General Non-Fiction posted June 30, 2019 Chapters:  ...12 13 -14- 15... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
Sometimes there is a legitimate excuse for being late

A chapter in the book Lessons in the Key of Life

Punctuality at All Costs

by Rachelle Allen

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I have been a teacher in the creative and performing arts for thirty-eight years. These are the lessons I learned from the lessons I taught.
I was halfway through Saturday lessons as I basked in the warmth and glorious sunshine of the May day, drinking in the sight of vibrant bursts of red and yellow tulips. As I drove between lessons, the windows down, I savored the smell of the air, redolent with lilacs and new grass, and basked in the beauty of the Spring sky, blue as cornflowers, and filled with cotton ball clouds. All day, the students had shown great progress with their recital pieces, and I stoked the fantasy of how perfect that event would be just two Sundays away. Life, indeed, was good.

My reverie was broken by sirens, though, the same ones that had been a distant drone since leaving my last student's home. Now, though, they were painful in their proximity. Then I saw why: an enormous fire truck sat parked in front of a house one cul-de-sac over, and firefighters and neighbors were swarming the area. I had only moments to act before I would fall prey to the barricade heading my way and be delayed indefinitely. I took a quick left, then an equally quick right, and did, indeed, avoid the barricade. But alas! The fire hose running down the middle of the street gave me a moment's pause.

Knowing that time was of the essence if I were going to make it out of this labyrinth of streets --the kind with trendy names like "Tyler Trail" and "Caitlyn Crescent" after the developer's obviously adorable children-- and back onto the main drag and the students left on the day's roster, I was going to have to be a little ingenious. Perhaps even a little James Bondian.

Oddly enough, straddling the fire hose with my car seemed like the perfect solution. Or at least it did until I hit a metal joint on the fire hose and got stuck...and made the hose stop pumping water onto the smoldering house one block back. With frenzied abandon, I rocked my trapped little Star (the Jetta) Trek from Reverse to Drive until my forearm went numb. Nothing. All she did was make keening sounds like a chihuahua in a mouse trap while, into my ears wafted, "WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?" and 'WE GOT NO PRESSURE! SOMEONE GO CHECK THIS DAMN HOSE!" and, finally, "HURRY!"

A jumble of men in shiny yellow raincoats and helmets barreled into view in my side mirror, as did clots of curious neighbors, and the screams they emitted were nothing short of mutinous. "ARE YOU FREAKIN' KIDDING ME OR WHAT?" followed by, 'THIS BROAD DROVE RIGHT OVER THE HOSE!"

It took several of the fire fighters to hold down the hose --on their bellies, no less-- while I backed up to free little Star from the impinged joint. The fire chief came over, his face scarlet, veins bulging like purple ropes from neck to temples, and screamed, "YOU GET THIS CAR TO THE CURB, LADY. AND DON'T! YOU! MOVE! IT! AGAIN!"

The neighbors all glowered and watched with great sanctimony for me to get my due as the sheriff came to my window to ask for an explanation. "Well," I began lamely, "I teach piano lessons...,"

He listened politely then went back to his squad car with my license, registration, and insurance card in hand. I took this moment to call my husband for back-up. "Bobby!" I gasped. "Come quick! I'm in big trouble somewhere near Lindsay Lane. Hurry!" Upon the officer's return, he asked where my proper license plates were.

"These are the only ones I know about," I said, feeling a black dread starting to creep into my stomach.

"These are improper plates. As of March first, they were no longer supposed to be on your vehicle. Did you receive new plates in the mail, Ma'am?"

I gulped and said, "Yes, in February. But I thought they were for the car I bought my daughter in January."

"And where are they now?" He threw me a stern look, likely trying to decide if anyone could really be this vacant or if he was on the receiving end of the world's most convoluted snow job.

I sounded like a four-year-old when I replied, "On her college." I added, "Tomorrow is her birthday!" and smiled lamely. I have no idea why.

"Well, Ma'am, I can't let you drive this vehicle with improper plates. I'll do you a favor, though, and I won't impound it. But I'm going to take the plates, and you will not be able to drive it until the other plates are on it."

"But they're on my daughter's college,"I said once again, still in my involuntary baby-talk voice. (This time, though, I at least had the dignity not to repeat the nugget about her birthday.)

"Yes, Ma'am, I understand that," he said, still so polite and patient. "There's also a potential fine of seventy-five dollars per day for each day since March first that you've been driving with these improper plates."

"A day?" I gasped, doing the calculations in my head with an algorithm that included teaching piano lessons from my room in a federally subsidized nursing home and the potential sale of future grandchildren.

He added, "And the fire chief feels you've damaged the hose, and that will probably cost at least eighteen hundred dollars." As if on cue, two fire fighters, screw drivers and my improper plates in hand, appeared, gave me nasty smiles, and, with the symbolism of it lost on none of us, handed over the hardware that had secured the expired plates to my vehicle.

"Do you have a ride home, Ma'am?" the officer asked.

"Yes, I've called my husband," I managed to choke out.

"And you'll need to get this vehicle removed from here, too," he said, still very patient and polite.

"I have a towing service." My voice now constricted to an out-and-out whisper.

But when I called Triple A, the operator explained with a brusque, officious tone that, without license plates, my car could not be towed by them. "But I live just a tiny ways down from here," I implored her as I watched the fire truck leave and the neighbors all turn their stares now on me and my outlaw car. Surely tar and feathers were mere moments away.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," she snapped with a strident, punishing tone. "That is our policy!"

Just then my husband appeared. Because of the roadblocks, he'd had to hoof it from the main drag down to the inner chambers of the development, but his instinct had told him to follow the sounds of the firemen's walkie-talkies and he would find me. He was kind enough not to laugh as I expounded on (and on) about how my day had spiraled from "quite ideal" to "a complete nightmare" in just forty minutes. And he didn't even lecture, either, bless his wonderful heart. He simply drove us home. And there, to our incredulity, at the kitchen table, sat our college girl, who said she really couldn't explain why, but she'd felt an urge to drive home for her birthday. Best of all, she even had my plates in her trunk --in their original envelope, no less-- because she'd realized from the beginning that the ones on her car already matched what was on her registration card.

We trekked back to the scene of my crime, got my vehicle up to code, and then drove back home to start the birthday festivities a little early...with copious amounts of wine.

Lesson: In the card game of life, sirens, emergency vehicles, and, most of all, fire hoses, trump piano lessons.

NEXT: Holiday Fun

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