Looking for Autumn, Finding More

I drove to Birmingham looking for Autumn on Saturday, October 13. Nope, they didn’t have it. Then, Sunday afternoon, drove 60 miles north to see Mom and Dad, thinking they might be holding Autumn hostage up in Winston County. Again, nothing but warm sultry days and nights.

Friday, October 19, I flew to Washington, D.C., and found the first indications that Autumn is alive and well and considering coming south. A few trees were showing their colors and the air, while still on the warmish side, was fresh and breezy. I stayed 24 hours and could have stayed a year.

Saturday–yesterday–was election day in Louisiana. I voted last week since I would be out of town, and stood in line for 30 minutes for the privilege. Mostly, the election results appear encouraging.

We have elected Bobby Jindal as our new governor, and this without a runoff. He was running against a crowded field (12 candidates), but mainly against Walter Boasso of St. Bernard Parish. Boasso is a self-made millionaire and the state senator who kept the matter of consolidation of the levee boards before the people of this state. When the timid legislature refused to take the lead, Boasso went to the public via the media and the citizens raised up with one voice to insist that this foolishness be stopped. That’s when a lot of our elected officials in Baton Rouge “came to Jesus,” as my friend Lonnie Wascom puts it. They saw the hand-writing on the wall and ran out in head of the crowd, trying to re-establish themselves as leaders. We ended up with two levee boards, one for each side of the Mississippi. I once told Walter Boasso, “You are my hero.”

But I voted for Jindal.

As did a majority of the voters. Sunday’s Times-Picayune says he will be the nation’s first governor of Indian descent. That’s Indian as in India, not “native American.”

Jindal is presently serving as our congressman from this area. He’s an active Catholic and speaks easily of his conversion (from Hinduism, I suppose; not sure) in his youth. His opponents made much of some of the rash statements he made back then, in which he put down Protestantism and proclaimed Catholicism as the only way for anyone serious about living for God. Jindal says he has matured and changed some of those views. He must have, since almost every evangelical group in the state supported him.

Our attorney general, New Orleans’ own Charles Foti, lost his bid for re-election. This is the man who filed charges against the doctor and two nurses at Baptist Memorial hospital, claiming they had euthanized critically ill patients during Katrina’s flooding. When the grand jury heard the evidence, they threw it out. Then, Foti himself prosecuted the owners of St. Rita’s Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish for failing to evacuate their patients, which resulted in the deaths of thirty-two. He lost that case, too. The voters of this state decided they had had enough of his ineptitude.

The runoff for attorney general will be between Republican Royal Alexander and Democrat Buddy Caldwell. I voted for Caldwell, the longtime D.A. from the little town of Tallulah. Alexander, I’ve mentioned here before. The local paper told of his attempts to shake down groups he was helping with political issues to get hefty contributions for his campaign. We have had too much of this kind of money-driven leadership for my taste.

At Community Baptist Church in Maylene, Alabama, next door to Alabaster, I was so pleased to see this church thriving with a bivocational staff. Pastor Bo Brown and Worship Leader Dave Miller are seeing this church explode with growth. Bo works for the Social Security Administration in Birmingham. By his willingness to support himself with a weekday job, the church is able to pay other staffers–including a minister to students and a children’s minister–and thus have a well-rounded program for the whole family. They have blueprints for a new sanctuary. Watch for great things out of this congregation.

In recent days, preaching there and also at the annual fall meeting in Columbus, Mississippi,the following Tuesday night, then Saturday at the fall meeting of the Northstar Network–the name of the Baptist association that encompasses the area around and including Alexandria, Virginia–I met so many good people who have been coming to our area to help rebuild homes and churches. Their commitment and their sense of joy from the work they’ve done is absolutely overwhelming. And so humbling.

Sunday morning, worship time at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where Dr. Mark Tolbert is interim pastor, I sat beside my granddaughters, Abby and Erin. Sitting with those two, the love is so palpable, you can probably stuff some in a sack and take it home with you.

Abby, it turns out, has been spending a little time in my absence with Grandma (my Margaret). She got a conspiratorial look in her eye and said, “Grandpa, I learned something about you and it’s not good. Did you get a ticket from a policeman? What happened–did you speed or run a red light or run over a little lady?”

I assured the 10-year-old that I did not do any of the above, but I did get the ticket. In Gardendale, Alabama, last Sunday morning. For running a red light. Which even the policeman acknowledges I did not do.

Skip this if you don’t want to read it. I understand. It’s lengthy, but it will help me get my frustration out. Maybe.

I had spent the night with my brother Ron and his wife Dorothy, then left at 7 am to be at Maylene by 8 am. At the highway (that would be U.S. 31), I stopped at a convenience store for a Birmingham News and got to talking with the Vietnamese man behind the counter. No one else was in the store. When he asked if I was on my way to church, I asked him about his church. He was Buddhist. Did he know about Jesus Christ? No, he had heard nothing about him. But he would be interested in learning. I told him I will send him a New Testament in Vietnamese.

Back in the car, I call Ronnie’s house to tell him or Dorothy I’ll be sending them the New Testament which they are to take to Nguyen at the convenience store. While she and I are talking on the phone, I spotted a sign on the right indicating that Interstate 65 was to my left. I whipped into the turn lane–now, mind you, there is not another car on this four lane highway for a mile in either direction–and was about to turn left when I saw a red light over this turn lane. I screeched to a halt, and said to Dorothy, “Wow–I almost ran a red light.” At that moment, I spotted the police car sitting to my left. “And a cop was just sitting there, waiting for me!” I said, relieved.

The light turned green and I turned left. To my amazement, the cop car pulled behind me and the blue light was going. I said to Dorothy, “I’ll call you back. I’m being pulled over.”

“You ran that red light back there,” the young policeman said. I said, “No sir. I almost did. But then I saw the light was red. I stopped, then when the light turned green, I turned left.”

I honestly thought he was mistaken. I didn’t know he lived by a different set of rules from ordinary folks.

He said, “You were in the intersection.” I said, “I was a little bit. But not much. I wasn’t blocking anything.” And besides, I pointed out, you are allowed to get into the intersection before turning left. Again, I was thinking wrongly here. This fellow has his own set of rules.

“No sir,” he said. “Let me have your drivers license.”

Five minutes later, he got out of his car and said, “This is a ticket for running a red light. Your court date is December 7 at 8:30 am. Sign here.”

I was stunned. I protested, “Sir, I didn’t run that red light. And you know I didn’t.” He just said, “Sign here, sir.”

I said, “All right. I’ll meet you in court, sir. I live in New Orleans and I will drive up here for this. And sir, you will lose this one because I did not run that red light and you know it.”

He actually had the (nerve, gall, something, not sure what) to say as he left, “Have a nice day.”

Oh yeah. You have just messed up my day something awful, and you wish me a nice day.

My brother-in-law, married to Carolyn, is a sergeant with the sheriff’s office in the Birmingham area, and he was as stunned as I was. He pulled the state statute which the ticket claims I violated and made me a copy.

My brother Ron was hotter about this than I was (and that’s something). He paid three visits to the police chief’s office that week before he caught him in, just to inquire what kind of police state you are running here.

Now, I’m a big boy, I’ve been driving for 50 years, and I have had my share of tickets. The last one was 15 years ago for doing 37 in a 25 mph zone. I was guilty and knew it and took my lumps. I got a ticket 40 years ago for driving with an expired license after we moved to Mississippi. I was in the wrong and knew it and paid the price.

But has anyone ever heard of someone getting a ticket for running a red light when they didn’t and the cop so much as admitted it?

Perhaps this is flavored by my living in a part of the world that does not believe in writing tickets for running red lights at all. Let the light turn to red and the cars keep coming. It is dangerous, it is scary, and apparently, it is low priority for the law enforcement people around here. I am the guy who stops at stop signs, slows down for yellow lights and stops for red. In most places, that makes you a law-abiding citizen. Everywhere but in Gardendale.

Perhaps we could invite the police department from Gardendale, Alabama, to come down and give our people lessons on signal enforcement. They could even tell our officers how to go to the other extreme and write tickets for people who look like they are even thinking about running a light!

I’ve been asked if I thought the cop waited until he got behind me and read my out-of-state tag before deciding to turn on his blue light. It could appear that way. My brother-in-law, the sergeant, doesn’t think so. He thinks the cop thinks I intended to run the light until I saw him sitting there, and at that moment, made the decision to give me a ticket. His ego, his authority, his position, was at stake. He had to teach me a lesson. Maybe so.

I have always been a champion of our police. And still am. But I confess here that as that officer drove away, I felt I had been personally assaulted.

My wife cannot believe that I would drive all the way back to Alabama just to protest this ticket. I told her, “I’d do it if the fine were ten cents.”

The police chief is new in Gardendale, and he told Ron once the ticket is written it’s out of his hands. And he wants to support his men, being new and all.

He had a Bible on his desk and Ron asked him if he read it. “When I get time,” he said.

I don’t know what else Ron said, but I surmise it was something about fairness and doing the right thing. Ron said he bet the chief wished it were him getting the ticket.

Today is October 21 and the court date is December 7. I’ve pretty much decided to just pay the ticket to get the thing off my mind. It’s worth the price for the peace of mind.

Which, come to think of it, may be precisely what they count on.

A half hour later, in Alabaster, I was driving down a four lane highway where one could easily do 70 miles per hour–and noticed two things. The speed limit was 35 and two cop cars had pulled over a speeder. When I told the pastor, he said, “Oh, it’s a speed trap, all right. They’re always sitting there waiting for you.”

Ever since that weekend, I find myself expecting cops to pull me over for nothing. Did I get into the turn lane too early? Am I too close to the intersection? Is my inspection sticker current?

At the airport security yesterday, the guard stared too long at my drivers’ license. Finally, he said, “This is expired.” I had that stabbing feeling again. “Oh no,” I thought. Then I remembered.

“Turn it over, sir,” I said. He did and said, “Oh. Okay.” The state had updated my license with a sticker on the back that indicates I’m good until 3/28/2011.

Thanks a lot, Gardendale.

7 thoughts on “Looking for Autumn, Finding More

  1. There is an old saying “Don’t let them get you down”. Try to follow it. Most of the police/highway patrolmen are not out there to “get us” but as always one bad apple can spoil the lot.

    On the other hand you will be back that way – is he just waiting on you? Or will he be waiting on you if you fight the ticket?

    I am a believer in standing up for what is right and would probably be sitting in court on the 7th!

  2. I fought a similar ticket in Alabama for two years. Had TWO trials on it. Finally the DA found out about it and railed the assistant DA who was trying to make himself a name. I was completely innocent. I had stopped to render assistance to a stranded motorist and got a ticket for reckless driving. I had to go to Bay Minette, Alabama from Columbus 3 times, overnight trips. But I was right and right is right. Good Luck. And they do have their own set of rules! At least you are a preacher vs. the law!

  3. One of these days I am going to find a policeman who will answer the question of why they pull someone over when they “thought” the person was going to do something wrong.

    I was making a left turn in our RA Camp bus (repainted school bus)and because of it’s size I turned into far lane of the four lane.

    A policeman across the intersection was making a right turn on red (I had a turn arrow)and had a

    merge lane to turn into but for some reason decide to turn into the lane that i was goin into. It scared him!!! Would have scared me, except I was in a bus. After he quickly cut back into the merge lane he turned on his light and pulled me over. I knew he was pulling me over because he knew something was wrong but did not have the qickness of thought to realize that he was in the wrong.

    I was not my normal nice self – I as much said, or maybe did say, “Scared yourself didn’t you.”

    He asked for my license (glad I had a CDL) and that is all he said. As I pulled it out I explained to him, in a calm voice, what he had done. It was a wonder he didn’t check for the inspection sticker, lights or something. I had just left the inspection station but he would have found something. Anyway he cooled off and went on his way.

  4. Doctor…Jefferson County reported to me that Gardendale has a couple of cowboys….they think they are Wyatt Earp. You may have run into one of them. It embarasses me that you had to go through this but I asked the chief, who pays the judge. He stated that the city does. I then said that it appears to me a lost cause. I think he would have done something if he could…been on the job 2 months and probably did not want to lose the respect of his men (whom it really doesn’t know yet,) It’s like I saw on a sign years ago…A Bulldog can whip a Skunk but it ain’t worth it!! Pay the fine and avoid the court costs. Who knows, it might make you a little more careful since you do so much driving.

  5. The problem is that once the ticket is written it really is out of the hands of all but the judge. The reason for this is that for years it was easy to get tickets “pulled” by friends, crooked policemen, crooked judges, etc. and some serious ticketing scams still take place out there. Once there is a situation like this where there is serious question about the validity of the offense then there is no way that the police are going to touch it, they will just let it go and if the judge tosses it in court then no big deal to them. In reality though they fully expect that someone from out of state will decide that it is not worth the time, effort and money to fight it and will just pay the fine. Tough call as the ticket is likely less than the cost to go fight it. Best of luck and thanks for the warning about Gardendale.

  6. Really, I would let it go. It’s of more value as a sermon illustration that we can not keep all of the law. We need Jesus to stand in out stead and pay the fine for us because we can not keep from offending the law at some point in our own power. We need His grace~~! In this case, you’ll get to pay a fine. Although you never had any premeditaed intention of breaking a law. But have you not at some time in the past drove over the speed limit, went thru a changing light you could have stopped at and so on…. Look at all of the traffic offences that were never fined. Now that’s grace~~!

    Maybe you could look at it as a bargain. You know, kind of like getting that shirt on sale that was really too high.


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