Personal Autobahn, Part I

(April, 2004; hopefully I'll write part II sometime; parts of this are based on my life, but not the sad ones)
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She awoke with the taste of old cigarettes in her mouth and the warmth of the morning sun on her bare nipples, sprawled across the backseat of his truck, and groaned. There had been one cigarette for every three beers, give or take a few, and several thousand tiny dancers were performing pirouettes in her brain. Half-opening one eye, she glanced into the front seat, but didn't see him; after a few seconds, it occurred to her that the rushing sound outside was him taking a piss. She was groping blindly at the floor when he opened the door and looked in.

"'Morning, lady!"
"Jeff, have you seen my shirt?" Her throat ached as she spoke, another penalty of her excess.

He cracked a lopsided grin, gesturing with a thumb at the hood of the truck. She stared in confusion before raising her sights to the antenna, then groaned.

"Why is it up there?"
"Y'thought it was a fine idea last night."

Trying to remember, she supposed she had; the night was a blur of laughter, clumsy sex, and driving. In a rush, a vivid memory returned: hanging out of the passenger-side window, tits exposed to summer air turned cold by the speed of the ride, waving frantically at anyone they happened to pass.

"Shit. Why'd you let me do that?"
Jeff's smile widened as he reached in to ruffle her hair and grab some exposed flesh. "You're just so damned cute when you're stupid. Besides, you stopped after a few more drinks, when John -"

The roar of an approaching helicopter drowned out his words; she leaned back to stare out of the passenger-side window, and saw it circling overhead, lights probing like fingers after no particular target.

"Hand me my top. Jesus Christ, hurry up."

 

 

***

 

Whenever she saw a helicopter, Jaime thought of her father. He was an accomplished speeder - a hobbyist, a lifestyler, an addict - and couldn't bear the idea of driving his car if the wind distortion wasn't loud enough to drown out the radio. Of course, such behaviour couldn't avoid the notice of the police, and he was also accomplished at collecting tickets; his secondary hobby, parking daily in the space outside of his office building without putting any change in the meter, improved this skill considerably. Jaime's mother was forever scolding, forever nagging about the cost of tickets - and then was forever silenced, her monthly child support cheque totalling far less than the infractions did, especially once he was done fighting.

In addition to being a speed demon, Lionel was a lawyer with an argumentative disposition. Three years of law school had given him an excellent career, but more importantly, they granted an intimate knowledge of every bi-law and loophole the books had to offer. There came a time when he'd stare at the officer handing him a five-point ticket and say, ever so casually, "Why don't you bump it down to three?" They'd make eye contact, and the policeman would understand, through some intangible method, that here was a man who would take his five-point ticket into the courtroom and have it thrown out or reduced if it took him seven tries. After a while, nine times out of ten, he wouldn't even get pulled over anymore. They all knew him.

He used to let his parking tickets build up in his glove box, paying them each time they numbered one hundred or so. But once, he received a summons to court - the city had grown weary of awaiting his money. He took his stack of paper and his wallet to the administrative building, but since the summons had already been written, the woman working said that he had no choice but to continue.

"And I said to her, Lady, oh, you'll rue this day," he used to say when he was telling Jaime the story, chuckling gleefully to himself.

So he went to court, and he destroyed the system. He and a friend, who acted as his one-man defense team, would sit up late at night preparing his arguments, laughing over drinks and playing chess as they awaited the chance to ask their questions. Did the maid in question test the meter with a nickel to ensure it was in working order before writing the ticket? Did the meter read "LA" for legal authority, as per bi-law 1139-A? No? Well, that's unfortunate.

For months afterward, Jaime noticed city employees in fingerless gloves painting letters on parking meters in the -30 degree weather; they would glower at Lionel whenever they saw him. His tickets, however, were dismissed - as were all other outstanding fines, city-wide. It was a banner winter for his quirky kind of outlaw.

However, this didn't compare to the helicopter story. Jaime loved it more than any other, though she knew she was biased, having been in the car when it happened - that made it real, rather than a delicious legend.

The province had instated a helicopter-surveillance program the spring that Jaime was seven, charging several military choppers with the job of scanning the highways between Saint John and Fredericton for speed limit violators. The two of them were taking a ride to see her grandmother when he was pulled over by a car on the ground and issued a hefty ticket - just about what one might earn if one were driving 150 in a 100 a few weeks after a brand-new program was introduced. Lionel's pride was damaged, and once he was unable to have it knocked down to a three-pointer, it was off to court. Jaime claimed the right to go along, since she'd been right beside him, staring up in wide-eyed wonder as the helicopter circled.

It was glorious, an argument so airtight that both Lionel and his defense team were elated. The man in the air had known the speed of a car passing beneath it at a certain moment, but had no proof that said car was actually Lionel's, the photography being used able to capture the vehicle's colour and make but not license plate. The woman in the police car could identify the car, but had no proof that it was the one going over the speed limit, since the radar equipment was in the helicopter.

No traffic helicopters have been used in New Brunswick since.

It was, as he always used to tell her, a matter of principle, and that principle was that you are never wrong so long as you can ruin everyone's proof. And the only time a speed limit matters is when there's a car in front of you observing it.

 

***

 

After he died, Jaime's mother decided to scatter his ashes in a romantic way, attempting to make up for the aggravations that had ruined their marriage. No problem; his mother was his only remaining relative other than Jaime, and she felt that imagining him floating free over the Earth was infinitely superior to imagining him rotting inside it. The problem was that Yvette was an indecisive woman, and this is not a beneficial trait when one is dealing with one's dearly departed.

Jaime followed her from location to location, each time growing slightly less tearful, slightly more numb. She later reflected that it was a rather good way to deal with his death ' reliving someone's final tribute a few dozen times would make anyone blase. First there was the bridge over highway 7, which he travelled every morning on the way to work; then the Bay of Fundy, where he used to take his boat in the summers; then in the forest near the national park, since the family vacationed there a few times; then in the backyard of his childhood home, and so on. Yvette simply couldn't decide, so a handful went in each place, until Lionel's dust had travelled far more than Lionel's mind ever did.

Unfortunately, there is only a finite quantity of ash produced during cremation, and after a while, Jaime began wondering where Yvette was finding enough to continue her ceremonies. As it turned out, her mother was topping up the remains with birch ash from the stove, providing Lionel with some additional corporeal mass and a pleasant woodsy scent to boot. Jaime reflected that it was like taking a rum and coke and adding more rum as the level dropped; eventually, there's no sweetness left. She used to wonder how much of her father was still on the mantel, and how many branches were being solemnly cast into the wind, but eventually she stopped caring.

That was just about the time she met Jeff; she'd seen the police scanner sitting beneath his dashboard when he picked her up on the side of the road, and it was an instant recognition of a kindred spirit. He could never drive fast enough to please her, but he was willing to try, and that was okay. She just needed enough distortion to drown out her thoughts.