Dashboard confidential
Not always what you expect

By Dave Sweetman, columnist

California. The state some drivers love to hate: split speed limits that make little sense; lane restrictions that actually endanger truck traffic; terrible roads with potholes big enough to lose a VW. I could go on, but you get the drift.

On an opposite note - in that I have been trucking into, through and around California for more than 40 years - I have learned many things. Logbooks will be current or you will get a ticket with a hefty price tag. Get pulled over by the California Highway Patrol and you will get a ticket. I have never heard of a "warning" being issued in the Golden State, so I keep my speed down, maintain proper lane usage, and keep my logs current to the last change-of-duty status.

Several weeks ago, I was trucking in northern California in one of the affluent areas and had just delivered a very cool 1951 Mercury custom hot rod. On to my next secret mission, I re-entered the freeway ramp, blended into the stream of traffic, and kept a steady pace.

As there was a weigh station ahead, I stayed to the right in case it was open. Seeing the closed sign, I signaled and moved left to position for the upcoming split in the roadway. Cars flitted around me and, in typical fashion, some a bit too close. I gave them space. Not a big deal, it's what we do.

As I came up to the split in the roadway, a black and white Ford Explorer with CHP stars on the doors zoomed up behind me. Approaching a wide spot, the CHP officer lit me up with all kinds of disco lights.

I signaled, pulled over, put the passenger window down, shut down the engine, and hit the 4-ways. It's not my first rodeo. When the officer got to my window, I had logs, registration, medical card, CDL, insurance all at the ready.

The CHP officer greeted me and asked if I knew why he stopped me. I stated that I had no clue. For the next three minutes he told me about following me from the entrance ramp and that I had merged properly. Cars were darting in and out, and I gave them room. I kept to the right until I passed the closed scale house. I signaled and merged without crowding rolling traffic. He noted that I maintained my proper lanes and never went over the speed limit. I nodded and simply said, "Yes sir." It was his show and I let him continue.

Again, he asked me if I knew why he stopped me. I again said, "I have no clue, sir."

He told me he could write up cars and trucks about every five minutes, as there was no shortage of bad behavior and flaky driving habits. I wondered (silently) where I fit into that.

The Highway Patrol Officer then handed me a Starbucks gift card, shook my hand, and congratulated me for being a professional and sharing the road safely.

My jaw just about hit the floor. The officer then said he had held me up long enough and to have a safe trip. As quickly as he appeared, he was gone. I made a logbook entry to be on the safe side, re-entered traffic, and headed toward Los Angeles.

Thinking about the past 10 minutes, at first I laughed like a mindless idiot. I had broken my own stereotyped ideas of being pulled over. A positive interaction, no ticket, actual respect from a professional and free coffee. And I kicked myself, as I never even got the officer's name or badge number to return the thanks or offer kudos to his boss. For that I am sorry.

The next morning, I enjoyed a fine latte with an extra espresso shot at the Wheeler Ridge Starbucks on the Grapevine. I raised my cup, said thank you, and again laughed like an idiot. Things are not always what they seem. LL