I’d reached the sagely age of 20, and had finally scratched together the down payment for a groovy avocado green Chevy Vega with harvest gold vinyl seats.
Then, just two weeks later, a very un-groovy cop pulled me over.
“But my speedometer said 65!”
“I clocked you at 72, son.”
I courteously explained that he was wrong and that I wasn’t his “son,” but he still gifted me with a speeding ticket.
That night I mentioned the situation (yelled about it) to my car-smart friend, Ray.
“Have your speedometer checked.”
“On a brand new car?”
“It’s a Vega.”
So I had it checked and, lo and behold, the speedometer was off by 7 miles per hour! I immediately began preparing my watertight defense.
At the courthouse, the Bailiff asked, “How do you plead?”
“Not guilty!” I proclaimed as I clutched my love-worn copy of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience.
“In the case of the Universe vs. Mitch Teemley,” the Bailiff droned, “Mr. Teemley pleads not guilty.”
The Judge motioned me forward. “What’s your story, son?” (Why does everyone think I’m related to them?)
“Well, funny you should ask. There really is quite a story—”
“Guilty or not?”
“Um, well, not guilty because I was driving a brand new Vega and…”
The Judge’s eyebrows plunged vertiginously.
“Do you have the certification?”
I passed the document to the Bailiff.
“Guilty. You can pay your fine at the Clerk’s window down the hall. Next.”
I stood in stunned silence.
The Bailiff motioned for me to leave. I began shuffling away, but then stopped.
The Bailiff unsnapped his holster.
“I don’t understand!” I blurted.
“What is it you don’t understand? You were going 72 miles per hour,” said the Judge.
“Well, technically, yes—”
“Well, then technically you were breaking the law.”
“But it’s a new car. I didn’t know—”
“That doesn’t matter.
“We’re done here, Mr. Teemley.”
“Your honor, can I just ask you a question?”
I persevered. “If someone tied you up and tossed you through your neighbor’s window, would you be guilty of breaking and entering?”
“Pay the fine or go to jail, Mr. Teemley.”
I pulled Thoreau out of my pocket and read aloud: “’Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison!’”
The Judge stared in disbelief. “Do you want to go to jail, son?”
“No, your honor.”
“Then, pay the fine.”
“I can’t. It would be wrong.”
“But you broke the law.”
“Not knowingly. Maybe General Motors should pay the fine.” The courtroom erupted in laughter. I grinned.
That was bad.
Up until now I’d benefited from the Judge’s amused tolerance. But the moment I started working the room, his tolerance disintegrated. “You can change your plea to ‘guilty’ and go to traffic school. Or you can keep your ‘not guilty’ plea and go to jail.”
The Bailiff hoisted a pair of massive manacles.
“Choose, Mr. Teemley!”
“Traffic school!” the coward that lived inside me screamed.
“Thank you. Now go pay your fine.”
“You mean I still have to pay the…?”
The Judge’s eyebrows plummeted.
I’ve always had noble ideals. But the fortitude to stand by them, well… Those handcuffs were big, dammit! As I skittered away, Thoreau fell to the ground. Was the book trying to escape my craven company?
It would have gone to jail!