Thursday, September 06, 2018

COLUMN: Truck Fire


(Note: Not the actual truck or the actual fire. But it was kinda like this.
Except at night. And I was a lot farther away. Or is it further away? Point is, it was scary.)


I am, by no means, a macho, macho man like the Village People once yearned to be. Still, I've always kind of assumed that inside this mild-mannered nerd beats the heart of a hero-in-waiting. After this week, I'm pretty sure I was wrong.

Running towards trouble and not away from it is a skill that doesn't come natural to me. A loud bang? I jump out of my seat. Someone yells? I pretend not to hear. A bee flys by? I run away while trying SUPER hard not to shriek. You can describe me with a choice of adjectives, but "brave" usually isn't among them.

Still, I've always thought that if I found myself in a crisis situation, I'd do the right thing. I'd help my fellow man. I'd run into the burning building -- or at least briskly walk. I've just never been in a real hurry to test my heroic instinct.

Last Sunday, I drove with my best friend Jason to Chicago to see one of our favorite bands from the old days (The Trash Can Sinatras.) It was a brilliant night out that took me straight back to college -- a frame of mind which might also explain why we thought that afterwards, we'd just hop in the car and drive back home like the 18-year-olds we definitely aren't.

Collegiate Shane would NOT have been impressed by the two middle-aged men limping and groaning their way into the Dekalb Oasis at 1:30 a.m. in dire need of caffeine and Advil. As it turned out, though, we didn't need coffee to wake us up on this particular roadtrip.

Twenty minutes later, we were somewhere outside of Dixon and I was thiiiis close to falling asleep in my seat when I heard Jason from behind the wheel yell out, "What the hell is THAT?"

I looked up. Omigod. "THAT" was an 18-wheeler, about 200 yards in front of us -- on fire. Not just a little fire, either. This was a BIG fire. Like, a MOVIE fire. I barely had time to curse when an explosion sent two flaming truck tires into the air over the inferno. I half expected Arnold Schwarzenegger at my window yelling, "Come with me if you want to live!"

Another fireball followed as presumably the gas tank went up. Was this my hero moment? Was I supposed to spring into action and somehow, some way, make everything all better? Instead, the two of us sat there transfixed, saying little that I could repeat in a family newspaper.

No one else was around. "We've got to call 911," someone said (was it me?) and we did, though it barely helped the operator to tell her we were "on I-88 somewhere not quite Dixon." Part of me wanted to run to the truck and make sure the driver was okay, but the fire was WAY too intense. The only thing we could do was turn on our emergency lights and try to warn other drivers coming up behind us.

A handful stopped and pulled off the road alongside us. A few minutes later, we saw the lights of a police car approaching from the other side of the accident. Behind us, another 18-wheeler rolled up, carrying a dozen or so new cars on his trailer. This bright bulb took one look at the situation and decided his best course of action was to just keep on truckin' down the half-lane that wasn't full of fiery debris. Smart move, since the only thing better than one exploding vehicle is a dozen of them.

He made it through, though, and that was all it took for the other cars to follow. Eventually being the last ones left, Jason and I shrugged and decided to follow suit. As we cautiously drove around the inferno, we were met with a surprise. From where we pulled off, it had looked like the whole truck was engulfed in flame. In reality, only the trailer was ablaze and the cab didn't look too bad. We saw no driver, a police car was there, and we could see lights of approaching fire trucks in the distance, so we carried on home. Easy peasy.

But then the next day, I e-mailed Lee County Sheriff John Simonton to see if there were any public details about the fire. I almost wish I hadn't.

Like I said, from our vantage point, all we saw was fire. What we didn't see was the car in front of the truck that stopped when they saw him blow a tire and swerve off the road. We didn't see the passengers of that car race to the cab and pull the unconscious driver to safety before the first explosion. We never spotted the good samaritans or the first-reponse officer giving the driver CPR until the ambulance arrived. As I write this, the driver's currently in critical but stable condition and expected to pull through, thank God.

Maybe I could have been more proactive. Instead, I was a gawker, unaware that life-and-death heroics were happening just beyond that blaze. Instead of keeping a safe distance from the fire, we joined in the parade of idiots too impatient to wait for the road to clear. Sheriff Simonton also informed me that the tanker was full of liquid oxygen and could have gone nuclear at any point.

So if you're holding out for a hero 'til the morning light, you might want to skip me. I'm still not entirely unconvinced that I'm incapable of bravery and self-sacrifice, but the jury's still out and I'm in no hurry to test it ever again. Just be safe when you're out there on the roads. And I know that some people say thoughts and prayers are overrated, but if you could send some towards the driver of that truck, this wannabe hero would be grateful.

COLUMN: Allergies


My neighbor's house is on fire. I'm not kidding.

Well, it WAS on fire. This column won't run until Monday and I'm writing it nearly a week in advance, so if my neighbor's house is STILL on fire by the time you're reading this, then we've got a far more serious problem than I could have ever anticipated.

But right here, right now, in the reality of me sitting on my couch writing this column, my neighbor's house is on fire. As I type, there are police outside my window blocking the road and two trucks full of firefighters attacking the blaze. The good news is that it looks like they caught it early and it's not going to be that big of a deal. I'm pretty sure they've already got it done to a mere smolder, everyone seems okay, and there doesn't look to be a ton of property damage. Whew.

I tried walking down there for a closer view and got a couple of very stern looks from some of Rock Island's finest, so I decided it would be best to retreat to the house and let them do their job. Besides, I was a bit preoccupied.

How did I first know that the neighbor's house was ablaze? Was it the random shouts I heard from down the block? Was it the wailing sirens of fire trucks skidding to a stop in front of my house? Was it the foul burnt smell currently suffocating the neighborhood?

Nope. I knew something was up when, out of complete nowhere, I sat up, blinked, went "uh oh," and sneezed 37 times in a row. I'm not kidding. I counted.

Like many of you, I suffer from seasonal allergies -- and the season is NOW.

When I was a kid, I was constantly sniffling through pollen season. When I hit my twenties and thirties, though, most of my symptoms went away and I just assumed I'd outgrown my hay fever. But about five years ago, my allergies returned with a vengeance. These days, I can pretty much count on losing the ability to smell for most of the spring and fall.

Some folks get the sniffles or a runny nose or itchy eyes. Me? I get spontaneous, no-warning rapid fire sneezing fits that can last for fifteen minutes or more. It's just a fun quirky facet of Shane that my co-workers especially seem to enjoy.

Some people can sneeze politely. I once had a massive crush on a cute girl who even had cute sneezes -- little petite things that went "Fiw!" adorably. I used to have a co-worker who could hold them in entirely and would just politely go "fppt" while I presume her head narrowly avoided exploding into tiny polite shards. My sneezes tend to sound more like "RrrrrAFFFFLEKAFLOOOOOOOOOO!" which is made all the more fun when they appear one after the other like semi-automatic assault sneezes.

My co-workers, bless them, are used to it. That is, the ones who've always sat near me are. But since we recently moved offices, we're now in one giant cubicle farm where each and every employee of the Dispatch/Argus now gets to hear me rrrraffflekaflooo-ing on a regular basis. The other day, a couple of them attempted to issue a polite "God bless you" after each sneeze. Both of them gave up after sneeze #25 or so. I'd like to think God must have better things to do than sit around and bless me 37 times in a row.

It's all great fun and games until it happens while you're behind the wheel of a car. I've had to pull off the road on many an occasion just to sneeze a dozen times. I'm probably the only person who's explained tardiness to their boss as "I was sneezing" and have them go, "yeah, I understand." They've heard it. They know.

I've never been tested to find out exactly what I'm allergic to, but I'm in no hurry to find out. Doesn't it still involve drawing a grid on your back, injecting you with tiny amounts of irritants, and seeing which ones make you red and itchy? To this medieval practice, I say a big no thanks. This would be like testing for meningitis by having people spit in your mouth until one of them makes you sick. Keep your back grids, needles, and cooties to yourself, doc.

No, instead I'll just err on the side of caution and assume that I'm allergic to ALL of nature and do my very best to wall myself indoors until everything that's gonna bloom blooms. I know I'm allergic to pollen, dust, bee stings, and now I'm pretty sure I can add "burning duplexes" to that list. I reckon that's all the knowledge I need for now. I'll be fine in a month, I promise you.

Some people might be bummed if they had to stay indoors and live the spring season through HEPA filters and allergy drugs. I'm cool with it. I've got a long Netflix queue to get through, people. Go enjoy the rest of your spring. I'll keep the homefires burning -- just not as dramatically as my neighbor, I hope.

COLUMN: Laurel v Yanny


So how's your week going? Mine's going okay -- well, except for that one part when my entire worldview got tossed asunder and I lost all personal identity as my reality came crashing down leaving me in a void of unanswered questions and the realization that my entire life could be a lie.

Other than that, things are pretty decent.

Fair warning: there's a good chance this column could be an abject failure. For one, I'm about to discuss something that's better HEARD than read. For two, since it was all over the news last week, you're probably sick to death of hearing about it.

But sometimes, when something this paramount occurs in our world, it merits careful analysis. I don't care if it's been beat to death by the media, a topic this important deserves our time, our consideration, and a valuable fact-based discussion about what it means to society and the global ramifications that could ensue from such a divisive, far-reaching, and world-changing topic.

I speak, of course, about whether you hear Laurel or Yanny.

In case you've been living under that one rock without wi-fi or emergency access to internet memes, I'll recap: Last week, someone somewhere on the internet posted a sound file. The short clip is a recording that comes from the website vocabulary.com of a robotic male voice offering the correct pronounciation of the word "laurel."

But when some people listen to the clip, they don't hear "laurel." Instead they hear a word that sounds more like "yanny." This is super weird, since "laurel" and "yanny" don't really sound alike at all. But it's true -- a good chunk of the populace clearly hears "laurel" while others plainly hear "yanny." Over the past week, the internet has exploded with questions about how this auditory illusion works.

The answer, as you may expect, is a bit sciency. Speaking to the website "The Verge," Lars Riecke, an assistant professor of audition and cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University, explains that several different factors can play into whether we hear "Laurel" or "Yanny."

One is frequency. The acoustic information that makes us hear "yanny" is a higher frequency than the information that makes us hear "laurel." Hearing loss over time tends to start with higher frequencies, so older people tend to hear "laurel." The audio source can affect the outcome, too. If you're playing the sound over a tinny speaker with little low-end, you might be more inclined to hear the higher frequency "yanny."

But the difference can also be due to our brains and the way we interpret sounds. When we hear something ambiguous, our brains will automatically try to fill in the blanks. If you know some Laurels and are familiar saying the name, that's what you might hear. If you're a fan of well-coiffed new age keyboardists, you might hear Yanni. Or Yanny. Whatever.

The point is, I'm not having it. I am a life-long audio geek, music fan, and weekend DJ. Even at my lowest, I can fall back on the knowledge that I am a world class conoisseur of sound waves. I'm not saying that I'm so conceited and full of myself that I believe I can appreciate audio on a different level than most of you, except that is EXACTLY what I'm saying because music is my oxygen and my well-trained ears rule.

Therefore, I should be able to listen to this clip, simulataneously hear both "Laurel" and "Yanny," and laugh at you poor audio amateurs and your unskilled ears. But no. I've played the clip a hundred times, and all I hear is "Laurel." Not even a hint of "Yanny." As it turns out, I don't have the supersensory hearing I've always assumed I had. In fact, I probably have hearing loss that eliminates high frequencies and makes me only hear "Laurel."

So what does this mean? If I can listen to a word and only hear it one way while half the world hears it another, what ELSE do people hear differently? Is this why I hate dubstep music so much? Can others put on a Skrillex CD and hear a beautiful emotive symphony while I only hear angry robots yelling at one another? Maybe to some ears, Lil Yachty can sing like Pavarotti. I hate to say it, folks, but maybe -- just maybe -- Nickelback is GOOD and we just can't hear it.

This is the kind of thing that keeps me up late. I found a website where you can adjust the frequencies of the original sample until I could finally hear "Yanny." I was hoping there'd be a sweet spot where it might sound like "Lauryannyel," but no dice. I did, however, find a median where I could think to myself, "I want to hear Laurel" and I would, and then "I want to hear Yanny" and I would -- which is frankly just more proof that everything we hear is a lie created by our brain.

My best bet is just to stop thinking about it before I lose all confidence in my ears and they take away my membership badge to the music nerd club. I just need to accept the fact that when I turn on the radio and hear "Stairway to Heaven," it might really be "Hairspray for Kevin." If you hear something different than I do, then so be it, I guess. I still like music the way I hear it just fine. If the only loss I took away from being in the crowd at the 132 decibel assault of My Bloody Valentine live at the Aragon Ballroom was my future inability to hear a robot voice say the word "Yanny," it was a fair price to pay.

Let's let the Laurels be Laurels and the Yannys be Yannys and move on to important matters -- like whether that dress is black & blue or white & gold.

COLUMN: Cancellations


Well, it's official. Good weather is upon us.

How do I know this? Is it because the flood waters have receded? Because the forecasters have retired the phrase "wintry mix" for at least a few months? Because the sun's out, people are milling around outdoors, and there's a certain magic in the air?

Nope. I know the weather's getting nice because every TV show that any of us care about has just been unceremoniously snuffed out of existence for the season, some never to return again.

I remember a day when I used to anxiously await network TV's annual spring upfronts, where they introduce and tease some of the new shows coming this fall. But this year especially, I found myself caring a lot less about new shows and a lot more about which current shows were facing the grim axe of cancellation.

Six months ago, I wrote a column celebrating the current slate of TV programming and told you that we were living in a new golden age of broadcasting. Half a year later, all those shows are cancelled and everything sucks again. Whoops, my bad.

Once upon a time, TV shows were given a fighting chance of survival. Even "My Mother The Car," an actual series about a guy's dead mother reincarnated as a 1928 Porter jalopy, a show widely considered to be the worst show in the history of television, aired 30 episodes before the network pulled the plug. (An actual episode synopsis: "Dave is forced to drive his mother/car to a mountaintop wedding, but along the way she gets drunk on antifreeze.")

These days, a struggling show is lucky to get six episodes before the axe falls. Imagine what television history would be like if networks always had this itchy of a trigger finger. When it started out, "Cheers" ranked 74th out of 77 shows on the air. "Seinfeld" was panned by test audiences. Neither show would have survived past its first season in today's market. With a kajillion different cable channels and limitless streaming options, networks no longer have the patience to nurse a show to success -- it's either a hit or a miss out the gate.

And when you're only concerned with hits, what happens? You water creativity down, pander to middle America, and you're left with a schedule of singing contests, banal family sitcoms, and my absolute least favorite genre of TV: medical dramas. I swear, every one of them has the same plot:

Patient: "I have a head cold."

Doctor: "Well, let me just take a look... OMIGOD, YOU HAVE TERMINAL NOSE CANCER AND 45 MINUTES LEFT TO LIVE! #drama"

Patient: "Let me quickly make amends with my family and say something incredibly poignant about mortality. #Emmynominee"

Actor Playing Doctor: "I am now SO popular for playing this doctor that I am quitting the show to make movies with Brad Pitt. #Emmywinner"

Doctor: "OH NO, NOW I HAVE TERMINAL NOSE CANCER, TOO!"

This season's biggest success story was the return of fan favorites like "Will & Grace" and "Roseanne." As a result, next fall's schedule is filled to the brim with multi-camera sitcoms and retreads of past glories. "Murphy Brown" is coming back, and so are new versions of "Magnum P.I." and "Cagney and Lacey." WHY? Let ghosts lie, I say.

Why not just make a NEW show about two mismatched female detectives and name it something OTHER than "Cagney and Lacey?" If you made a new show about a small-town sheriff with a heart of gold, you wouldn't call it "The Andy Griffith Show." And how much staying power does the name "Cagney and Lacey" even HAVE, anyways? No offense, but hasn't the primary fanbase of the original series shuffled off to the great studio audience in the sky?

And to make room for this tidal wave of retreads, some truly great shows got the axe this year. "Designated Survivor" and "Last Man on Earth," both quality shows, end their legacies on cliffhangers that will never get resolved (although there are now rumours that Netflix may step in and save "Designated Survivor.")

My favorite new show of the year, "Kevin (Probably) Saves the World" now ends without fanfare, resolution, or any indication as to whether or not Kevin actually saves the world (Spoiler: He probably does.) The Grim Reaper of cancellation even reached my favorite show to hate-watch, the musical-drama "Rise." Now we'll never know whether or not a high school full of every cliche teenage stereotype can be saved by one dauntless drama teacher and his plucky production of "Spring Awakening."

The point is: Shows should never end on a cliffhanger. If a network prematurely boots a show, they should be required to air a final episode wherein the show's creators and writers just stand in front of a camera and tell us what WOULD have happened had the series continued. Every show deserves a "The End."

If I ran the world, the television dial would look a whole lot different. And Katie Holmes would probably be starring in everything. But if this assassination of quality TV keeps up, I might just have to check out this "outdoors" thing I keep hearing about.

COLUMN: Co-Op


If there's one thing I'm good at, it's issuing overly-dramatic and potentially life-changing vows, only to go back on my words as if they were never uttered. "I'm THROUGH procrastinating!" "I will NEVER let my house get this messy ever again!" "That's the LAST time I ever eat an entire Harris Pizza!"

Words to live by -- except I never do. But there was one such assertion I've remained true to my word on for decades. I swore it in the middle of a particularly hissy fit sometime in the mid-Nineties, but I meant it:

"As God is my witness, I will NEVER work retail again!"

I'm now sorta hoping God wasn't eavesdropping that day, because yours truly is the newest part time employee of Moline's Co-Op Records.

Me working at a record store shouldn't be THAT much of a shocker. Listening to music, collecting music, and talking about music are pretty much my three favorite hobbies. I might as well be getting paid for it. Besides, it's not my first rodeo in music sales.

When I got out of college, I got hired on at a now-defunct second-hand CD shop. I thought it would be my dream job -- well, except it was part time, offered no benefits, and paid minimum wage.

But then I got to know the owners. They turned out to be less music junkies and more like money junkies out to make a tidy profit, and my charming slackerish ways weren't met with much love back then. I was constantly getting admonished for not tucking my polo shirt in straight. Don't get me wrong, there's certainly something to be said for wearing professional appropriate attire in the workplace. But in the "professional" setting of a used CD store, an untucked shirt IS appropriate attire, and it's usually best if said shirt is ripped, weathered, and contains the faded logo of a band that NO ONE'S ever heard of except you.

Instead of hour-long discussions about the greatest drummers in rock history, I got lessons on how to wipe down countertops. Instead of sharing musical passions, they shared how to take advantage of elderly customers. My tenure there was short-lived. Thankfully, Co-Op was waiting in the wings to offer me a job at a REAL independent record store.

My days at Co-Op were great, and quickly proved that every stereotype about record store clerks is pretty much true. YES, we would sit around and have heated arguments over which Beatles album was best. YES, we'd have contests where you'd look at a customer and try to figure out which in-store music would get him to ask what was playing. YES, we were all pretty much insufferable dorks. It was great.

Eventually, the real world had to win out. I was about to fall off my parents' insurance, they were growing tired of paying a college graduate's rent, and I wasn't exactly raking in the big bucks. A Shane in a record store is like a kid in a candy shop -- and back then, you could just take home whatever music you wanted and they'd subtract it off your payroll. That's how I went down in history as the only employee to ever receive a NEGATIVE paycheck. "It's payday! You owe us $72."

So I folded up the concert tees, put on some nice clothes, and took what I thought to be a short-term job at the local newspaper to get my parents off my back until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. 23 years later, here we are. No regrets.

But last fall, I got an interesting proposition from my friend Reid. He owns the Co-Op Records on Moline's Avenue of the Cities, and he was in a bind. Reid runs the store with a couple dedicated employees who work tirelessly, but even music dorks need time off once in a while. That, friends, is where I come in.

It's not a big commitment -- I'm lucky to work 2 shifts a month -- but I am back in the retail game. I'm still the same insufferable dork as ever, but I'm now selling music to kids half my age, which I guess makes me an insufferable elder statesdork. If I can recommend a record that'll change a kid's life the way music once changed mine, mission accomplished.

I've worked a few shifts already and it kinda feels like home, but with a few exceptions. I can operate a newspaper's entire complicated software system, but put me in front of simple cash register and I panic. I thought I knew music until I started getting questions from kids about bands I've never heard of. And how 1990's Shane stayed on his feet all shift is beyond me. 20 years and 100 pounds later, I leave work dreaming of epsom salt.

But I'm happy occasionally reliving my retail days. I've even been trusted with a key to the store. Frankly, there are days I don't trust myself with my own house keys. So if you fancy some records and see a chubby guy behind the counter struggling to stay on his feet, say hi. I promise I'll give you a great deal, and I clearly never go back on my word (cough).

COLUMN: Court Pt. 2


Tonight on Dateline:

He seemed like a nice, ordinary newspaper columnist. The kind of guy who filled his days writing about harmless things like cats and TV. So what could have caused this mild-mannered everyman to snap, get behind the wheel of his car, and take down an innocent bicyclist? Was it an unavoidable accident? Or was it MURDER?

Spoiler: It wasn't murder.

If you read last week's column, you've already heard the story. Last October, I was pulling out of my alley on the way to work when I got into a fender bender with a cyclist who came zipping down the sidewalk into the blind intersection. I was just letting off the brake from a dead stop and barely moving, so thankfully no one was hurt except my driving record and the guy's poor bike, which the front of my car rearranged like a Dali painting.

It was one of the more traumatic and embarassing moments in my life, and I can only be grateful that nobody got hurt. For my part in the incident, the police awarded me with a special honor called a "failure to yield" citation that turned out to be a little less prestigious than I was hoping for.

I certainly don't make a habit of it, but I've been on the receiving end of a few traffic tickets over the years. Nothing big, but I racked up as couple of speeding tickets when I was in college and a seat belt violation one stupid day. And every time, I've freely owned up to it. I was at fault, I deserved the ticket, and I duly paid them.

But THIS time, I didn't feel quite so liable. It truly is a blind intersection, and I don't think any driver at the same spot at the same time would have been able to avoid hitting the bike. Half on principle and half because I thought it might make for an interesting newspaper column, I decided to fight my failure to yield ticket and have my day in court.

I spent one entire day incredibly satisfied by this decision, and then the next two months regretting it. Did I need an attorney? Just meeting with one would probably cost more than this silly ticket. Could I possibly defend myself? Wouldn't I just flop-sweat and stammer like usual? What was my defense going to be? "There was this bush, see..."? This was a dumb idea.

But when the day of my court appearance finally rolled around, I wasn't scared or stressed. That's because I was too busy vomiting. My January court date timed perfectly with the worst case of flu I'd ever had in years. But somehow, I managed to crawl out of bed, put on some nice clothes, and drag my drugged-out self to the courthouse on a wing, a prayer, and a whole lot of Dayquil.

At the courthouse, I was greeted by a kindly guard who told me I had to take off my belt before passing through the metal detector, which explains how my flu-addled brain came thiiiis close to accidentally dropping trou in front of some of our community's finest legal minds. The guard gets my ultimate respect, because he was the only one who went, "Excuse me, sir? Before you see the judge, you might want to zip up your pants." Good advice. Thankfully, the officer who cited me was a no-show and my date with the judge got pushed back two more months.

This was ample time for me to become a legal eagle. I'm somewhat of an expert in the modern legal system, because I have seen at least 100 episodes of "Law & Order." So in my down time before the judge, I prepped. I went to the intersection with a camera and took CSI pics of the obscuring hedge row. I hopped online and researched statutes. I watched even more "Law & Order."

Two weeks ago, it was my moment to shine. When they called my name, I would stride confidently before the judge, present my evidence, provide my multi-point argument with the grace and finesse of Jack McCoy, and leave court a free man, vindicated of my crime. As I awaited my turn, I composed my victory speech for the throng of reporters that surely must have been outside. My fantasy was soon interrupted by the assistant city attorney. Here's how it went down:

"Mr. Brown? Care to come up? Your honor, my officer isn't here. The victim isn't here. Move to dismiss."
"Sound good to you, Mr. Brown?"
"Err... yes?"
"Dismissed. Next."

It was the fastest "Law & Order" episode ever. The judge didn't even bang a gavel, not even once. My epic courtroom drama played out in roughly forty-five seconds. I was incredibly relieved -- except for the teeny tiny part of me that was silently disappointed. I didn't get to show my fancy pictures of the crime scene. Nobody had to press any "FREE SHANE" t-shirts. I didn't even get to stand up and yell, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!"

As much as I want to experience a shining star moment in court, it's probably not worth doling out any more love taps to passing cyclists. Probably. If you see my car coming, you might want to give it a wide berth just in case.

COLUMN: Court Pt. 1


I was trying to think of a good intro to this week's column, but I really think the only fitting intro is to imagine that you're hearing the "CHUNG! CHUNG!" noise from the beginning of every episode of "Law and Order." So, are you ready? CHUNG! CHUNG!

For the past six months, I've been harboring a deep secret from you people. As it turns out, your friendly neighborhood humor columnist -- is a felonious felon on the lam from Johnny Law.

Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. I suppose I've been less "on the lam" and more "sitting around waiting patiently for my court date." And I'm not a felonious felon. But I WAS accused of being a misdemeanorous misdemeanorer. Rebel, thy name is Shane.

I'm trying to figure out a way to frame this in a way that you WON'T immediately cast judgement upon me after hearing what happened -- but that might be a tall order. I swear I'm not a bad guy, but this wasn't my best moment.

Alright, fine. I'll just say it. Last October, I was involved in a minor traffic... kerfluffle, wherein it is alleged that my car may have been slightly over-eager to make the acquaintance of a passing bicyclist whilst I was behind the wheel. SEE? You've already made up your mind, right? I can hear you screaming "GUILTY!" from the rafters. I'm a horrible person who needs his license taken away and should be banished to the Island of Misfit Drivers for the rest of my natural life.

Now that you're convinced of my guilt, let me tell you what really happened. I was leaving for work one October morning and was attempting to turn right from my alley onto a major Rock Island artery. I came to a complete stop, looked both ways for oncoming traffic, let off the brake, and eased out.

Next thing I knew, KER-WUMP. Unbeknownst to me, a young guy was zipping down the sidewalk westbound on his bike while I was turning east. I didn't see him, he didn't see me, and we met only when my bumper clipped his tire and my heart leapt out of my chest.

The good news -- the only news that matters, really -- is that everyone's fine. I had just started to roll out of a dead stop, so the impact was minimal. Unless you count the year or two it took off my life, no one was hurt. It didn't even knock the guy off his bike. But it DID do a pretty good number on the poor bike and bent his wheel up, so after verifying that he was fine, I called 911 and reported the incident. To Rock Island's credit, an officer was there in moments.

If you're going to be involved in a traffic accident, I hope it's as optimal as mine was. The guy on the bike couldn't have been nicer, the officer couldn't have been nicer. The only bummer was that I ended up with a "failure to yield" ticket that I didn't think I deserved. Don't get me wrong, I felt (and still feel) terrible about the collision -- but I didn't feel especially liable. Here's why.

For one, the stretch of road I was turning onto provides a clearly marked bike lane in both directions. Had the cyclist been utilizing the proper marked lane, he would have been on the other side of the street safely away from any pre-caffeinated columnists trying to get to work.

But even more importantly, the end of my alley features an unkempt overgrown hedge row that, for half the year, obstructs ANY view of the sidewalk. It's a completely blind intersection, which is why I always pull out slow enough to stop for any pedestrians. In my admittedly amateur opinion, the cyclist was travelling too fast on the sidewalk against traffic into a blind intersection and the accident couldn't have been avoided. It was just lousy timing and little else.

These are all excellent points that my brain was making at the time. My MOUTH, on the other hand, was acting as its own attorney and not doing a great job. Fueled on a diet of shock, adrenaline, and pure thankfulness that no one was hurt, "OMIGOSH" was about the most sensible thing I could muster.

When I finally mentioned the bike lane to the officer, her response was, "I'm no expert on bike laws" (?) before looking up a general Illinois statute that say bicyclists on sidewalks should be afforded the same rights as pedestrians. When I pointed out the overgrown hedge row obscuring the sidewalk, the officer agreed and told me I should contact public works to remove them because they were a hazard. These were, in her words, "things you might want to bring up with the judge."

Gulp. As a general rule, I prefer to shy away from any scenarios wherein I have bring any things up with any judges. But I did it. I decided to fight my ticket.

There's been much debate lately about Rock Island's historic yet crumbling and asbestos-riddled courthouse. All this talk has made me want to have a peek inside the place, though there's probably better ways to do it than broadsiding a bicycle.

My court date was last week. How'd it go? Meet me here next Monday and I'll tell you. CHUNG! CHUNG!