Baby’s First Ticket

Some people think that I am a poor driver, but this is not even remotely true. Yes, I’ve been known to exceed the speed limit somewhat, and I have, on occasion, driven on what would technically be considered the sidewalk, and it is true that I did, in fact, strike a chain-link fence that probably was not moving very fast with the front end of my car. But this does not make me a poor driver. This makes me a fun driver.

I am such a fun driver, in fact, that my friends are always asking to go places with me. I would estimate that I have driven my friend Aaron a total of — and this a rough estimate — four hundred thousand miles in the year that I have known him, but I don’t mind, because I know he has so much fun driving with me.

“Eric!” he’ll shriek, clutching my arm. “Wasn’t that a stop sign?!?”

“I don’t know!” I’ll respond. “Ha ha ha!” What a jolly time we have!

Anyway, knowing what you now know about my driving habits, what would you guess my first traffic ticket would be for? Speeding? Reckless driving? Killing an elderly gentleman in a crosswalk? Not even close. I received my first ticket for an illegal left turn. Care to hear the story? Too bad.

Back in April, my friends Aaron, Nick, and Colby and I decided we should go to the movies in Temecula. Naturally, they asked me to drive because they knew what fun would be in store for them. Also, none of them have cars.

So I was in Temecula, driving south on Ynez Road, and I turned left into the enormous shopping center in which the Edwards Cinema Zillionplex is located. I have turned left there at least, I’d say, one million times. Unfortunately, a sign had just been posted a few weeks before insisting that no, I can’t turn left there, but I did not see this sign and I turned left. Fortunately, a fine, upstanding member of the police force, someone whose duty is to protect us, was sitting there, literally miles from a donut shop, alertly on the lookout for potential dangers to the general populace, and she saw me make that extremely hazardous left turn, and I do not blame her one bit for pulling me over and giving me a ticket and making us miss the movie, because she was just trying to protect me. In this case she was trying to protect me from doing something convenient and natural, something I had done a million times before, but I do not blame her and I am not bitter, nor do I resent being ticketed by a woman.

Nor do I resent having to go to Traffic School. I mean, you can see why Traffic School would be particularly effective for me. It had been nearly 14 months since I took driver’s education in school, and goodness knows I must have forgotten everything I learned if I could do something as flagrantly and rebelliously illegal as failing to see a brand-new “No Left Turn” sign in the dark. What a renegade scofflaw rebel I must be, not thinking to look for a sign where there had never been one before!

Next week, I’ll tell you all about Traffic School. If you’re lucky.

Though you might not guess it from reading this column, I actually have a great deal of respect for police officers. Theirs is not an easy job, though it is certainly easy to make fun of. I just felt that, easy or not, I did not deserve a ticket. The sign had been posted probably just a day or two before I was there, and the cop was sitting there, WAITING for someone to turn left so she could nab 'em. I don't think that's fair. She ought to have just warned me and let me go to my movie, but no, she had to prove what a man she was by giving me a ticket.

Oh well. It made for a nice column. And the column prompted this response, from an actual police officer!

To the editor:

More distressing than your (Eric Snider's) obvious lack of concern for your, shall we say, lack of defensive driving skills is your delight in showcasing that lack of concern in print.

I think we've all heard 'I guess they'll finally put a sign up when someone is killed.' It seems to me that perhaps you made your 'convenient and natural' turn in an area identified as an area with a high incidence of traffic collisions.

It's not too late for responsible journalism. [Maybe it wasn't then, but it definitely is now. I'm almost finished with journalism school, and I still haven't learned anything.] May I suggest that you visit either the highway patrol or the sheriff's department? Go to some of the accidents and learn how they happened.

Learn how silly and needless most of them can be. I guarantee that, in most cases, someone was doing something 'convenient and natural' while not adequately aware of their surroundings.

Why donut shops? Actually we also frequent restaurants, fire stations, delis, and our own homes as well. Anywhere we might find a table at which to prepare the volumes of paperwork documenting the results of inattention or blatant disregard for very basic rules of the road.

But, donut shops it is for anyone who feels a need to stereotype without wasting their valuable time learning the true extent of what we do. [Like me!]

I think your readers might be well served by reading this letter in print. A printed apology to law enforcement in general would be refreshing as well. I truly expect neither.

But -- I do wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. And with your driving.

Officer Michael Schieffer
Lake Elsinore

Officer Schieffer certainly has a point when he assumes that I am irresponsible and a punk teen-ager, because perhaps I was. However, I never meant to imply that the "no left turn" sign shouldn't be there. It probably WAS a good idea. All I was upset about was the sign being brand-new, and me still getting a ticket for not seeing it. Like I said, a warning would have been more fair, considering the circumstances.

I won't even get into the issue of how if I had been an adult, and not a kid with three other teen-agers in the car, I probably would have gotten just a warning.

I saw this letter before it was printed (I think it was actually addressed to me, in fact), and so I was able to arrange it so that I made a comment on his letter in my column on the same day it was published. It's this column, right at the beginning.

Schieffer's letter prompted this one:

To the editor:

Just a comment about Officer Michael Schieffer's letter to you. He let off some of his personal defensive steam at Eric Snider. Wow -- he must have sat on a tack!

I know if I went into a restaurant or doughnut shop to do my volumes of paperwork, meanwhile spending two, maybe three dollars, guess what? I would probably be meeting Officer Schieffer personally, asking me to leave. There are other customers waiting.

See, I don't wear a uniform. Just a taxpayer.

Thomas L. Kearns
Lake ElsinoreThomas L. Kearns has a good point: How come cops can take up space in a donut shop doing paperwork, while regular people would be asked to buy something or get out? Probably because they're cops and we respect them. We do, really. Or at least we should.