Upon discovering the unpaid speeding citation on my desk amidst the pile of papers and learning that the court date was that date and I had less than 6 hours to figure out what I was going to do rattled my cage............
Panicked is an understatement for the way I felt right then. I usually consider myself pretty good under stress and able to think clearly but that was not the case at this minute. MusicMan suggested that I call the sherriff's office of that county and ask if there was any way they could help me get in touch with someone from that small town. The woman on the phone was very nice to me and apologized for not being able to offer me an alternative. She suggested that dealing with this town was a tricky situation and I probably wouldn't want to risk it. She informed me that she had seen extremes happen in relation to small speeding tickets and her suggestion would be to get in my car and head that way. She didn't know that I was more than four hours away on the other side of the state.
I googled the small town again and printed out driving directions. Google said 4.25 hours. Good, I could make it there by 5:15 PM and court was a 6 PM. There was plenty of time if I didn't run into Atlanta traffic and if everything went ok.
In a matter of 40 minutes, I had rescheduled my spa appointment, notified my assistant to not come Friday morning, packed an overnight bag, filled up my gas tank, and withdrawn $300 cash from the ATM. I was thinking to myself, "Surely the ticket won't be over $200 something and I'll have a bit extra as a cushion." I set out towards this small town with a nervous stomach. I would only be about 90 minutes from my parent's house and I could just go there after court and drive home on Friday morning.
I was more mad at myself than anything for dropping the ball on this. Now, who knew what my fate would be with this situation? What would the cost be to me after all the dust settled?
I drove as fast as legally possible towards Atlanta and then took I-20 East towards Augusta. I got off the interstate at Thomson where I filled up with gas at the BP station. Seventy eight frigging dollars to fill up my car. The directions had not suggested to take this route from Thomson but it was the route that Biggest Sister and I had traveled. I figured that I could probably remember the way that we went and I did remember there being plenty of "road signs" that listed cities between point A and point B. I decided to not use the directions on Google from then on out partly based on my memory but mostly based on the conversation that two Department of Transportation officials were having at the pump about how bad the wait time for construction was just two miles up the road and how it would take hours to get around Augusta. So, I had what I felt like was a new, solid plan to still get me there.
At 4:05 PM, I called the number. It was busy. It continued to stay busy every single time I called. Where there that many people calling or had they pulled the phone off the hook just to piss people off on the day of court? Who knew? Not me. I continued to hit the redial button on my cell phone and marveled at the thought of what we did before we had them? Finally, at 4:55, I reached a live person on the other end.
"Hello, I'm calling to find out about my speeding ticket fine," I said. I gave her my name and how fast the citation said I was going.
"Oh," she paused, "That's going to be $345." I nearly swallowed my tongue and managed to squeak out, "You're kidding right?" She assured me that she wasn't and so I said to her, "The officer that gave me the citation said that if I were to appear before the judge and had I not gotten a ticket in the previous six months, that I could ask for it to be dismissed. Is that true? I asked.
"Ye, Ma'm, that's true," she replied.
"How likely is it that he will do it?" I asked.
"It's about 50/50, depending on his mood at the time....but one thing's for sure, if you don't ask, you won't know will you?" She wasn't sarcastic at all.
"Ok, here's my deal," I began. I'm driving all the way from Rome, GA. I've already left my house and am over half way there now. I should be there before court starts and I'm going to take your recommendation and ask for dismissal. See you in a couple of hours."
I continued on down the road and admittedly was fretful about what the judge would do. I went over the events surrounding the citation in my head and prepared what I was going to say/ask for and began formulating a "Plan B" in case I had to spend the night in jail. MusicMan had already convinced me that I was notorious for "smarting off" and that I had better be careful of that or I'd spend the night in jail. I later asked him if he was serious or just trying to mess with me and he said that he wasn't trying to mess with me.
I drove for what seemed like hours and still couldn't see road signs for this small town. At 5:45PM, I reached the height of my stress level and the realization started to set in that I was in a serious crunch. I phoned the town number again. The same nice lady answered.
I identified myself and asked, "How far is XXXXX from your town?"
I heard her ask someone standing nearby and I was sure that I had misheard them when they said forty five minutes. Then when she repeated it back to me, I knew that I had heard it correctly.
"oh....no...." I yelped.
"I don't think you are going to make it in time," she said calmly.
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and the lump in my throat growing to the size of a golf ball. I reminded myself to breath right there in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of a huge pause of silence on the phone.
"You know I left my house at 1:15 today and I've been driving this entire time and Google Map said four and a half hours and I've been on the road for over 5 now," I was spurting words through my tears as fast as they would come out of my mouth.
"I know. I remember" she said. Then she continued, "I'll be honest with you, it's not going to work in your favor that you are appearing in court late before the judge but I'll see what I can do to help you out. ok? Just get here as soon and as safely as you can."
I didn't know where I was. I knew that I was 45 minutes away from hell and hell was actually where I needed to be. I drove for another 25 minutes or so and I remember thinking that this whole event had been a comedy of errors and I dropped the ball and now who knew what was going to happen. I realized that I was lost. I didn't recognize anything around me and there were no road signs.
Up ahead on the left was an old feed/seed store and an old man standing out front beside his pickup truck. I pulled across the median and into the dirt parking lot up beside his truck. He must have been shocked to not only see that red Mustang whip into the lot but also my tear stained face to match the color of my car.
"Little Lady, is something wrong?" he asked.
"I'm lost and I'm in a hurry. I have been trying to find XXXX for over an hour and I'm late AND I'm lost and in a few more minutes I'm going to be dead meat too," I stammered out in one breath.
"On your way to court, huh?" he laughed. I didn't think it was funny at all and he sensed it quickly.
"Go right up here and take the very next right and that'll take you where you want to go, just follow the signs."
I thanked him, put the car in drive and pulled out of that parking lot slinging gravel and dust for who knows how far.
The next right didn't come and it didn't come and I started to cry harder. My cell phone had no coverage and I was approaching a full blown meltdown. I remember saying out loud, "Lord, I need a sign that this is going to be ok. Please send me one." And as quickly as the words left my lips, there to the right of the road was a road sign that named the city I was trying to find. The arrow pointed to the right.
"Thank You Lord" and I turned onto that road. I didn't know where that road went to and I had no idea how far it was to the small town.
At 6:25 PM, I pulled up to the city hall building which also was the library for the town as well as the meeting hall for the town. There were at least 40 cars parked up and down the street and a few people standing outside on the porch. It reminded me of the one room school house that I had helped to raise money to restore about 12 years ago in south Georgia where Biggest/Big Sisters went to elementary school. We used that small one room schoolhouse as a museum.
Walking towards the building I realized that I didn't have enough cash to pay the fine. My stomach lurched and I actually thought I was going to vomit right there on the lawn of that building. I walked up on the porch and turned the knob.
It was locked.
I tried it again and an elderly black man standing nearby said, "It's locked. Just gently tap on the door and someone will open it."
So I did.
There stood the officer that had written me the citation. I recognized him immediately.
"Court has already started and no admittance now!" he barked.
"I've spoken to XXX three times today and driven over 5 hours to get here. Please let me in." I said back to him. I don't know if he recognized me or not and I really didn't care at that point.
He stepped back and I walked through the narrow door and he directed me to sit on the back row.
There was a window air conditioning unit that was blowing directly towards where I was sitting and I would see the thermostat set on 60. I already was nervous and shaking and this made it so much more exaggerated. I felt sick to my stomach; I was freezing. I had not eaten anything since the crackers after giving blood earlier that morning. I glanced at the wrap around my right arm and noticed a red spot about the size of a quarter. Where in the hell had that come from? From clenching the steering wheel? I didn't know. Was I going to bleed out right there in court. My mind was swirling faster than a tornado. I sat there for 20 minutes while person after person got
fined screwed good fashioned. If there was any leniency in that judge, I didn't see it. He was dishing out high fines and Community Service like a soup kitchen would dish out soup. I began to have a sinking feeling that all of this effort and drama had been such a waste of time and now I was next.
I continued to wait for him to call my name and it was always someone else's name he called. The courtroom slowly emptied and there were only about ten people left. I couldn't hear and began to get concerned and other people were moving around and so I took a chance and moved to the next to front row. The temperature was so much better there and I could finally hear him calling out the names. I looked over at the clerk and she motioned for me to come to her.
I walked over towards her table and she stood up. She asked if I was XXXX and I answered yes. She instructed me to sit on the front row. She sat down beside me with her legal pad and pen. I will never forget the words that she whispered into my hair.
"There was no way I could get back in touch with you after you called the last time. I knew you were so upset and really were trying to get here. When I hung up from your last call, the Police Chief and the Judge were standing right there wanting to know what was going on. I explained your situation and they decided together right then to change your citation to a verbal warning."
I swear to you all that I felt the blood drain out of my upper body into my legs and I thought I was going to faint. This was certainly too much drama for me. Talk about having your chains jerked back and forth.
She read the expression on my face and said, "I'm sorry that you had to drive all the way here to learn that ....." and I interrupted her with, "That doesn't matter now."
She said that she would be sending me an email on Monday with the legal notification that it had been changed and that was all. I asked if I had to stick around and she said, "No, you are free to go. She got up and walked back to her table and looked at me and smiled. I sat there while the blood came back to the rest of my body.
I stood up, gathered my purse with the $300 cash and walked towards the door. The police officer may have or may have not recognized me but as I walked by and caught eye contact, he winked at me as he opened the door. I looked away immediately wondering if I had read that wrong or if he had just done what I thought he did.
I almost ran to the car about 30 feet way and got in and cranked it and drove away. I stopped two blocks away in an empty church parking lot and just cried with relief. It was 7:25 PM.
Emotionally, I was exhausted. Physically, I was wired for sound. I had the bright idea that I could get back to Atlanta and perhaps spend the night with one of my Consultant friends in the business. I waited until I had cell service and recounted the entire dramatic unfolding to MusicMan. He spent the second half of the call calming me down and emotionally stroking me to serenity so I could drive. I phoned my friend who lives in NW Atlanta and begged for a place to sleep. She knew where I was. I had called her as I was leaving my house earlier that day. She said she would wait up for me and to call her when I was 30 minutes away.
I pulled into her driveway at 10:40 PM. She was true to her word of waiting up. She suggested that we talk more in the morning and I washed my face, brushed my teeth and fell directly into that wonderful feeling bed. I don't remember my head hitting the pillows. What a day.
This was a great lesson for me in several ways. Everything turned out well even in spite of all the drama and my emotional meltdowns. If I ever am required to travel that way again between Athens and Savannah, I'll be more careful to watch my speed. Prayer works. Mere seconds passed after me asking God for help before that road sign appeared. Had I not looked up, I would have missed it. Had I taken care of this before hand, who knows if I would have had the same outcome? I know that not having to pay $345 for the ticket made that money available for Biggest Sister's rent.
What did it cost me? The time to go there and back. The money to fill up my gas tank. The self loathing of dropping the ball.
Tomorrow, I'll laugh about it. Years from now I will tell the story of the day I dropped the ball and how I scrambled to recover it and how it just kept slipping from my hands and then how, suddenly, it rolled over the goal line and I scored.
Everyday, I will remember that I'm only one minute away from the edge and how precious it is and how I need to be more careful and pay attention so I don't get too close.