Until I heard the siren I felt on top of the world. I had allowed myself three days for the trip from New Jersey to St Louis, Missouri, and was driving along the freeway enjoying seeing new places across middle America. It was the mid seventies.
The cop made me pull over, dismounted from his motor bike and declared “I’m going to issue you with citation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” That sounded pretty fantastic: my initial apprehensions were instantly dispelled. However, I could not fathom out why the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had singled me out for this illustrious honour.
My brain went into overdrive and for a few moments I enjoyed the fantasy of receiving an illuminated address from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, complete with crest and some unctuous words of gratitude honouring my service to the State – something I would be proud to frame and hang on my study wall.
The reality was of course quite different. The cop handed me over a piece of yellow paper, sure enough headed “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and on the next line the word “Citation”. As I read further it told me I had been fined $100 for speeding.
The cop gave me the choice of going before a judge in the nearest town or sending in the money by postal draft. I opted for the latter and was allowed to continue my journey.
A couple of days later I went to a post office in St Louis, bought $100 postal draft and posted it to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
On many occasions I enjoyed telling this tale in the course of socialising with various Americans , many in the mid-western Bible belt. Their response was always the same: “You didn’t need to pay. You are not an American. You could have easily got away without paying”.
This gave me the glorious opportunity to put on my most sanctimonious voice and smuggest smirk and reply: ” But I have not come to your country to break your laws”.
There was invariably a gratifying lull in the conversation as my loquacious companions moved into embarrassed silence.