So, there I was on the side of the road
on I-95 right outside of Woodbine, Georgia. The state trooper had
just said the words every road traveling citizen fears: “Please
step out of the vehicle.” He had one hand on his handcuffs ready to
pull them at a moment’s notice. But he allows me to, in his words,
“explain yourself right here instead of down at the station.”
Here’s my explanation, Officer, in full, without the cars whipping by at 70 miles an hour creating a wall of noise.
I. THE WHOLESALER
In the summer of 2018, Jess and I, with
a little help, bought a Chevy Trailblazer from a wholesale lot in Mt.
Dora. We were thrilled. We had been a one car family for nearly 5
years, and we were in a position where it was getting difficult
planning around her job, my job, and dropping Zack at school. And our
Impala was about to shit the bed.
We signed on the dotted line and drove
off. The wholesale manager assured us that the registration would be
filed and a permanent plate would be delivered in the mail before the
temp ran out. It did not. On the final date of the temporary plate,
we called the wholesaler to let them know that we hadn’t received a
plate. He offered some excuse, but said to just come back down and
get a new temp plate while the registration was being filed, and that
it would definitely be in the mail soon. It was not. By now it’s
almost November, and we don’t have the permanent Florida plate for
the Trailblazer. The wholesaler said:
“Yeah, sorry about that, I’m going to
bring the registration up to the Department of Motor Vehicles
So… in two months he hadn’t done that
yet. Jess already suspects something fishy. But the Blazer is in good
shape. But lo and behold, the plate finally arrives sometime before
Thanksgiving. Along with all the paperwork. Goody.
Why would I suspect the registered
paperwork differ from the initial handwritten paperwork that I got
when we bought the car? Registration numbers and vehicle identifiers
don’t change in 2 months.
II. THE LAKE COUNTY TAX OFFICE
It was a warm Florida afternoon in
December, one of the benefits of living in the south. I pull a letter
of interest from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles from the
mailbox. It told me, in short, that the insurance information that
was input was incorrect, the insurance agency (Geico) denied it, thus
the vehicle was uninsured, and that we were in violation of Florida
law. I would have 3 weeks to fix the issue or else my license would
I found this particularly interesting
if only because we sure as hell were paying for two cars on the
insurance. The premium nearly doubled automatically, and the
information was accepted by Geico and reconfirmed by me thrice over.
There was clearly a mistake.
I take the letter down to the tax
office to get answers. After long looks at the computer screen,
intense mouse clicking, and some perturbed expressions, the clerk was
able to decipher that the VIN# on file at the DMV and the VIN# on
file at Geico did not match. After he dramatically pushed his glasses
up the slope of his nose and conducted more mouse clicks, he found
that the VIN# on their file was correct, and the one on Geico’s file
was incorrect (off by 1 letter).
The wholesaler gave me one VIN# when we
bought the truck, and registered a different one in November. Face,
I called Geico that moment, had
customer service fix the issue, then at the request of the clerk had
them update the proof of insurance cards. They were updated instantly
on the Geico app. Again, at the request of the clerk, I emailed them
to his station, he printed them out, attached to my file, and said
This next exchange is important:
Me: So, I’m all set, right? Because I’m
heading on vacation, and the last thing I need is to be pulled over
while I’m out of state with a suspended license.
Clerk: Oh yeah, you’re all set. Have a
… “Have a nice day” is where it
should have ended.
III. SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN PURCHASE AND SUSPENSION
That was not where it ended.
Around a month or two after we bought
the Trailblazer, Jess started noticing the speedometer intermittently
stopped working. It would either not move from its start point of 0,
or it would hover around 10 or 15 when we were clearly going faster
We brought it to the garage we always
bring it to to get it a once over making sure it’d get us to New
England and back for our vacation. Oil change, tire rotation, all
that jazz. They gave it a thumbs up saying they reset the electrical
system, and that did the trick. And he was right.
For about 2 weeks.
While we were up north, in the middle
of vacation, the speedometer crapped out again. I made an incorrect
assumption that maybe the cold had something to do with it; it didn’t
stop working the first time until the extreme heat of the Florida
summer subsided, and it stopped the second time when it was December
in New England.
Regardless, we couldn’t get it fixed
while we were on vacation. It was one of those things that would have
to take care of when we got home.
IV. THE STORY THUS FAR
In case you didn’t want to read the minutia and commentary (it took a lot of effort to write, but it’s fine… whatever), here’s a summary of the important information to the story.
- We bought a Chevy Trailblazer
- The speedometer didn’t work
- The Florida DMV sent us a letter
saying it wasn’t insured
- Actually, it was
- The VIN# didn’t match from policy
to DMV record
- “You’re all set. Have a nice
Ok, all caught up? Great.
V. I-95 OUTSIDE OF WOODBINE, GEORGIA
January 2, 2019, we were on the
homestretch of our journey home. We had a memorable vacation and
holiday season spent back home. And after the hardships that marred
our first trip back home in 2017, I think it would be nice to
remember the actual vacation and not the ridiculous trip home.
Oh, how I wish this was just a droll
recount of our winter vacation.
The Florida line was a stone’s throw
away, and from there it would only be another 2 hours to get home.
And we were making great time. The reason for that became clearly
A state trooper roared out of the
median and tracked me down with his lights flashing. Dammit. Nabbed.
Let’s review my driving record for a
minute, shall we? 1 single car accident (2007), pulled over 13 and a
half times (don’t ask about the “half”, that’s a completely
different story). Number of those times that were for speeding? Zero.
Number of tickets issued? Zero. Remember that. My driving record
was/is pristine. I only three things I’m proud of in my life are my
son, my extensive knowledge of superherodom, and my clean driving
The Trooper saunters up to the window,
I hand him my license and registration, and he asks:
“Happen to know how fast you were
Me: “Actually, I’m afraid I don’t.
You see, my speedometer actually broke while we were on vacation.”
Trooper: “I clocked you at 85 miles
an hour today.”
Me: “Oh, I … had no idea. Like I
said, the speedometer broke while we were — Well, actually, it was
broken before we left, we got it fixed, then it broke again.”
Trooper: “Alright, you stay right
there, and I’ll get this looked at.”
He walks away. This, to me, is as
routine as it gets. He was either going to let me skate like all the
other times, or he was going to an issue me a ticket I’d have to deal
with later. Either way, this shouldn’t take long.
15 minutes later, he comes back to the
window, and says just about the last thing I expected:
“How about you step out of the car,
and let’s have a little talk.”
So here I go, standing on the side of
the highway right in the middle of holiday travel time, cars whipping
by creating a tempest accompanying this wall of sound that makes it
nigh impossible to talk through.
“So,” he begins with one hand on
his belt. (“Hands out of your pockets, please”, he interjects.
Hands in pockets is one of the things I do when I’m nervous, so now
my nervousness has escalated into full blown anxiety.)
“Usually,” he begins again, “with
cases of suspended licenses, I put you in the back of the car and you
go explain yourself down at the station. But I’m gonna give you a
chance to explain yourself right now.”
I was dumbfounded only but for a
moment. Because I almost immediately remember the letter at home
declaring that my license would be suspended if the lapse of
insurance matter wasn’t handled. But I handled it, dammit! “You’re
all set. Have a nice day!” That’s what he said!
I told the trooper the whole story
about the letter and how (I thought) I had handled it. He makes me
confirm my story that the only reason it should be suspended is
because of a lapse of insurance. “That should be cleared up,” I
add. He says ok, and heads back to his truck to radio it in. I find
the passenger side window and try to calm Jess down. It was a
misunderstanding, and as soon as he radioed in he would figure that
out, I tell her. This would all be smoothed over soon.
The officer comes back. He’s got this
cold look in his eyes. He turns, spits some of the tobacco out of his
mouth, then places his hand at his belt as he says:
“Now, I just want to let you know
that I gave you a chance to explain yourself. And that the only
reason you gave for your license to be suspended was a lapse of
Perplexed beyond all reason, I confirm
that’s exactly what happened.
Then, the bombshell: “You never
mentioned you had any DUI’s and an aggravated assault that you were
I could have passed out in shock right
then and there. To say that this was a case of mistaken identity was
an understatement. Flatly, I never drink and drive, never have never
will. I knew from an early age that if you imbibe, you hang up the
keys. I know too many people who have been affected by drunk drivers,
and I refused to be the cause of destroying an innocent life, or my
own, by making a stupid mistake like that.
And aggravated assault? Are you kidding
me?! Guys, I’m 5’7” on a good day. I’m basically a tall hobbit. And
my disposition on this earth is that violence sucks and is better
left in the movies. Plus, I couldn’t intimidate an ant let alone drop
someone so fervently that I’d be slapped with an aggravated assault
I am a law abiding citizen. The
absolute worst “crime” I’ve ever committed was downloading Game
of Thrones episodes (and I stopped the moment I got the DRMC
So suddenly, I find myself wrongfully
accused of something on the side of the highway in Georgia. And one
of the things that bolted through my mind was how quickly this could
escalate. I didn’t want to wind up on the 6:00 news. Still, I had to
I don’t remember what I responded with,
but my look of sheer terror must have given me away, because the
trooper then says:
“That’s not you?”
“No, sir. That is not me. I have
never had a DUI. Or an assault.”
I’ve seen enough episodes of Cops to
know that cops often expect lies and denial when they accuse someone
“Wait right here.” The trooper now
walks up to the Blazer where Jess and Zack are still waiting. He
talks to her, makes a gesture toward me, stands there and talks with
her for about two minutes. After the situation ends, she tells me
that he asked if she was alright, if she was being held against her
will, how long she’s known me, and asked if she knew if I had any
DUI’s. Because, clearly, I’m this drunken monster who incidentally
got caught in Georgia.
He comes back and says, “Wife vouches
for you.” Then tries to confirm, “So you think we have the wrong
“Sir, if you knew me, you’d know the
last thing I would do is drink and drive. I’ve lost too many people
He doesn’t seem convinced. But he says
that he’ll get back on the radio and “try to figure out what’s
going on here.”
So, he heads back to his truck. Jess is
on the phone with my parents one second away from hysterics. My son,
who we taught to respect police and have instilled a theory that the
police help people, is wondering why daddy is talking to the cop so
long. And the entire time I’m standing on the side of the road, I’m
convinced that I’m going to be arrested by a colossal fuck up of the
20. Fucking. Minutes. Later.
The trooper comes back with a
clipboard. This is a better sign than having one hand on his
“Well, they can’t figure it out back
there. But you might want to check into that once you get back to
Florida.” He issues two citations. One for speeding. One for
driving while unlicensed (a knockdown from “driving with a
suspended license”). And instead of issuing the fines then and
there, he gives me a court date to show up to two whole months from
the time of the traffic stop. He also orders that Jess has to drive
the rest of the way since I was so called unlicensed.
She makes it the rest of the 2 hour
drive home while I’m in the back trying to process the whole thing.
Basically, I was nearly arrested because of a perfect storm of
incompetence. The wholesaler recorded the wrong VIN#. The DMV got a
different VIN#. “You’re all set, have a nice day!” means “It’s
actually not all set!”, and the Georgia State trooper dispatcher
clearly pulled up the wrong record with felonious charges pinned to
me. All this nearly coalesced into me in a Georgia jail cell.
What a fucking trip.
VI. THE LAKE COUNTY TAX OFFICE: THE RETURN
The very next day, even calling in late
to work to make sure it was done, I marched right into the tax office
wanting them to know I, in fact, did NOT “have a nice day!”
Because the license was still subject to suspension, I had to fill
out a tedious license form AND pay 7 bucks to process it.
The clerk, a different one than last
time, tapped and clicked, and tapped and clicked, and said “hmmm”,
then tapped and clicked, and finally said “Oh!” … Then tapped
and clicked, and clicked then tapped…
…Then tapped some more.
“Ok, so,” she began, “The proof
of insurance cards you provided weren’t valid—well, I mean, they
WERE valid—but they weren’t valid in order to remove the lapse of
insurance from your file. What they need to do that is a letterhead
from the insurance provider proving you had insurance at the time.”
Guess what? There was a button on the
Geico app specifically to request that. I’m willing to guess this
happens enough to where that would be necessary for easy access. It
was emailed to me, and I forwarded to the clerk in 10 minutes.
She then takes a detour, talks to the
original clerk I talked to, back in the office part, and came back
“wanting to make sure this is what is needed.” She looks at the
email, then types in the information… I repeat, she types in the
information WITH the email with said information right in front of
her. The information is directly in front of her, so why should she
mess it up? Why indeed?!
And she cleared the flag from my file.
And I say… “So… I’m all set?”
She clicks, then types… and says
“Yeah, all set!”
But it wasn’t fine!
One month later, on February 3, I got
yet ANOTHER letter from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles.
Enclosed was an explanation that my attempt to clear up the lapse of
insurance on January was not accepted, and thusly my driver’s license
was suspended until the issue was resolved.
So. … so … so…
I head BACK to the Lake County Tax
Office (after I looked up cat gifs to lower my steadily rising blood
pressure) and bring the new notification in request for an
explanation. As my license was technically suspended, I had to fill
out yet another driver’s license request form and pay yet another
seven dollar processing fee. And then I wait until another clerk is
It’s a different clerk than the last 2
times, and I explain… the whole… story to her. It wasn’t
necessary, I just wanted her to know …exactly… where I was coming
I explain that if I have the
confirmation letter from Geico confirming that I had insurance the
entire time I had the Blazer, which I brought with me to show, then
how is it possible that they can also deny they cover the vehicle
creating a lapse of insurance. How the hell was that possible? What
was going on?!
The clerk takes the confirmation
letter. She takes the letter of suspension from the DMV. She looks
them over once and says, very chipper like she had just came up with
an answer on a crossword puzzle, “Oh!” No clicking, no typing,
She puts the papers down in front of me
and points. The policy number that was the Geico letter (i.e. the
real policy number) did not match the one that was on the suspension
letter. The clerk from the last time put in the policy number
My license was suspended (again) from a
clerical error (again).
The clerk opened up the file on the
computer, fixed the policy number, and removed the flag on my record.
And for the final time, I ask “All set?”
The clerk said “I sure hope so.”
Me too, lady.
I requested a transcript of my driver
record on the Florida DMV website to see if those DUI’s and
aggravated assault charges were actually on my record, or if it was a
massive blunder by the Georgia state trooper dispatcher. In the
process, I put my driver’s license number in, and it came back
“active” and “unimpeded”. I have not received any other
notification in the mail, so I think it just might be safe to assume
that the insurance issue is, at long last, all set.
My court date in Georgia ended up being
remarkably anticlimactic. I freaked out for two months, got a folder
full of evidence supporting my claims about why the insurance never
lapsed and thus my license should not have been suspended, and
prepared a defense statement. I drove 3 hours to Woodbine, Georgia
and end up spending exactly 24 minutes in court, approximately 22 of
them spent waiting in the galley. The verdict was swift, and all of
my dutiful preparation was ultimately unnecessary. He threw out the
“driving while unlicensed” charge and cut the speeding bill in
half. Total fine: $150.
The saga is over. But if I learned
something today, it’s this:
… … … Actually, I got nothing.