QOTD: What Was Your First Ticket? Part I—The Ones We Got

Longer ago than I thought came stories about first accidents. Now how ’bout first tickets?

One sunny day after my last-period class, I hopped proudly into my recently-purchased first operable car, a very nice 1965 Canadian Valiant Custom 200 four-door sedan (a Dart 270 built and badged as such). I drove home to fetch my camera gear; there were after-school activities to be captured for posterity, and hiding behind the viewfinder of a screwmount Pentax as a yearbook photographer was one of my high school survival strategies.

Now, two different air cleaners were used on Slant-6 engines in 1963-’67 Darts and Valiants. One was about 11″ diameter; the other about 9″. Both of them took the same filters, fit the same carburetors, and cleared the hoods and all the engine accessories; which one any given car had was mostly a matter of what was to hand when that engine was being assembled. Both of them were silenced air cleaners: the baseplate’s outer circumference had a lip forming a fence rising about an inch from the floor, and the cake-cover type lid, about 8 mm larger in diameter than the base, dropped down to slightly below the bottom of this wall. Plenty of area for air to enter—several times the area of the carburetor throat—and that configuration kept things quiet. This is all relevant because of an equation I’d recently solved amidst my already-considerable collection of Slant-6 parts brought home from the yard: small baseplate plus large lid equals unsilenced air cleaner.

Camera equipment fetched, I headed back to school. There was twisty, uphill, semi-residential Temple Drive in the final few tenths of a mile of the route I chose, near the Denver Tech Center business district, and I dropped the Torqueflite into 2 and punched the gas—okeh, maybe a leetle harder than I should’ve, but I swear, only a leetle—delighting in the throaty intake roar from up front and imagining heaps of extra power from all that more air that wasn’t actually reaching the engine.

As I crested the hill and rounded the final bend to the straightaway before the traffic light at Yosemite, a copcycle sprang out, fly-cast an outstretched index finger and threw me over with it, to the side of the road in the widened area about 50 feet beyond the hidden driveway where he’d been perched.

Oh, carp.

I pulled over and shut off the car. He brought his motorcycle behind me, lights flashing, and strode up to my open window: “License, registration, insurance. Know what the speed limit is here?”

As I was fetching my documents, I said “It’s 25, sir”, and he said “That’s right, 25. I clocked you going at least 40.”

While he stood there watching me squirm and probably waiting to see how much trouble my mouth would buy me, I decided against mentioning the absence of any apparent radar or other equipment, or the contradiction between “clocked” and “at least”.

Eventually he spoke again: “I didn’t see a seatbelt when I pulled you over; I’m citing you for failure to wear a seatbelt.”

Now that I couldn’t let slide without speaking up: “Officer, this is a 1965 car; it has no shoulder belts, just lap belts, see? I had my belt on until I unbuckled to get my license out of my wallet.”

He eyelocked me and deadpanned, “A seatbelt ticket is $25 and no points. 40 in a 25 on a beginner’s license is $400 and 4 points. I can write you either ticket; now which one’ll it be?”

Oh. Er…oh. Thank you, officer. Yes, sir. I understand. Thank you. 25 means 25. Thank you.

So that was a hell of a lot better than it could’ve been, but I still had to tell my folks. Mom and dad were in the kitchen fixing supper. Plenty of throat clearing before I could spit it out: “I…got a ticket on my way back to school.”

Mom said “What for?”

“Failure to wear a seatbelt.”

Y’know that jukebox-needle-across-the-record sound effect and then everything goes suddenly quiet? Dad’s hands froze, knife stock-still in midair above the cutting board. His face toward me froze much, much colder. Barely above a whisper: “What did you say?”

More throat clearing and a cough or two. “F…failure to wear a seatbelt.” The temperature in the kitchen dropped another twenty or thirty degrees.

My folks were devoutly religious about seatbelt use by everyone in the car, every time. Had been ever since I’d become a conscious and comprehending individual in the late 1970s. Family, friends, strangers—no matter; no belt, no move. Very unusual when some paltry percent of Americans wore belts, but even before any belt-use laws there was just never any question about it in our car; it wasn’t discussed—it didn’t need to be. As the old British safety campaign went, “clunk-click, every trip”.

Plus, I was a good kid. I had more than my share of social struggle and strife, oh yes, but I was enthusiastically squeaky-clean. Never in any real or legal trouble. Opposite of a daredevil. Bit of a git about it, really.

And there I was, telling them I’d got a seatbelt ticket.

Soon as I could get my mental engine restarted (you want to believe it had been equipped with a well-silenced air cleaner since that afternoon) I explained what had happened and, for what little it was worth, assured them I hadn’t been doing anything like 40 mph. Sounded pretty damn lame, even to my own ears, when I said out loud that I’d just been making the car sound hotter than it was. Not quite as hot as the shame was making my face, but.

They stood down the red and went to yellow alert. They weren’t pleased; there were some long and very unpleasant talks that night and the next few days, but I don’t recall their taking away the keys or anything of that nature. And of course I had to pay the ticket and do the paperwork and have more unpleasant talks with the insurance guy, etc.

So that was my first traffic ticket. How ’bout you, what and when was yours? Just the ones you actually got; let’s save the ones we avoided for another day.

(Copcycle, yeah. It rhymes with popsicle.)