Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I DID get away with it

I watched a little of that TV show “I almost got away with it,” and it kicked up a memory of long ago.

It was probably about 1964. I’m guessing, but I think back then the overall length law in Virginia was 50 feet. I was hauling hogs with a cabover KW and a 40-foot trailer. One day I was stopped by a state trooper and charged with the heinous crime of being six inches overlength.

The trooper took me to the little town of Woodstock, VA, to their one-man police station where they would call out a “justice of the peace” to set bail or fine me. (I doubt I had cash to cover either.)

It’s not like today’s modern world with ATM cards to zip, fuel cards with cash draws available, and – the worst-case scenario – get somebody out of bed to load some cash on your card. Back then it was Western Union, one step up from Pony Express.

Anyway, it’s the wee hours of the morning, and they called the JP at home to come down and sock it to me. The trooper left to go back on patrol. After some time, maybe two hours, I told the cop on duty “I got a load of hogs out there. It’s pretty warm, and some will start dying if I don’t get them moving.”

So the city cop called the trooper, and shortly he came back to station. He said he went to the JP’s house and he wasn’t there and he couldn’t find him. Reluctantly he wrote me a ticket and let me go. Of course, I didn’t send in the fine, so every so often I would get letter that there was a warrant for my arrest.

One day I was sitting on the front porch when the mailman came by and handed me a letter marked from the Commonwealth of Virginia. I told the mailman to wait a minute while I wrote “Deceased, return to sender” on it and handed it back to him. The letters stopped.

Now fast forward to the early ’90s. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 had introduced a new program called the CDLIS. That means Commercial Driver License Information System. It was hooking up all the states to one database via computers. By 1992, all states were sharing information.

The initial goal was to prevent drivers from having more than one driver’s license (where’s their sense of humor?), but they took it several steps further. They started digging up old unpaid tickets and arrest warrants from all over. The blitz was on, drivers were being put out of service, and licenses were being suspended all over the country for stuff they had forgotten or were trying to forget about.

I had to wonder about my little episode in Woodstock, VA. … Surely they wouldn’t dig that deep, would they?. Would they figure out they had been conned with my “return to sender” note? If they had, I would probably have gotten life in front of a firing squad.

As it turned out, there was no firing squad for me.

But truckers had a lot of skeletons in their closets, and for quite a few years drivers continued to get busted for unpaid tickets. Fortunately for me – I got away with it.