Speeding at Two Miles per Hour

It is difficult to read. After all, it is a carbon copy of California Highway Patrol ticket from 1974.

i found it when i opened a book from my bookshelf, and it fell out. i wasn’t sure what it was until i saw the date. i remembered instantly.

January 6, 1974. It was four days after President Nixon signed the bill to limit the speed on the nation’s highway to 55 miles per hour. It was a Sunday. We were relaxing in Navy Officer Housing in San Pedro, a suburb of Los Angeles. I was Chief Engineer on the USS Hollister (DD 788), a FRAM destroyer homeported there. And believe me, a Chief Engineer of a reserve FRAM destroyer needs a break every once in a while.

Earlier, my lifelong friend, Earl Major, had come by to say goodbye. Earl and i had reconnected at the department head course at the “Destroyer School” in Newport, Rhode Island the previous year after a dozen years of losing touch. We grew up together. Happily, we were both assigned to ships out of Long Beach. He had relieved as Weapons Officer of the USS Fox (CG 33), which at the time was in overhaul at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard — All of that Navy facility is gone. Terminal Island, the Port of Long Beach and the adjoining Port of Los Angeles, one of the largest container ship ports combined in the world — but the overhaul was over, the ship had returned to its homeport of San Diego, and Earl had checked out of his apartment that morning to drive to San Diego in his ’67  Porsche 911s.

My wife, my daughter, and i would miss him. He had stayed with Blythe on numerous occasions and stayed at our with pets when we went on long trips. i was not yet aware we would be joining him in San Diego in about a year when i was transferred from the Hollister to become the first lieutenant on the USS Anchorage (LSD 36).

So we relaxed for about an hour when the phone rang. It was Earl calling from a phone booth in Irvine. The Porsche had stopped running as he approached the I-5 and I-405 merge, and the car was on the median in between the merge. He asked me to come and help. i explained to Kathie, kissed my daughter, and grabbed some line (“rope” to you landlubbers), threw it in the back of our Toyota Corona station wagon, and headed South on 405. There was no traffic: amazing for someone who now must drive on the 120-mile traffic jam that exists 24/7 nowadays. i reached the merge in a little over a half-hour.

And there in the middle of the median was Ear’s burnt orange Porsche with Earl standing outside.

i pulled next to him, got out, and we discussed his options. i don’t know why we didn’t use AAA or call a tow truck, but perhaps it was difficult to get a tow truck; we didn’t have AAA back then; or Earl only had enough change to make one call. Remember this was 1974 and calling while on the road was a whole different ball game. Regardless, we stood there and strategized with me informing Earl about the line (rope) in the back.

The next exit was not quite a mile away. We decided to push the Porsche with my station wagon. We stationed the cars, and when no traffic was coming from either interstate, i carefully and slowly pushed Earl and the Porsche across to the I-5 South shoulder and began to creep toward the exit.

That is when the CHP black and white cruiser pulled up behind me and turned on his blinking lights. i thought it was nice of him to protect us from cars coming up from behind.

But he pulled beside me and motioned for us to stop. i did. About a quarter mile or less from the exit ramp. He read us the riot act about how unsafe it was to push a car on an interstate as the three of us stood outside the cars. Then he pulled out that pad from his back pocket or one of the two thousand other pockets and holsters those guys have hanging on their person. He took down all of my information, including my address from Watertown, New York (i had not had to re-register in California because of the rules for the military and duty station changes).

Then he got to the  part for recording the violation. He seem puzzled. He went back to the patrol car and pulled out a book and began flipping through the pages. He quit flipping and made a call on his radio. There was a long discussion. In about five minutes, another patrol car pulls up, and the two CHP officers began a discussion while Earl and i are wondering what is up. Several minutes later, another patrol car arrives. This one apparently was the other two officers supervisor. They talk some more. Then another patrol car pulls up. Finally, there are six patrol cars on the shoulder along with the Porsche, the Corona, and Earl and i. The officers are in deep discussion until the original guy, the one i thought was protecting us, walks over and hands me the carbon copy of the ticket while the five other cars disburse at more than the new speed limit. He explains how to settle the ticket, and he too speeds off.

Now being bright Navy officers (that doesn’t apply to the pushing episode), we decide since we can’t push the car the remaining distance to the ramp, we could pull it. So we do any boatswainmate proud and latch up the Porsche front bumper to  my Corona rear tow hitch with the line (rope) i had put in the car.

We safely (?) pull the car to the ramp exit. Miraculously, we check the phone book and find a foreign sports car maintenance shop, OPEN on Sunday morning, within a couple of blocks. Earl explains the problem, the mechanic projects Wednesday as the repaired date.

i take Earl back to our house and he gets a shipmate from the Fox who is also moving that day to give him a ride to San Diego. Before he leaves, Earl offers to pay the fine, but i insist we split it. Reading the ticket thoroughly, we realize the phalanx of CHP officers had given me a ticket for speeding at two miles an hour in a 55 mph zone. There is also no option to simply pay. i am required to appear in court. Earl insists he come up and go with me to testify. Kathie agrees to go with us and serve as a character witness if necessary.

The next week, i get the court date Long Beach municipal court house. The original date in January was changed and written in felt tip pen at the bottom is the new time and room number:  “14 February, RM 203/5:45 to 6:45.”

Earl drives up that afternoon. We decide to wear suit and ties rather than our uniforms. Kathie dresses nicely and conservatively to match us. We arrive and report to the clerk in 203. There are about a dozen clerk windows but we still have to wait for about ten minutes. When i get to the window and relinquish my ticket, the clerk looks at it and begins to laugh hysterically, sharing it with the clerks in the two adjoining windows. She then turns to me and tells me not to worry, that the ticket will never stand up in court.

We report to the courtroom and sit down with about 100 other offenders. We are the only three dressed as if you would think someone would dress to appear in court. Shaggy and dirty was the predominant style. There were a few “casual” dressers as well.

The judge arrives and the the session begins. About a half dozen culprits stand before the judge before i am called. i march to the front after i tell Earl and Kathie i will call them when they are needed. i think i will call Earl early and hope we don’t have to resort to calling Kathie as a witness as that would likely mean i was in deep trouble.

i look up at the judge as he reads the ticket.

“What’s the hell is this?” he snorts. Then he reads the two miles per hour in a fifty-five zone to the bailiff and asking him if had any idea what happened. It dawned on me the bailiff was one of the six officers at the scene in the discussion about what i should be charged.

“Speeding! At two miles an hour,” he snorts again. The bailiff is now trying to muffle his laugh and not doing very well. The judge asks and receives my explanation. He mumbles. He pulls out this huge legal-looking book and pores through it for a while.

He complains if it wasn’t a violation, it should be.

He goes through the big book one more time and obviously exasperated, turns to me and says, “Charges dismissed.”

That was it.

Earl, Kathie, and i leave the courthouse and go have a nice dinner before Earl leaves for San Diego and we head back to San Pedro.

And the sad part is Earl and Kathie never had the chance to be eloquent in front of the judge, and i didn’t get to tell him (i planned a smirk while doing so) how safely we pulled the Porsche off the interstate with a line…you know, a rope.

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