Friday, January 17, 2014

Reckless Driving

You are going over 85. You are going to get a ticket.  Then you’ll be REALLY late. You need to slow down. There could be a cop anywhere.

I was approaching an overpass.

They always tuck themselves away under these stupid I don’t know their game by now.

I looked to my right, carefully examining the area beneath and around the overpass.

All clear.

It’s 8:31. You could make it by 9. If you are going to be a few minutes late, you can just call the office. They were very nice about it last time.

I lifted my right foot just slightly off the gas pedal to slow my car to 80, my standard, open-ish highway cruising speed.  I suddenly flashed back to the worst in the series of speeding tickets and assorted moving violations I earned in my early twenties.


“Miss, do you have any idea how fast you were going?”  The California Highway Patrol officer addressed me from my grandmother’s Oldsmobile’s passenger side door. 

To say that my grandma and I rolled deep in her beige, 1982, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera featuring beige, vinyl interior; cassette tape deck; and white wall tires was a gross understatement.  Especially when you consider that we rolled together in the early 90’s, about a decade after the car rolled off General Motor’s assembly line.

My grandma was in her early 80’s then, and had lost her driver’s license, among other things, to dementia. 

“It couldn’t have been that fast,” I was quick to respond to the officer.

In hindsight, I’m sure these words sounded more like: “I have absolutely zero idea.”  I know that’s what my 20 year-old self was thinking.  My 20 year-old self that was now late for my Literary Theory class which I currently hated just slightly less than the California Highway Patrol.

“License and registration, please.”

I reached for my purse and pulled out my wallet.  I carefully pulled out MY driver’s license as opposed to Anne Darcangelo’s: my best friend’s older sister’s best friend who was 22 at the time. While she was a brunette and several inches shorter than me, Anne’s ID somehow did the trick…until that bar in Newport Beach…but that’s a story for a different time… that involved a different law enforcement officer. 

“I’m on my way to class.  I just dropped off my grandma,” I told the cop as I handed over the goods. He took them back to his motorcycle, parked behind me on the side of the freeway.

It probably sounded like a load of shit to the cop but it wasn’t. That was my Thursday routine then: drive out to my grandma’s in Pasadena, take her down to have her hair washed and set, then take her to the grocery store to do her weekly shopping. It was my grandma’s one outing during the week. On Sundays, my dad would come take her to church and out to lunch, and maybe to run a quick errand.

Some days, I couldn’t wait to drop her off. I was too busy. I wanted to get back to school. I had things to do. In reality, some days I just couldn’t bear walking behind her down the aisles of the grocery store. She’d stop, over and over again; look down at the list in her hand; look further down at the contents of her cart; then look at the grocery shelf before her. She was not quite sure how to put all the pieces together. I knew this was supposed to be “her time” but I didn’t always have the patience.

I regret to say that there were days when I would go to the grocery store without my grandma. I would drop her off at the salon, and go take care of her shopping before I returned to the salon to pick her up.

I would hold the door open for her as she slowly stepped into the car. Then, I’d close the door behind her and be in the driver’s seat, buckled up with the car started before she was done fastening her seat belt. She’d reach into her purse, perched on her lap.

“Ok, I have my list for the market in here somewhere,” she would start to dig around as I pulled away from the curb.

“No, Grandma.  Not today.  I already went to the market for you.”

“You did?”  She would turn to me with a look of confusion and disappointment.

“Yes, Grandma,” I would keep my eyes fixed on the road in front of me.

Then, finally: “Alright. You have things to do.” she’d say. “Thank you.” 

She would lower her head a little and hang on to her purse a little tighter.

“Your hair looks nice. It will look nice for church.” That was my attempt at softening the blow of cutting her afternoon short.

“Thank you.” Now her eyes were fixed on the road in front of her.

How I sometimes rushed through that period with her. I eventually moved in with her but we had to put her in her first nursing home that same year. The year her dementia became so bad that one afternoon, she walked out her front door of 25 years, down her drive-way into her cul-de-sac and couldn’t remember which home was her own. I was at class. One of the neighbors called my father.

The officer reappeared at my passenger side window.

“Miss, you were going 92.”

“No, way.” My 20 year-old self didn’t miss a beat.  My grandma’s Oldsmobile may have been in mint condition but in my mind, there was absolutely no way I opened that engine up to 92 miles per hour. 

“Miss, I have it on my radar. Do you want to see it?”

I threw up in my 20 year-old mouth.

“No,” I managed.  “That’s ok, officer.” I knew then I had screwed myself. The only question was how royally.

“Miss, anything over 20 miles per hour over the speed limit is considered Reckless Driving. Do you know what that means?”

“Um.” I stopped breathing.

“It’s extremely unsafe and there can be severe penalties.” He answered his question for me.

He paused and watched my face contort in response to my upper intestines swallowing up my lower intestines or whatever it was that was now happening to my digestive tract upon receipt of this final blow. 

How will I ever explain this away to my parents?

“I’ve written you up at 82,” he continued, as he handed me my ticket along with my license. “You need to slow down. It doesn’t matter where you think you’re going, you aren’t going to make it alive driving that fast.”

“Yes, officer.  Thank you, officer.  I’m sorry, officer. Thank you, officer.”

I sat there motionless in the driver’s seat for several seconds, staring at the “82” on the ticket. 


My 41 year-old self looked at the clock.


I picked up my iPhone, scrolled through the previous day’s “recent calls”, and soon pressed the screen.

“Good morning. Dr. Hung’s office. This is Lisa.”

“Hi, Lisa. This is Liz Pieri. How are you?”

“I’m good, Liz. How are you?”

“I’m late. I’m sorry. I didn’t give myself enough time.”

“That’s ok. How late do you think you’ll be?”

I quickly made a generous estimate.

“No more than 10 minutes late.”

“I’ll go ahead and check you in. We’ll be here when you get here. Drive safely.”

“Thank you.”

My 41 year-old self placed my iPhone in the cup holder and inhaled and exhaled deeply, settling into the driver's seat.

They’ll be there when I get there.

And I will get there.

Found an image of grandma's ride in baby blue.
I should have asked to see that radar gun. 92 miles per hour? No freakin' way!

While less pretty, I found my "CHiPs" almost as intimidating as these two.
Am I looking at a 28" waistline?