Yesterday I passed a Highway Patrol cruiser stopped on the side of Highway 118. The lights were flashing and it appeared the patrolman had pulled over a vehicle for something; I didn’t stop to ask him. Seeing that brought back an experience I had a year ago.
I was returning to Alpine from a book signing in Midland. On Highway 67 between Ft. Stockton and Alpine, I was grooving on the mountains because how would I not? My truck was set on cruise control at the speed limit of 75 MPH. As I came into town I was still going that speed. That was the problem.
But picture this: the sun was setting and making a big show of burning down the western sky. The fiery blaze made Twin Peaks look like a painting by a master. Soft colors turned everything beautiful. The scene was so perfect it could have come from deep in my imagination. My heart was filled with joy to be back in the land of many mountains and few people.
On the radio George Strait was singing an old hit tune, “Oceanfront Property.” Memories flooded through me. When my son Manuel was around thirteen years old, he brought home a cassette tape. He’d traded a kid at school a Los Tigres del Norte tape for one by George Strait. I thought he must really like the guy because Manuel was usually all about Los Tigres. He followed me around the house saying he was sure I’d like this singer. I had never heard of George Strait and I was busy, but I stopped to listen because I loved that boy. All it took was one song and I agreed that George had something.
My son died in 2010, but sometimes I feel that he’s with me still and this was one of those times. As I flew past the Highway Patrol vehicle, I was doing 75 in a 55 MPH zone. He flipped on his lights and turned around. I knew I was in trouble, but it was hard to care because of my blissful state.
The young patrolman came up to the passenger side and I put the window down. I think he was surprised to see that I was not a young speed demon but an old one. He greeted me in a respectful manner and I returned the greeting. Then he asked if I knew I was going twenty miles per hour over the limit.
“It occurred to me as you passed,” I said, barely coming out of the daze and only because he was forcing me to.
“Ma’am, are you in a hurry for a particular reason?”
“I’m not in a hurry but if I tell you the truth, you’ll laugh.”
“Please tell me,” he responded, “I never hear the truth from anybody.”
I know he wasn’t expecting this: I told him I’d been in Midland for a few days, and I was so happy to be home at last and “did you see that sky?” and there are no tall buildings or traffic here, thank goodness, and the mountains are wonderful and they add something to life that is indescribable. And while I was watching the sunset George Strait began singing an old song and for a few minutes I was back in 1986 with my young children, laughing and cutting up.
I figured he’d throw the book at me for being so unaware while driving—and speeding on top of that. He smiled!
I thought, “He thinks I’m crazy.”
The officer checked my tag, inspection sticker, insurance, and all the things he was supposed to check. He went back to his vehicle to run my license. When he returned, he leaned into the truck and passed me my papers. Next came the ticket I had to sign but he said, “I’m only giving you a warning this time because you told me truth.” He looked up at the mountains and then back at me. “I get lost in the scenery too sometimes.”
I signed the warning and thanked him for understanding, but I really wanted to hug him.
“I hope you have a nice evening,” he said with a tip of his hat.
I sat there on the side of the road marveling at that exchange. It seems that state troopers appreciate the scenery too, or one of them does. Thinking back on it, I believe there was a little bit of Deputy Ricos in that young man.