section of trash, forgotten CD jackets, and even a copy of a Braveheart word search magazine, until he found his target. Only, every sheet of paper he rummaged through seemed stuck to the next, which made locating the registration card a painful task.

After a minute or so of twiddling his thumbs, the officer cleared his throat. Greg felt the hairs stand on the back of his neck as the officer’s hot breath blew through the window. In his increasing nervousness, Greg pulled out every piece of trash from the glove compartment and scattered it like a fan across his passenger seat–every article that wasn’t stuck to something else.

“I’m waiting,” said the officer.

“I’m looking,” Greg said, almost at a shout. “I haven’t had a chance to sort through this stuff yet.”

“Would you like me to help?”

At this point Greg was tempted to just drive off–to escape this police officer’s annoying reliance on sarcasm–but he remembered that doing so would’ve risked him more than a ticket, so he stomached the man’s yawn of a voice for just a little longer.

“I’ll find it,” he said. “It’s in here somewhere.”

And, after another minute of searching, Greg finally found it stuck to an old faded drugstore receipt that he had collected three years earlier.

“Here it is.”

Careful not to fling it at the cop, Greg clutched the card between his thumb and forefinger, passing it over to the now impatient officer. The officer took it and smiled.

“Now that wasn’t so difficult, was it?”

Before Greg could respond, or even think to respond, the officer strutted back to the patrol car with his driver information in hand. He noticed in the rearview mirror the officer speaking into the transmitter from over his shoulder. Unwilling to watch the man’s actions or expressions, Greg shoved everything back in the glove compartment and slammed it closed. Then he refastened his seatbelt and waited. When the cop came back, he wore a smile on his face.

“Sir, it appears your registration expired two months ago. Do you have anything more recent in that . . . hellhole you call a glove compartment?”

Greg’s heart sank at this news. He knew there was something important he had forgotten to do around his birthday.

“No, officer. That’s what I have.”

The officer nodded and began scribbling stuff on his notepad as he spoke.

“Then I suggest you go and update your registration as soon as possible.”

A moment later the officer ceased writing and calmly tore a sheet of yellow paper off his notepad. He flung it at Greg.

“Now then,” he continued. “I’m citing you for the illegal U-turn I initially pulled you over for. That’s a dangerous place to be changing direction, so I can’t in fair conscience let you off with a warning. Secondly, I’m citing you for your expired registration because two months is way too long to be lazy about taking responsibility. Thirdly, I’m citing you for your uncouth attitude toward me. You have to understand that an officer of the law deserves respect, not rudeness. I hope that if you should ever face another of us again, you’ll have a better attitude. Fourthly, I’m not citing you for this, but in the future I’d suggest you calm down because I’m this close to searching your car for contraband. Frankly, I think both of us have better things to do than to wait for me to pick your junky car apart, so be calm next time. And with that, drive safe. If you can.”

Greg sat dumbfounded as he looked over his citations. The cost would undoubtedly sink him into the negative financial zone. As he sat there and marveled over his bad luck, the advice that a friend had told him long ago finally entered his mind. Her advice: always remain calm, polite, and have everything ready before the officer reaches the driver side door.