SPEED TRAP (1970)
I was driving back from a music gig in Austin when I hit one of those sneaky highway Speed Traps.
Back then the speed limit on the Interstate was 55 mph.
Well--suddenly for a quarter mile--it wasn't.
How do I know that?
The patrolman who stopped me was kind enough to inform me...as he bid me follow him...to the local Justice of the Peace...to pay my $50 fine...or else I'd go to jail.
Looking back on that episode in my life--I handled it with less wisdom than I now possess.
For one thing, I was a bit insensitive.
The Justice was older than God's socks. He may well have been Animatronic (You know, like at Disneyland).
He was deafer than Beethoven.
"Your Honor, there was no reduce speed sign posted along the hi---"
He kept interrupting me to ask if I wanted to pay cash or personal check.
My remedy was to TALK LOUDER.
"YOUR HONOR, THERE WAS...etc"
This only emboldened the patrolman to jump in and interpret the Judge's demand for cash in unmistakable words.
"Listen--pay your fine or I take you straight to jail where you will be held for 3 days before you come before this same magistrate and the fine will have jumped up to $200."
Now, I ask you, what could be more clear?
I guess my indignation was inappropriate with me employing disrespectful phrases such as "kangaroo court", "swindle", and "corrupt practice".
Suffice to say, I ended up in the local jailhouse with about 19 detainees--most of whom could not speak English.
I hasten to add one more detail as well--these fellas were planning to escape.
The one guy who could speak English (sorta) 'splained' the scathingly brilliant plan to me.
"We set our mattresses on fire. Guards smell the smoke and open the cell and we all escape."
Breathtaking, isn't it?
For one thing, the simplicity of expression. Pithy.
I became shitlessly anxious about this mastermind's sanity and pushed back not a little.
"May I ask just one question, please?"
The hombre loco nodded confidently.
"What happens if we all die of smoke inhalation BEFORE the guard shows up?"
I'll never forget his thoughtful response to my query and concern.
Yep. All my fears allayed!
The 20 jail cell mattresses were pulled together in a heap while I crawled out of my skin--all the while thinking to myself:
"If I get out of this alive--I'll never drive over 35 mph for the rest of my life."
At this point in my predicament, you're about to encounter my one and only confrontation with a DEUX EX MACHINA.
(Deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived.)
This really happened!
The sound of the guard key opening the big steel door sent the inmates scurrying with their mattresses--back to the bunks.
My name was called.
I ran out of the cell like Chicken Little.
My Father-in-Law had arrived to pay my fine!!
Perfect timing. A miracle, really.
(My one phone call and I picked the most dependable man on Planet Earth, Steve Santa Cruz.)
In the holding cell awaiting final processing, I met a shabby bum of a guy, arrested for trying to rob a liquor store with a toy pistol.
He was talkative. I just listened.
" I figured out I was destined for a career as a criminal in the 3rd grade.
I got my Report Card and received a D minus. I changed the minus - to a plus +.
My mother could tell what I'd done. I used a different color ink.
She yelled at me. My Dad found out and showed me how to change a D to look like a B because--no self-respecting person would settle for a D minus when a B+ was possible."
I was impressed by this man's admission of having come from such a Crime Family.
The next day, I checked newspapers for any report of a Jail facility fire. None reported.
What is the Moral of this little Cautionary Tale?
Keep an extra $50 in cash with you at all times.
(Your mileage may vary, of course)