This was an actual 911 call recently to a dispatcher in Palmdale, California:
“There’s a black Audi, weaving in and out of traffic on Highway 14, at high speed. Michigan plates.”
Okay, so I was driving the car, and it was an Audi with Michigan plates.
But that was it with the facts. The rest was fiction.
I was test-driving a new 2012 Audi A6 – dark blue, not black. This was a car that wouldn’t be on sale in the United States for another couple of months, so it was natural, I suppose, that it aroused a certain amount of interest. I was heading southbound on CA 14 one windy afternoon, with the cruise control set at 70 – which was the posted speed limit. The speedometer was accurate, I know, because I had just successfully passed a California Highway Patrol radar trap.
I was driving only in the left lane, because the bumpy right lane was rife with tar strips – gooey in the 100-degree temperatures – and I didn’t want road tar splattered on this new $60,000 sport sedan.
That’s when some guy in a black Nissan Sentra pulled in front of me from the right lane. He proceeded to drive 65 for a mile or so, refusing to get out of the left lane, and refusing to pass another car he’d pulled alongside in the right lane. I resisted flashing the Audi’s dazzling headlights (part of a very popular $1,400 optional lighting package) at him. But it was hard to maintain a proper interval between his car and mine, because he would speed up and slow down. Finally, when the car in the right lane sped up, to get away from this little drama, I had room to pass. But before I could move to the right to pass him, he darted into the right lane. I punched it and sped away – looking at him long enough to notice he was on his cell phone.
“Idiot,” I muttered. “Get off your phone and drive.”
I didn’t know then that he was calling 911 – with his own, fictionalized version of this little contretemps he had created. That’s one thing about 911 calls: you can say anything you want; the microphone is yours, and you know someone is listening.
I resumed my speed and headed, without further incident, on down the road toward Palmdale, which was still a few miles ahead. There, a pair of CHP cruisers pulled onto 14 ahead of me. I double-checked my speed: 70 in a 70 mph zone. The Audi’s terrific navigation system displays the speed limit of the road you are on in its lower right corner (very handy).
The cruisers kept pace with me for awhile, then one pulled in behind and put on his flashing lights. With the officer shouting into a loudspeaker for me to pull off the freeway, I exited and stopped in a gas station lot. Whereupon the officer, after asking for my license and registration (because “we clocked you at 70 in a 65 zone”), and giving me a field sobriety test (“how many drinks have you had so far today, sir?”), proceeded to scold me about my excessive speed (puh-leez). I politely pointed out that the navigation system’s display said it was a 70 m.p.h. zone.
“The speed limit dropped to 65 two miles before I even got on the freeway,” the officer countered. (Not true.)
I stuck with my position: “That’s not what the navigation system said, and it’s not what I saw. I certainly was aware of the fact I was traveling alongside two CHP cruisers, so I was being very observant and very careful.” Besides, I couldn’t believe he would even attempt to ticket me for “5 over”. (A CHP officer had once told me about the desert freeway stretches between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, “We don’t even pull over anyone unless they’re going 90; everybody speeds.”)
Then officer played his trump card: “So, are you the black Audi that’s been weaving in and out of traffic at high speed?”
To this, I laughed. So did my passenger (and witness). “We’ve had the cruise control on 70 the whole time. No speeding. No weaving.” I held off pointing out this Audi was not black but Moonlight Blue Metallic (a $475 option) – not wanting to provoke a “Go ahead, punk, make my day” response. His hand, I noted, rested on the grip of his revolver.
Well, to make a much longer story short, the officer (and his backup car behind him – which made for quite a colorful lighting display at the Valero station) finally decided, after an appropriately long delay, to let me go, with a stern warning, “I don’t care what your navigation screen says, you need to accurately determine and obey the speed limit.”
“Yes sir,” I nodded, gravely.
Did I get off too lightly? Well, he hadn’t seen the incident depicted in the bogus 911 call, so he couldn’t ticket me for it. And he wasn’t going to risk being hooted out of traffic court for giving me a “5 over” speeding ticket.
Of course, it may strain credibility to believe that I really was going the posted speed limit in a supercharged Audi, eagerly capable of 165 mph. But there was a reason.
The previous week I’d had another run-in with a Nevada Highway Patrol officer. I was test-driving a new A7 in that one, traveling north on I-15, in the middle of nowhere, 50 miles north of Las Vegas. The freeway is posted for 75 mph, but 80, 85 and even triple-digit speeds are common on this long, lonely, straight stretch of road. Until recently (coinciding with the need of the state’s law enforcement agencies to close a budget shortfall?) you almost never saw a cop along here. I drive this stretch frequently.
Anyway, I moved over into the left lane to pass a Lexus LX470 that wasn’t keeping up with the speed limit. As I passed the Lexus, I tried to pull back over into the right lane. But that’s when I noticed the Lexus had significantly sped up, and was now traveling alongside me. I tried to speed up a bit more, to get clear of him. But it became obvious that he wasn’t going to cede the lane to me. When I sped up a bit more, he pulled into the left lane behind me and started tailgating.
At some point in this silly game, we passed the Nevada officer, sitting in the median behind a small hill, with his radar aimed at us.
As I proceeded down the road, a couple of miles, at the speed limit, the Lexus driver seemed committed to harassing me, for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t sure exactly what outcome he was looking for; but it was clear he was suffering from an advanced case of Road Rage.
He was so distracted with his effort to run me off the road, he failed to notice the police cruiser, lights ablaze, following him closely for two miles, trying to get him to pull over. The officer pointed this out to the fellow when he finally stopped him, I know, because he also stopped me and I could hear the officer shouting at the man (a woman in the car was shouting back at the officer).
When the officer approached me, I said, “I don’t know how much of that drama you saw, but this guy was pretty intent on running me off the road.”
The officer – again to make a longer story short – said he was going to “do you a favor” and only issue a ticket for going “10 over”. I’m wondering how this is going to play in traffic court, in a state that has such disdain for the federally mandated speed limit that it once gave $10 “wasting energy” tickets to anyone going up to 15 over.
When I drove off, the officer was still giving it to the Lexus driver. I’m curious how that one turned out.
So, I’m left to ponder: Was it coincidence that I was pulled over twice in two weeks, in two Audis? Just an unlucky stretch, when I hadn’t been pulled over in many a moon, despite the fact I put on 1,000 or more miles a week testing cars? I certainly wasn’t doing anything egregious. (I drove the same roads, at the same speeds, the next week in a Fiat 500 – without incident, aside from some approving nods.)
But after watching enough Audis, with their distinctive – some say “sinister” – LED “eyebrows” alit, come up behind me at high rates of speed, I’ve developed a theory: There’s a certain segment of the driving population – especially ones who are driving dowdy cars that must elicit a measure of buyer’s regret – that seem to resent being overtaken by such a hot-looking car. (The same thing has happened to me while driving a Bentley.) In such situations, with such folks, reactions can be, um, ungracious.
“When you go speeding by in your ’57 Ranchero,” my friend and co-conspirator Shahrzad pointed out, about my immaculately restored turquoise-and-white Ford trucklet, “people give you smiles and a thumbs-up – even the cops.”
True enough – when I go zooming by in an Audi, I’m more often saluted with a completely different finger.
June 24, 2011