I was stopped by the police the other day — lights flashing, siren blaring — on Eighth Street, one of the major arteries running through Saskatoon. I didn’t know what I had done. My conscience was clear, but I was embarrassed by the idea of people stopping to stare as I searched for a safe place to stop. Eventually I turned onto a side street next to a McDonalds and pulled up next to the parking lot.
I was relieved to see that the officer didn’t have his hand on his firearm as he got out of his car. So far, I thought, so good. He called me “sir,” which augured well for our encounter. He had stopped me, he said, because I had turned into the far left lane from the right-hand lane of a parking lot exit, crossing two lanes in the process. Apparently that’s against the law. I knew from my long-ago driver education that it was inadvisable, but I didn’t know that it could incur a $230 fine.
The officer took my driver’s license and returned to his car. Making a run for it didn’t occur to me. I knew from experience that he was checking my name for outstanding warrants. He let me off with a warning: you’re supposed to turn into the nearest lane, not the farthest.
This was not my first foray into a life of crime. Three cars and one truck ago I was stopped in the early morning for speeding on the highway to Prince Albert. I was taking Colleen to a class she was to teach at the college there, and I was behind time. According to the radar, I was going 130 kph. “No way!” I said to the RCMP officer who had stopped me. He, too, took my driver’s license and checked for outstanding warrants. He, too, let me off with a warning.
When I come to think of it, I’ve been given an awful lot of warnings over the years. When I was a teenager and driving my mother’s ancient Austin, I was frequently stopped after dark because the left tail light was bare; the covering had been smashed. My mother, the one time she was stopped, was told by a helpful police officer to simply paint the bare bulb with red nail polish. She was let off with a warning (perhaps it’s genetic), and dutifully painted the bulb red. But the nail polish burned off after a few minutes — light bulbs get very hot — and I spent weeks painting it back on until we finally got it fixed. In the meantime I was issued warning after warning by police officers who couldn’t believe that my mother had been told to paint the bulb with nail polish.
Even as a pedestrian I was issued warnings. As a young man I used to take long walks through the city in the wee hours, and I was routinely stopped by patrol officers who took down my name and required to know what I was doing. “Just walking,” I would say, and they checked for outstanding warrants as I sat in the back of the car.
Once there actually was an outstanding warrant for a Donald Ward, but his middle name was Hartley, whereas mine is Bruce, so I was let off with a warning that I would be stopped by other police officers if I persisted in walking through the streets after dark.
The only ticket I was ever issued was for walking against a red light at a busy intersection near the university. There were dozens of us and three police officers in plain clothes picking us out at random. My officer was very friendly, not censorious at all. When I pointed out that there were no cars coming, he pointed out in turn that a red light was a red light. I thought he was being needlessly legalistic, but on reflection I realized that he was only doing his job; the tickets he issued that day would probably cover his salary for several months.
I don’t speed any more and I don’t cross lanes without signalling. In fact I have become quite legalistic myself, mentally issuing tickets to people I see breaking the law. If people pass me on the highway, I reflect that they are getting poor gas mileage and are not really saving time. It takes me six minutes longer to get to Saskatoon from Muenster going 90 kph than 110, and I don’t have to worry about speeding tickets. I think I have run out of warnings.