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The vacation was over. After a week of roasting in the Carolina sun and indulging shamelessly in happy hour beverages and nightly feasts, we packed our sand-sprinkled suitcases, a gluttonous stockpile of leftover food, and our elephant-skinned bodies into our minivan for the brutal 12-hour drive back to Rhode Island. As I zoned out, munching cleansing carrots from a baggie and half-listening to the humorous prattle of my college-aged kids, I had no idea that I would soon become a common criminal.

Our minivan — a 2005 Toyota Sienna with 224,000 miles and a perpetual sour odor — had been our faithful family servant through six military moves. But she was on her last leg, or wheel, as it were. Soon after her last inspection, her dashboard lights lit up like a Christmas tree, warning us to “check engine” and other various alerts that we summarily ignored. The rear passenger door handle was missing, there was a long crack in the sun-baked-baby-poop-brown vinyl dashboard, the alloy wheels were corroded, the headlights were yellowed and hazy, and there were remnants of duct tape around the windshield from the time we tried to fix the leaky roof.

But despite it all, our old minivan was faithfully carrying us home as she always had.

Along a mind-numbing stretch of rural Route 13 on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, our minivan was mingling in a small herd of post-vacation traffic making its way north, when suddenly, I saw a police car in a broken-down diner parking lot on the side of the road.

I inhaled a tiny gasp, tapped the brake, and thought, “Uh oh, am I speeding?” Then my stomach did a sickening somersault when I saw red flashing lights behind me. I stopped carefully on the side of the road. The kids were alarmed, but excited about the social media value that this unfortunate event presented. Just as Lilly snapped a selfie, a police officer and his uniformed trainee approached the driver’s side window.

“Ma’am, you’re being pulled over for going 70 in a 45 mile-per-hour zone,” the officer said in a Southern drawl as I fumbled for my documentation.

After an initial feeling of pride that our old minivan could actually still reach 70 mph, I thought, “Forty-five zone? Wait, wasn’t it 55 or 65? I didn’t notice speed limit signs, but then again, I wasn’t looking. Surely this guy will let me off with a warning when he sees that I have a squeaky-clean record.”

I handed over my license, registration and military ID in hopes that he would appreciate my respect for service. While my innards cartwheeled over my spleen, the officer and trainee retreated to their vehicle, returning with a clipboard 10 minutes later.

“Ma’am, you are summoned to appear in district court on August 28 on the charge of reckless speeding,” he said, leaning into my window to hand me a pen. “Sign here.”

My stomach dropped onto the floormat. “What?!” I screamed in my head. “I have to appear in court? But I’m a good citizen! I was eating a carrot, for criminy’s sake!”

The officer peered through his Oakleys into my panicked eyes. Speaking low, perhaps so his trainee would not think less of him, he admitted that the judge would reduce it to a lesser traffic ticket if I simply showed up for court. I scribbled my signature, and muttered a dopey, “Thank you, Officer,” and pulled back onto the road with my intestines twisted in a tangled knot.

For the remaining 10 hours, I carefully drove under the posted speed limits, as other cars whizzed by me, obviously annoyed that I was holding up traffic. As I plodded along, I struggled with the nauseating fact that I, a 23-year military spouse with a spotless record, was accused of being reckless by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Accepting my imperfect status, I discarded the bag of wholesome carrots and called out to the dozing kids, “Hey could one of you dig around and find that four-pound bag of leftover M&Ms?”

Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: Email:


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