Louella ALWAYS vowed to be unavailable for the annual family trip to Ocean City. But every year, except that one time she was working in Japan, she found herself going along.
I never should have agreed again, Louella nagged herself as she ferried the family's rusting 1978 Ford station wagon inch by inch toward the Bay Bridge toll booths. But her mother couldn't drive, and her father, with his diabetes, shouldn't. Her sister Candy had forgotten to renew her license, and her 19-year-old soon-to-be-a-father nephew Mason had had his license suspended for driving under the influence once too often. That left Louella to take them down to her mother's sister's trailer. Without her, they would have had no vacation. She hadn't had the heart to say no.
At last the toll was paid, the bridge was crossed. Like ducks on automatic pilot, Louella and tens of thousands of other cars made it to Ocean City without incident. She nudged her father awake as they came to Aunt Mary's part of town. "Dad! What street am I looking for?"
He roused himself, squinted, pointed. "Turn left on that one there up ahead, then two rights."
Louella did as she was told, but came to a dead end at a pungent-smelling cattail-filled canal. She backed up, annoyed, and made her way back to the stop sign on Ocean Highway. She stopped, then pulled forward to go north.
Suddenly there was an unmarked police car on her tail flashing lights and making high-pitched blip noises.
"Do they mean me?" she asked her father. "I'm not speeding!"
"Maybe it's the brake lights," he said. "They might not be working. Or the turn signal, either, come to think of it."
"Now's a fine time to tell me!" Louella pulled over, and the police officer eased in behind her. She watched in the rear view mirror as he approached, noted his Buford Pusser sunglasses and his uniform snug around his gut.
"What's the trouble, officer?" she asked, attempting a smile.
"You made an unsafe turn back there," he said sternly.
"I did? But I stopped at the sign, I know I did! A full stop!"
"Yes, ma'am, but then you continued into the highway without looking both ways."
"But I did look both ways!"
"I was watching, ma'am, and I saw you pull out without looking."
"But I didn't see you anywhere! There were no cars coming either way when I pulled out!"
"Ma'am, I won't argue with you. Save it for when you get before a judge. Just let me see your license and registration so I can write you up for reckless endangerment, and you can be on your way."
He came back with a $42 ticket, and tipped his hat. "Have a pleasant stay," he said. "And drive more carefully in the future, y'hear?"
Louella noted his name on the ticket. "I will see that judge about this, Officer Ball," she said primly. "You can count on it."
He gave a tight smile, thumped the car door in a kind of dismissal pat, and went back to his car.
"If that don't beat all!" said her father. "Never seen the like! A ticket for not doing nothin'!"