I passed my driving test first time at 17 and, in a slightly cocky manner, have always considered myself a damn good driver. I am probably delusional, but back up this assumption with the fact that I have never had an accident that has been directly my fault and, until I arrived in California, had a clean license. I adore driving and drive pretty fast, particularly navigating the narrow, windy country roads in the beautiful south of England where I grew up. Thinking back, I suspect I often used to leave home late so I would need to drive extra fast to make it to where I was going on time (I like to be punctual). It would get my adrenalin pumping and I would arrive feeling more alive, having successfully mastered hairpin bends at 70mph and overtaken every pork-pie-hat-wearing old dear driving at a snail’s pace on the way!
That was all well and good in England where the local police have better things to do than lie in wait, hiding on street corners ready to jump out and attack like angry Cobras at any moment. In California, it didn’t work so well. In the first three years of living in the sleepy northern Californian town of Novato I managed to rack up four tickets! Yes, FOUR! Even my husband was shocked.
My first ticket I hold my hands up and say I deserved it. I was driving our two daughters to school and, surprisingly, we were running a bit late. All their fault, of course. Speeding down a residential road near to their school I was shocked to see the blue and red flashing lights in my rear view mirror and mortified to be on full view of all the other parents as they passed by at exactly the speed limit looking jolly smug. A big burly police officer wearing a gun forbade me from leaving my vehicle while he officially wrote me up for a ticket, leaving me thinking I had committed a crime more akin to child abuse. I had to pay $250 for the pleasure. My husband suggesting I take traffic school to avoid high insurance penalties, so I chose Comedy Driving School, thinking it might be fun. Thus followed eight excruciatingly boring hours, where the instructor told one pathetic joke at the beginning and that was it. I should have sued.
My second ticket was for not coming to a complete stop when turning right on a red light. Jeez, no-one does. I didn’t even know that was a rule. It was St Patrick’s Day and I had been out to lunch with a friend. We tried everything to stop the cute motorcycle cop writing that damn ticket. We flirted outrageously, offered him our bodies and even discussed the colour of his underwear - green, apparently! The cop told us that we were the funniest people he had stopped in a long time, mentioned I was not driving dangerously, but STILL handed me the bloody ticket. Because it was immediately following my previous ticket, that one cost me a wopping $450! I did community service at $10/hour this time and the humane society were sad to see me go. I wasn’t. There is only so much folding laundry and cleaning floors you can take and 45 hours was long enough, thank you.
My next ticket was for speeding again, not a lot and nothing dangerous, but I still hadn’t learned my lesson. It was not until the fourth ticket, awarded for going down a hill too fast into San Francisco, that I finally gave in. When in Rome and all that. No more speeding. I now drive like a law-abiding grandmother. I practice invisible driving, making sure I tuck myself between two other cars on the freeway and not accelerating obviously. Much as I hate to admit it, driving more slowly has probably made me a better and more considerate driver. I no longer drive like a bat of hell. I am calmer and actually allow more time for my journeys.I am sure my stress levels have dropped as a result and I notice that my passengers no longer grip their seat like their life depended upon it.
The other day I even caught myself looking longingly at a pork pie hat.