In 1984, Sammy Hagar, the greatest tequila-swilling rock-and-roll philosopher God has ever given to mankind, released "I Can't Drive 55." While the tune was bland and poorly written (much like this column), its lyrics called attention to Speed Limit Intolerance, a disorder that Hagar and hundreds of millions of other Americans (most of whom live in Miami) deal with every day. Sufferers of Speed Limit Intolerance simply cannot stomach speed limits; if they so much as attempt to drive at or below one, they simultaneously vomit and soil themselves.
Hagar wrote the song to protest the nationwide 55-mile-per-hour speed limit that existed at the time. The federal government, a nefarious cabal of bureaucrats devoted to fleecing the American public, had enacted this limit in the early 70s as one more way to fleece the American public. It had hit drivers with Speed Limit Intolerance especially hard.
Fortunately, the national speed limit has since been repealed. Unfortunately, most states (or maybe even all states - I can't say for sure because I refuse to do research) still have limits of their own, and the Speed Limit Intolerant continue to get ticketed disproportionately. I know, because, like Sammy Hagar, I'm one of the afflicted. Indeed, I share much in common with Sammy Hagar. For instance, I also single-handedly destroyed Van Halen.
But that's neither here nor there. The point is that I can't stick to speed limits - and my Speed Limit Intolerance grows particularly severe on interstates. (I'm not sure why this is, exactly, but - as with most of life's problems - I feel safe blaming it on Dwight Eisenhower.) Nonetheless, while I've been cited for a handful of parking violations and countless hit-and-run incidents over the course of my long and storied driving career, I've managed to get pulled over for speeding only once.
It happened three or four years ago, on a warm March afternoon, as I was cruising up the Northway. I was rocketing past a line of cautious squares puttering their pathetic way into the North Country, dominating the left-hand lane as if it were Gaul circa the first-century B.C. and I were Julius Caesar, when a state-police cruiser whipped out of its hiding spot, lights flashing.
My first thought was that an axe-wielding lunatic was hiding under a blanket on my backseat. Perhaps the police officer had detected the madman's presence and was trying to warn me. This theory fell apart when I remembered kicking the axe-wielding lunatic who'd been hiding under a blanket on my backseat out of the car at a rest stop an hour earlier.
My second thought was that my illness - my Speed Limit Intolerance - had finally caught up with me. Intellectually, I understood that I was in trouble - that I might very well spend the next few years in Dannemora - but, on a more visceral level, I couldn't quite accept it. I'd been driving at excessive speeds for years and I'd never had to answer for it. I'd bought into my own mystique: I fancied myself a regular Sammy Hagar, capable of going however fast I wanted and rocking my way out of any grief the law might give me.
Growing numb with terror, I pulled over and unbuckled my seatbelt so that I could get my registration out of the glove compartment more easily. When the cop arrived at my window, he went through the standard spiel. Did I know why he'd pulled me over? I admitted I'd been speeding. Did I have any idea how fast I'd been going? In the hopes of convincing him I had a faulty speedometer, I claimed I'd been driving no faster than 70.
"Try 83," the officer said, shaking his head. He lowered his sunglasses and eyed me. "Why aren't you wearing a seatbelt?"
I gasped. "I took it off when I pulled over," I said, my voice cracking. "I swear."
The cop shook his head again and went back to his cruiser with my license and registration. When he finally returned, he ticketed me for a seatbelt violation - a much less serious offense than a speeding violation, he said. I didn't know if this was true (I still don't; remember, I refuse to do research), but - feeling less like Sammy Hagar with each word I spoke - I thanked him and promised to drive 64 the rest of the way home.
And I kept my word, too. My car's interior was ruined - what with all the vomiting and self-soiling - but I kept my word.
Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.