Saturday, December 26, 2009

In the Spirit of the Holidays

Every once and a while, during the Christmas season, I remember this story and smile.

Once upon a time, when I was serving in the Navy (Did my time and got out, thank god!), I got into a bit of a situation with a couple of my buddies. We could have gotten into a lot of trouble and probably spent the holidays in Jail but for the generosity of an Georgia State Trooper.

We had just finished a short training exercise on an Aircraft Carrier stationed out of Virginia. We'd flown up with our command from our home station in Key West, Florida, spent a month on the ship and were getting ready to fly back home when we got news of a blizzard headed our way. The Airports closed down, nothing coming in or going out. Snow piled up on the runways, then melted a bit, then re-froze into ice, then more snow would fall on top... In short, it was no weather to try and fly in.

It was less than three days until Christmas.

We spent an extra night on the ship, hoping the weather would clear and we could fly home. The next morning we were all called into a meeting with our Commanding Officer. He told us that the weather was still too bad to fly and that he was allowing us to rent vehicles and drive home or we could wait and hope that the weather cleared in time.

Myself and three buddies decided that driving might not be faster but at least it was guaranteed to get us home in time. Barely. It was close to a fourteen hour drive, it would be expensive, a pain in the butt, but we'd be back 'home' for Christmas.

All of our bags were already packed up in the planes so we ran around rental car agencies in our working uniforms. It was totally against the rules but we didn't have anything to change into. And of course nobody wanted to rent a car to four young military guys who wanted to drive it over a thousand miles. It took us four hours to find a place willing to let us try it (and only with a large security deposit!)

Finally we were on the road, 34 hours before Christmas.

Thankfully the roads were clear of the snow and ice that plagued the airfield and we made really good time. The speeding probably helped. We rotated our drivers every couple hours and stopped frequently for food and caffeine.

Six hours later we stopped in South Carolina for gas. Feeling a little self conscious in our working uniforms (we looked like rumpled car mechanics) we filled the car and grabbed some maps. The attendant looked us over, realized we were headed south, and pulled me aside.

"Watch out for the cops in Georgia, they're really bad down there!" He warned me. I thanked him, somewhat uneasily, and we left.

We'd definitely been speeding the entire trip, probably averaging over a hundred most of the way.

A couple hours later, deep into Georgia, the speed limit was 65. We were doing about 95. Unbeknown to us, there is a stretch of the highway where the limit randomly drops to 45. There was an Georgia State Trooper about ten feet past the sign for the new speed limit. Unbeknown to us, he scanned us doing a Hundred. He turned on his lights and sirens.

We noticed the lights about five minutes later and pulled over. Of course, I was driving at that point.

"God damn, you guys were going fast! I been trying to catch up with you for the last four miles!"

Shit. Not much to say to that.

He looked us over, obviously noticing us in uniform.

"Where are you fellas going so fast?"

We told him the story, almost getting stuck in Virginia for Christmas and trying to get back home.

"You realize that the speed limit was 45, right?"

We hadn't.

"Ya'll were doing almost 60 over. You realize that anything more than 30 over and I can put you in jail?"

We hadn't known that either.

"License and registration please..."

Shit.

He took the papers back to his car and ran our info. We fidgeted, we cussed... I wondered what exactly to tell the wife. How long is that one phone call allowed to be? I didn't even know where in the hell we were.

A couple minutes later he came back, handed me our papers.

"Sorry for delaying you fellas, you get back home for the holidays. Safely though... slow down a bit." Then he turned and walked back to his car.

We sat there, dumbfounded. We didn't understand the gift we'd been given until he pulled out from behind us and left. Not only had he not put us in jail, he didn't even give us a ticket...

We got back on the highway, and despite drastically lowering our speed we did make it home in time for Christmas. We were greeted by our loved ones and had a wonderful holiday.

Every year at this time I wish I'd gotten that State Trooper's name, I'd love to send him a nice Christmas card. He probably doesn't remember us, but we definitely remember him.

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