"Go back to your car and stay inside it."
We had just been stopped by the Maine Highway Patrol
in the village of St. Johnsbury. To reach Concord you
have to ride down the hill and at the foot of the mountain
the speed limit is thirty-five miles per hour. Wanting
to show willing I got out of the car intending to tell
the officer that we were sorry for whatever it was we
had done wrong. That was out of the question. "Get
back into the car." I had been driving at forty
miles per hour and I was told to present my driving
licence and insurance papers. The trooper went back
to his car to check the papers but before he left us
he turned with the order, "And stay in your car."
Checking the papers lasted more than a quarter of an
hour. I even saw him make a telephone call from his
car. It was fairly obvious that he hadn't followed the
course, "How best to book a foreigner." A
second police car appeared. This too had ostentatiously
flashing lights and passers-by began to stare curiously
at our car. I didn't intend to allow myself to be intimidated
so I turned the radio up high enough so that the onlookers
could also enjoy the blue-grass music emanating from
a country station.
"You were driving too fast and your right brake
light isn't working. I could have you towed away for
I replied that we had had a broken lamp in the past
and since then we checked all the lights before we set
off. The offending light had been working that morning.
"I'm letting you off with a warning this time"
Richard, the lawyer from Carmel, had already told us
that foreigners were less often booked than Americans.
When I had a look at the speeding ticket I saw under
'state' he had filled in 'Germany'. It did occur to
me that had such a mistake appeared on an official summons,
I could have used it to get off.
Our Dutch driving licences are apparently designed to
confuse foreign policemen. Beside my photograph are
the words, 'Mayor of Bernisse' and in the space for
my first name is 'Joseph Rotterdam.' This he had duly
filled in on the speeding ticket. I cheered up when
I realised that I had given any German inhabitants of
St. Johnsbury a bad name. As I rode away, my radio blared
out The Soggy Bottom Boys singing , "I am a man
of constant sorrow".