Thursday, August 21, 2008

Defying the state as a matter of course

When they become part of our day-to-day life, some of the smallest acts of seemingly apolitical rebellion can be especially powerful. Acts such as warning on-coming drivers of a lurking police officer, for instance.

I was driving into town to pick up my son from day care yesterday. The road I was on is relatively lightly traveled and has a long, straight stretch that just begs for a little speed. In a relatively short distance, though, the 45 MPH limit plummets to 25 MPH, which it remains along a wide, straight stretch that services a new housing development, lined by masonry walls, landscaping and not a single driveway.

Speeding through here is endemic, because you feel like you're pedaling a tricycle down a hallway if you don't.

Anyway, I hadn't yet begun to decelerate when the driver of an oncoming pickup truck signaled with his hand for me to slow down. I figured he had a reason, so I did -- quickly.

Sure enough, a sheriff's deputy was parked over the hill, just waiting for anybody to come barreling through a few miles over the limit. I gave the deputy a grin as I went by at exactly 25 MPH, and promptly passed along the warning I'd received to two cars coming from the other direction.

I've written before that my piece of the Earth is populated by people not overly impressed by the petty posturing of law enforcement -- the last (and only, so far as I remember) radar trailer to be parked down my road ended up tumbled on its side, in need of an overhaul. So a friendly warning that the county mounties are around the corner was hardly unusual.

And it was much appreciated.

But it's just such small acts that make life bearable in an increasingly overgoverned society. That warning certainly saved me a few minutes of getting hectored by the side of the road by one of Yavapai County's finest, as well as some money and possibly a bit of hassle with the insurance company. It also reaffirmed the connections I have with my neighbors, at the expense of government authority. And last, but not least, it was an important thumb in a petty official's eye -- that deputy certainly knew what was going on as traffic improbably crawled by him at precisely the speed limit.

As the laws that ensnare us and the enforcement efforts for those laws become ever-more intrusive, such small acts of defiance as warning your neighbors about patrolling cops become necessary lubricants for life. To the extent that they're internalized in our day-to-day behavior and become normal activity rather than explicitly political statements, they transform the culture and fuurther undermine government authority.

And that's always a good thing.

By the way, while your mileage may vary, at least one court has found the act of flashing headlights to warn other drivers of a the presence of police to be protected free speech. Of course, you should help your neighbors out anyway, whether or not the law approves.



Anonymous GreatScott said...

I live in a bedroom community outside Seattle, and wish my neighbors were as public spirited as JD's. I'm not sure how he signalled a slow down 'after Day care', but I'd never heard of flashing headlights, and how does this work during daylight hours anyway? What I get from nimby residents on the street is the cocked elbow vertical hand-wave. If I gave this out my car window to an oncomer, they would just think I was another nimby criticizing their speed. Bottom line, I think my neighbors are clammoring for more speed traps, and in this context, any warning attempt would be misunderstood.

August 22, 2008 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes cops seem to cooperate in their own frustration. Once I was driving on a country road which goes over the Blue Ridge in Central Pennsylvania. As I approached the foot of the mountain, I saw a local police car waiting in the trees on my left for some unsuspecting motorist coming down. Noting this I proceeded to the top. As I climbed, all the drivers coming the other way gave me a hand signal consisting of a wave with a pronounced downward stroke. I had never seen this before, but guessed it meant Slow down; cop in the bushes. Of course I returned the signal, supplemented with the one I had learned from my father: flashing headlights.

Once over the crest of the ridge, the temptation was to let the car gather speed, but people I met still gave me the wave. Sure enough, at the bottom was another policeman, on my side this time. I drove by at the posted limit wondering how long he had sat there watching everybody obey it.

This little episode involved two township police departments in two different counties. I wonder whether they just happened to set up their speed traps on the same day on opposite sites of that ridge, or planned it that way.

August 22, 2008 8:40 AM  
Blogger Flash Gordon said...

A few years ago in Westminster, Colorado a certain cop had a habit of parking his patrol car in the same hidden spot beside the road every day to catch people "speeding" in a grossly underposted area. Someone spread tacks and screws in the dirt at that spot one night and officer O'Grady took off after his first victim the next day with two flat tires.

The newspaper ran a story on it and I'll bet there was laughter throughout the town that morning.

August 23, 2008 10:45 AM  

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