True Confessions

Shortly after passing the Illinois bar exam, my wife and I flew to Portland, Oregon, to visit my aunt and uncle and their family.  One weekend, we rented a car and drove south into the hinterlands of Oregon. 

Upon leaving a small town, I saw birds on the road ahead.  I announced to Donna in my best John Wayne voice “watch this” and I stomped on the accelerator.  The car sped up 80, 90, 100 . . . Donna is shouting at me to slow down but – hey – I’m 25 and macho.  As I approached the birds, they looked up and casually flew off.  I rocketed over the carrion they’d been chewing on (“Guess I showed them“).  About that time, I looked in the rear view mirror and was surprised to see a car behind us.  A police car.  #&X@*!   I pulled over and stopped.  And got a ticket.  108 in a 65 zone.  #&X@*! 

The bad thing was that I was to appear in court at a time I was to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Illinois Bar (“sorry fellows – I have a court date“).  Donna was silent.  Stewing.  At the next town, I stopped.   The judge’s name was on the ticket.   So I . . . called the Police Station from a pay phone:

Scott:  Hello?  Officer, I’m trying to reach Judge ____ .   Can you call him and ask him to please call me?

Officer:  It’s Sunday.

Scott:  I know but it’s important. 

Officer:  I’ll see (Click).

I waited for 30 minutes.  The sun was setting.  Quiet.  Birds chirping their evening hymms.  Then the pay phone rang. 

Scott:  This is Scott Petersen (I figured that was better than “hullo“).

Judge:  This is Judge ___ .  You wanted me to call (sounds of splashing and children in the background)

Scott:  Your Honor, I’m from Chicago.  I (explained in detail how I had) just graduated from law school and passed the bar.  I was just pulled over by two officers for speeding – 108 in a 65 zone.  I am supposed to appear in court and I am also supposed to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Bar at that time.  I was wondering. . . .

Judge:  Just a minute (long silence).   All right, Mister Petersen.  Raise your right hand.  Repeat after me.  “I promise that I will never speed again.”

Scott:  I will never speed again.

Judge:  I want you to promise.  I want you to swear to me. . .

Scott:  (I raised my hand in the phone booth)  I swear. . . I swear. . . I will never speed again.

Judge:   Send me your ticket.  Mark it “personal.”  Remember Mister Petersen – you promised me.  (Click)

The Judge could have said “tough kid – you show up or else.”  But he didn’t.  The lesson therefore became all the more powerful.  And since then, I have never taken a car much beyond the speed limit.  When tempted, I am always tugged back to a fall day in 1972. . . .  when I made a promise. . . .

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