Please Speed Up, Ma'am


Birgit Starmanns 


© Copyright 2007 by Birgit Starmanns



Photo of Birgit's Mustang.
It’s an 80’s weekend on the radio. As I pulled out of a friend’s driveway after a dinner party, I turned up the volume on “Black Velvet” by Alannah Miles, a long-time favorite of mine. As I headed north on El Camino Real, a wide, six-lane road that was the most direct way home, I regretted not opening the top on my Mustang convertible.

Buying this car about seven years ago solidified my status as a Californian. I had moved to the West Coast, and had finally made the decision to buy a convertible. While I had considered a range of models, everything from the very expensive two-seaters that I couldn’t afford, to the full sedans which just happened to have a rag-top and seemed boring, I had settled on the Mustang. Maybe I liked the idea of a woman in a muscle car. Maybe I was influenced by my sun sign, a Leo. Maybe I just plain old liked the car.

After I had decided on the model, I decided that I would negotiate for the car on the Web. As a woman, I thought I might have a better shot of negotiating anonymously. I did not care about whether I bought a ’98 or a ’99. Or so I thought.

I arrived in southern California on a business trip in late ’98. On my way to pick up my assigned rental car, I actually back-tracked to inspect one of the cars parked at the curb of the rental agency. It looked like a Mustang. But no, it wasn’t. As I moved closer, I realized that, yes – it was. It was the ’99 model. Now I cared that I bought the ’99 model.

I spent hours on the Web, configuring the right options. First, I had to get the color right: I wanted red. Not the fire-engine bright red, but the dark, deep red, what Ford calls “Laser Red.” As I toggled the colors on the laptop screen in the hotel, I was hoping that I was choosing the right one.

Unfortunately, the ’99 model year was not yet featured online, so I filled out the online questionnaire for the ‘98, and included in the optional text that I was looking for the ‘99 model. Very few car dealerships admitted to having received the extra note that I entered in my inquiry. I received offers from some dealerships on ’98 models that were several thousand dollars above the price of a new ’99 model, and did not even have the options that I had chosen online.

Many phone calls later, I had made a deal. The following Saturday, I drove to the dealership for a test drive. I made the common mistake to drive into the normal Ford dealership. Just prior to Christmas, about two dozen salesmen tried to pounce on me. When I asked for my contact, they were disappointed, but pointed me towards the Ford truck dealership.

I was wondering about these instructions, but then arrived at my destination. Surrounded by Expeditions and Excursions, I saw my little Mustang, in the exact color that I had wanted. And he had a “sold” sign on his windshield. Everyone at the dealership who had wanted to buy a truck seemed to surround my little car.

Still, I was adamant that I had not yet committed to buying the car, when the fleet manager explained, “If I had not put that sign in the windshield, it would be sold by now.” Ok then, let’s take that test drive. One hour later, I was the proud owner of a brand new, 35-anniversary edition, of a laser red Mustang convertible, with the large V8 engine.

On this particular evening after the dinner party, home was only ten minutes away, so I decided against pulling in to a parking lot of one of the restaurants or mom-and-pop stores, whose neon signs only dimly illuminated the street, just to drive top-less. On the Mustang, the parking brake needs to be activated to open or close the roof. While I had a friend once tell me that going slowly enough, it’s possible to just barely pull the parking brake up while activating the top, I didn’t want to try that out tonight.

As I sang along with the radio, the large, white SUV drove slowly in front of me in the middle lane. Another car was already hovering on its left side, apparently not intent on passing any time soon. I opted for the right lane to get past the SUV, just as I sang out loud, “Black Velvet, in that sloooow, southern style.” As I belted out the chorus, I should have taken the song’s hint to go slow. I pulled slightly ahead of the SUV…..and felt a flash of panic. A bright blue stripe along the side identified the car as a police vehicle. A quick check of my speedometer revealed that I was, um, a little over the limit.

Instinctively I hit the brakes. The SUV did the same, and was now directly next to me, on my left. I slowed even more; again, the SUV mirrored my speed. Hoping that the third time is truly a charm, I tried slowing down once more, but again the SUV kept pace with my slower speed. Since I was now moving at less than 20 miles per hour, there were two choices: come to a complete stop in a traffic lane, which is probably illegal, or speed up enough for the SUV to get behind me.

As expected, the red and blue lights cut through the darkness. Great. If it hadn’t been so dark, I would have agreed with all those friends who had told me that a red convertible is a cop-magnet. In this case, it probably had more to do with a heavy foot on the accelerator.

As I pulled as far as I could to the right, my heart pounded just enough to have me rattled, thinking of the increase in my insurance premium that would certainly be the result of enjoying the music in the car a little too much. I turned down the volume, since I figured that loud music would not help my cause.

The officer approached, and, as scripted, asked for my license and registration. The license I was able to produce quickly, as my purse occupied the passenger seat. The registration was a little trickier. Having watched too many police-inspired TV shows, I explained that I would need to unlock the glove compartment for the registration before I pulled the key out of the ignition.

Key in my shaking hands, I bent over to unlock the glove compartment. I hesitated as I saw the pile of papers. Insurance cards and registration certificates that I had accumulated in the last six years tumbled in my direction, and started me on a desperate search for the right piece of paper. The limited light that emanated from the bottom of the rear-view mirror was not exactly helpful.

All of this frantic activity prompted the officer to ask, “Excuse me, ma’am, is this really your car?” What?

Ignoring that I didn’t feel old enough to be called “ma’am,” I turned around to face him. “Yes, it is definitely my car….but I’ve never been stopped in this car before.” I again dove into the depths of the glove compartment and, feeling a sense of urgency, handed him the next registration form that I found, hoping that I had found the correct one. I did not realize at the time that the largest piece of paper was not the right choice, since it was the initial letter that I received from the DMV, and all other registrations were the smaller-sized scraps of paper. So, oblivious, I handed him a six year old registration.

As he collected my paperwork, the officer commented, “You know, they don’t make police cars any larger than this one, and you started to pass me. Why did you slow down so suddenly?”

I figured that there was no talking my way out of this one, so I opted for the truth. “Actually, I saw the blue stripe, and I had an ‘oh, sh*t’ moment.”

He looked taken aback, as he commented, “Normally, when a driver does this, they are either drunk or inattentive.” As he talked, the officer looked carefully at my face, and into my eyes, just as I was suddenly glad to have turned down the last glass of wine at my friends’ dinner. Too bad for the wine, good for me now.

“Actually, I was singing.” No point in lying at this late stage.

“Singing?” I don’t think he had ever heard this one before. He shook his head as he took the paperwork into his over-sized cruiser. But hey, doesn’t everyone sing when they are driving?

He was gone a long time. I wasn’t sure it this was a good sign or a bad sign. I heard a few other songs, good songs, being played on the radio, but I was too nervous to actually turn up the volume, that had obviously gotten me into too much trouble already.

Suddenly, here he was again, standing at the driver side window. “Ma’am,” (here it was again), do you have any tickets?” the officer asked.

Strange question, I thought, since he had most certainly just looked up my driving history. “I had a speeding ticket in Virginia,” I responded truthfully. I suddenly remembered being stopped as I was driving to a doctor’s appointment. I had traveled so much on business that I had not realized that the speed limit on the road had changed. This was probably not a good story to tell him at the time.

One detail hit me. “Come to think of it, I was singing then, too.” I rambled on. “Maybe I should just stop singing in the car.”

I could not see the officer’s face clearly, but he handed me back my paperwork, commenting, “You can keep singing, but you need to be more attentive if you do. And don’t go so slowly.”

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