James Lileks
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When you’re zipping along the highway and see the flashing lights in the rearview mirror, you have one of two reactions:

1. What did I do? I am a guiltless lamb who suffers constant persecution.

2. I am so, so very guilty, and now I am going to car jail.

There is a rarely experienced third option: “Perhaps the officer heard a really good joke on the radio and can’t wait to tell someone.” But probably not.

I had the occasion to drive the breadth of our great state this past week and did not get pulled over. Didn’t see a single state trooper the entire trip, as they were off servicing other customers, as they say when you’re on hold.

When you pass a squad car squatting on the median, you feel that sudden squirt of dismay. It’s like the appearance of the Grim Reaper, coiled like a puma. You think: “I’ll just tap the brakes to show my willingness to comply with the speed limit.” Which is like the cops seeing you stab someone and then wipe the blade on your pants. No one that fastidious could be guilty.

You check the rearview mirror to see if the squad car has nudged out of its blind, and when it doesn’t, relief floods your body. Then gas floods your engine, because you have learned absolutely nothing. It’s as if you’re inoculated now.

The reason I didn’t get yanked off and cited and possibly put in the back of the car because for some reason my insurance card is printed on a fake $50 bill? (I wish they would rethink that.) I didn’t speed. I strictly observed the limit, which is 69 miles per hour.

Really, you say? Yes, oh, the signs on the highway say 65, but we all know it’s 69, right? They’d no more bust you for that than charge you with bank robbery for picking up a penny off the ground by an ATM.

It’s different on the interstate, where the speed limit is posted as 70, meaning 74. But you can get nabbed for doing 77. You can imagine the officer: “C’mon, sir, we gave you 74, but you have to do 3 miles per hour shy of 80? Do you think this is Germany?”

“No, because our state did not spend the previous century at war or divided into competing economic systems. We may share a strong work ethic, but here we lack the cold underlying logic of Prussian authority. Is that what you mean?”

Try this next time; officers love to play along. (Insert protesting letter from the State Patrol here.)

Yes, yes, the limit is the limit, and you can be pulled over for doing 66, particularly if it’s a work zone. As it happens, there was a work zone on my trip — 20 miles of trundling past a line of orange barrels with no work happening, none at all. Nothing dug up, no roads chewed to rubble. Then you realize the “work” might consist of guys putting the barrels out every morning and taking them in at night. Perhaps the signs should say: “Fines triple in make-work zones.”

If my foot had less lead than usual, it’s because I got a speeding ticket a few weeks ago in a suburban speed trap.

The previous time this happened I was let off with a nonspecific charge like “excessive acceleration” or “questionable fastness” or “insufficiently justified haste” or something. But the ticket got my attention. Now I drive like a millipede on a glue strip.

I get it now: The speed limit’s 30. By which I mean I go 31. I roll my eyes at the speed demons who do 32. They deserve everything that’s coming to them.