Sunday, May 15, 2005

COLUMN: Ticket

I was already running late for work when I stopped off at a nearby gas station for morning provisions. As I was busily procuring the necessary caffeine, another shopper approached me to offer condolences on the Katie Holmes/Tom Cruise thing (see last week's column.)

It blows my mind when people recognize me from the column and say hi. I find it perpetually hard to believe that people occasionally care about what I've got to say. I mean, prior to the launch of this column, the only thing I've been able to entertain on a regular basis has been my cat -- and when your only competition is a ball of yarn, it's not much of a challenge.

That said, I've written before about my lack of skill in carrying on small talk with near to complete strangers, so listening to PRAISE from strangers completely does my head in. I am SO appreciative of any positive feedback that I get, but in person, about the best I can muster is, "Wow, thanks so much," followed by so much nervous laughter that the person backs away slowly.

Needless to say, after this encounter, I was running REALLY late, so I jumped in the car and bolted for work. I was about five blocks away from the Dispatch offices when I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the red and white flashing lights of a Moline police cruiser.

Aww, I thought, this really warms the cockles of my heart. Here's a perfect example of why I have indescribable appreciation for the law enforcement community. Somewhere, one of our citizens needs help, and this good officer is responding to assist. Perhaps there's been a robbery, I thought, or a fight that needed breaking up. Worse yet, perhaps a cat was stuck up a tree. Whatever the situation, I definitely needed to pull over and allow this brave officer to pass me by and head to the emergency.

But the weirdest thing happened. When I went to pull over, the officer pulled over directly behind me?!

Suddenly it dawned on me. The celebrities are right -- fame sometimes CAN be a bad thing. I was fully embarassed. Obviously, this keen-eyed officer had noticed it was me driving. He must be a fan of the column and wants an autograph or souvenir to show his family that he met me in person.

I tried to play it cool when he approached the vehicle. "I'm sorry, officer," I said with a knowing grin, "did you catch me speeding?"

"No," the officer replied. "But I do need your license and proof of insurance."

See! I told you he wanted a souvenir! Elvis' driver's license is on display at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. This guy could have mine in his HOUSE, and he wouldn't even have to drive to Cleveland. It was an awkward request, but who am I to say no to an officer of the law, so I handed him my insurance card.

"This expired last month," he tells me. Ooh, I thought to myself, that makes it a COLLECTIBLE. Your official Shane Brown souvenir could now fetch a tidy sum on eBay, Mr. Officer.

Sadly, it turns out he DIDN'T want to keep it as a limited edition collectible. In fact, he wanted to TICKET me for failing to put my new card in my glove compartment. And the reason he pulled me over? Not an autograph, not to share a cat story, not even a Katie Holmes condolence... apparantly in my hurry to get to work, I forgot to put on a seat belt when I left the gas station.

I complemented the officer on having a good eye -- I was wearing a black shirt and going 30 mph, and he STILL saw it. Frankly, that's impressive. He, however, was unmoved. So now I get to go to court, pay fines, and sign autographs on pieces of paper I prefer not to sign autographs on. All in all, NOT a good morning.

The entire escapade leaves me with a humble lesson or two well-learned, and one all-consuming, nagging question: What exactly ARE the cockles of one's heart, and are there any lingering medical effects when they begin to warm?

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