On this day of atonement (Yom Kippur), I have a confession to make. When that state trooper stopped me on I-80 last month—when I saw his lights flashing in my rearview mirror and immediately, like a law-abiding citizen, pulled onto the shoulder to hang my head for speeding—I remembered my puzzlement on examining my driver's documents (license, registration, insurance card) and seeing that my insurance had expired in June, 2008. Surely I’d paid the premium … but where was the proof? And what was I doing on the road without it?
The trooper, who drove an unmarked car (except that all those unmarked cars are so arch-conservative-looking), asked for my license, registration, and, of course, insurance card. Then he asked, pleasantly, for my current insurance card. I riffled through the glove compartment—at one point, I had put all my documentation in there, in case the friend I left the Eclair with while I was in the Azores wanted to drive her—but came up empty. He returned to his car and came back on my passenger side to hand me the tickets and explain it all. He had the neatest handwriting—the tickets were perfectly legible, except for his signature. He explained that, although I had been speeding, he was ticketing me for the lesser offense of windshield obstruction and showed me the exact address where I should send the money. Then he wrote down the phone number of the magistrate and told me to call and get the magistrate’s fax number and within ten days fax proof that I had insurance—“and I believe you do,” he added. The fine for not having insurance is substantial: $350. For that I could spend a full week in the beautiful Hotel Millheim.
I was trying to envision where the insurance card was. There was no point in telling the officer all the details of my complicated life (“See, I stay at the beach in the summer, but my mailing address is in Manhattan …”), and I could remember paying the insurance premium ... almost. I remember adding up my car expenses, and the fact that insurance was the major one, and thinking I was being overcharged and that it was time to shop around. At home, I found the file of envelopes from the insurance company, and sure enough, there, unopened, was the most recent, postmarked May 07 2008, and stamped in red: “IMPORTANT: Insurance Policy, ID Cards and Bill Enclosed.” Who pays any attention to that?
So I made the call and sent the fax first thing the next day—I also paid the (not) speeding ticket—and before the week was out I got in the mail a notice from the Magisterial District Judge withdrawing the charge of “OPER VEH W/O REQ’D FINANC RESP.” And, of course, I put the new card in my wallet. So now I am right with the State of Pennsylvania.
Luckily, when the officer stopped me, my right headlight hadn’t yet popped out of its duct-tape bandage. Nor did he say anything about the cooked-tar odor coming from under the hood, which turned out to be a transmission leak. I called the mechanic yesterday to find out if it had been fixed (it had) and how much it cost: only forty dollars. “What, did you use chewing gum?” I asked. “No,” he said. “It was a line—it happens a lot.” I will pick up the car tonight or over the weekend, in time to celebrate Columbus Day and Succoth.