Saturday, October 24, 2009

Automotive Rehab

This is the creative nonfiction piece I'm thinking of reading at November's Spalding University MFA in Writing residency. These are actual letters I actually mailed a couple years ago, edited for length because I'm given only ten minutes at the mic. By the way, I never did receive a response from the police officer.

January 22
Dear Officer Gauthier:

This morning you pulled me over on Vermont Interstate 89 in Bethel for driving with excessive speed. So as not to keep you standing outside in the extreme cold (minus seventeen!), I was ready with my license and registration when you approached my window. Your demeanor was professional, and I appreciate the courtesy and efficiency with which you issued me the ticket.

I hope you will indulge me an explanation for my haste. As a writer and educator, I was on my way to Saxtons River Elementary School to consult with the principal about assisting with writing instruction. I could plead that I’m not quite used to the new car I’m financing so that I can make these trips around the state to visit public schools. The pure fact is that I was speeding and deserved the $140 fine.
In light of the circumstances, I wonder if you might exercise leniency and reduce the violation to a warning. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of observing speed limits, and I look forward to hearing from you within the twenty days before payment of the fine is due.


~ ~ ~

March 3
Dear Officer Gauthier:

Even though I have not received an answer to my January letter, I thought you might enjoy the repercussions of the speeding ticket you imposed on me. When I’m on a long stretch of road, I set my cruise control at the speed limit so that I’m not inadvertently tempted to press the accelerator beyond its legal limits.

Unfortunately, there have been drawbacks to my vigilance. Cars honk at me, ride my bumper, pass me at every opportunity, and flip me obscene hand signals. Two weeks ago a truck whizzed by me at 15 miles over the limit and kicked a stone, which hit my windshield and sent a crack across my line of vision. I had to pay a $100 deductible fee for the new windshield, which did not have the deicing heater that originally came with the car.

This is not to say that I have any intention of speeding, but I’m wondering why I appear to be the only person who observes the limit. Perhaps the state of Vermont could design a bumper sticker that says, “I have three points on my driver’s license, so back off.” I know your job is a difficult one, Officer G., but please be aware that it’s also difficult to be a good citizen. My best wishes to you as you continue your excellent work.

Yours truly,

~ ~ ~

July 15
Dear Officer Gauthier:

I’m not sure you remember me, but you issued me a speeding ticket back in January on Route I-89. I thought you might appreciate an update on my adherence to traffic laws since then. In early spring I was driving my husband to work along Route 116 when we found ourselves following a school bus going slightly under the speed limit of 50 miles an hour.

“Pass it,” my husband said.

“No,” I answered. “In order to pass, I’d have to speed.”

“Pass it,” he said. “Pass it, or I’ll puke.”

You should know that my husband detests the smell of school bus exhaust. He played hockey in high school and college and spent far too much time on school busses traveling long distances to games and eating stale cheese sandwiches, both of which made him nauseous. To this day, the nausea comes back when he smells school bus fumes, and I knew that his threat was not an idle one. He rolled down his window and stuck out his head.

“I’m about to puke,” he warned.

“So puke,” I told him.

To avoid a mess on my car, I slowed down, allowing the bus to get far enough ahead so that the exhaust fumes were not overpowering. But in so doing, I made my husband late for work, and he did not speak to me for several days.
I’d like you to know, Officer Gauthier, that even if it means the sacrifice of marital bliss, your admonishment that cold January day has had a lasting effect on me.

One last note—I found a narrow stretch between Route 7 and New Haven that has no speed limit posted. I suppose you’ll tell me that somewhere in the driver’s manual there’s a rule about how fast one can go on unmarked roads. But, as I’m not in possession of a recent edition of the driving manual, I will assume until otherwise informed that I have permission to go as fast as I care to on this mile and a half span.

I trust you will continue in your rectitude, Officer Gauthier, and I send you encouragement and best wishes.


~ ~ ~

September 30
Dear Officer Gauthier:

You might be interested to know that my Subaru had its 15,000-mile tune-up last week, and when I drove home on I-89, the car started screeching at 65 m.p.h., sort of the sound of someone pinching the neck of a balloon to make it squeal. I took the Subie back to the mechanic, but he found nothing wrong. On the way home, the screeching began again, and I had to slow down to 55 m.p.h. I guess whatever’s making the noise isn’t serious, but I won’t be exceeding speed limits—you can count on that. I’m just wondering—are you in cahoots with my mechanic?

Thanks again, Officer Gauthier, for your devoted efforts on behalf of Vermonters.


~ ~ ~

November 18
Dear Officer Gauthier:

As autumn’s chill clenches its jaws, I hope this letter finds you well and attending to your official duties. You may wonder why I’m addressing yet another missive to you. Simply, I’d like to inform you that, since that bright and crackling day last January when you stopped me for speeding, I have yet to accrue another traffic violation of any sort—not even for an expired parking meter. Such is the efficacy of your correction, for which I still am and evermore shall be grateful.

That is not to say that I haven’t been tempted to speed. In fact, just this past weekend, when my in-laws were visiting we took a trip to the Shelburne Museum, for which I was recruited to chauffeur. I wonder if you’ve been to the Shelburne Museum, Officer Gauthier? And I wonder if you’ve been there with your in-laws? If you have, you might understand my husband’s urgency in having the trip done with and his hounding me on the way home to “Go faster. Can’t you go any faster?” I was adhering to the speed limit, but, even so, the trip seemed endless with the in-laws complaining about aching feet and the blustery cold and my husband grousing in my ear, and I admit I was tempted to hasten the journey by pressing my weight against the accelerator. But then I remembered your reprimand, and I scolded my husband for coaxing me into lawlessness.

Today I came across the ticket you administered last winter, which may be what prompts this letter, and I’m wondering what the “P” stands for in your name. Shall I guess? Peter? Peyton? Parker? Patrick? Phillip? Pablo? Have I hit on it yet? I’m guessing Paul. Paul Gauthier. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

By the way, the screeching I mentioned in my previous letter was due to a gap in the adhesive around the replaced windshield, the repair for which cost me another afternoon at the shop.

Best wishes for a warm and restful Thanksgiving, Officer Gauthier. And thanks again for your service to Vermonters.

Your friend,

~ ~ ~

December 2
Dear Paul:

While my husband was home from work over the holiday, he fooled around on my computer and discovered the letters I’ve written to you over the past year. I thought he might be angry, but, instead, he suggested that probably you have hung the letters in the men’s room of the Bethel police barracks. I hardly think an officer of your caliber would stoop to such aspersions. Perhaps you’ve filed them away in case you need to testify as to my mental stability for handling a motor vehicle in the state of Vermont.

In any event, I regret to inform you that this is the last letter you’ll be receiving from me. One of the consequences of modifying behavior is losing touch with the rehabilitated. I promise to keep a close eye on the speedometer, but, should a peppy tune come on the radio and I lapse into my wicked ways, there’s a good chance that you and I will meet again on the highway. In the meantime, I wish all the teachers in Vermont the same success in the edification of their students that you have achieved with me. Best wishes to you, sir, and I hope you have a delightful New Year.

Looking forward to seeing you soon,

Louella Bryant


Kathleen Thompson said...

Ellie, I can't help laughing out loud--it's better than crying about the plight of the pitiful writer and the things we do. This reminds me so much of a book project I started in the 90's, another of those projects that got shelved in short order.

What started it was a form rejection from one of the big houses, Harper Collins, I think, a sweet little picture book about a crab who gets scared about a lab swimming around at our dock in the creek in Savannah. The very week I got the form rejection back from them, I read that a children's book had come out from HC with this convoluted title with the word GOAT in it. Can't remember exactly. Anyway, I was angry. I wrote what I termed the DEAR EDITOR letter, and in it purposed that I would write a children's story aboout a fiddler crab with an unnaturally large claw because of the Savannah River Nuclear Plant upriver. Yada, yada. This letter file began to include every one who had ever annoyed me. DEAR PLUMBER. DEAR MAID. DEAR FRIEND. DEAR PARKING ATTENDANT.

Thanks, Ellie, for reminding me of lost words, somewhere no doubt on an old floppy disk.

Louella Bryant said...

Thanks for venting, Kathleen! A writer friend got a rejection from a lit mag for a story he wrote and they included an invitation to subscribe to the very lit mag that had rejected him. So he rolled up the rejection, put it in a tube and mailed it back with a letter advising about where they might stick their rejection AND their subscription form. Wish I had the nerve. Love your story..and there's a place for those letters!

Real Estate Investing said...
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