column 10 The Maine Highway Patrol


"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 that."
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".