It is that time of year when you start smelling dead skunks on the road, and to me, that means high school basketball tournament time has arrived. It can be a treacherous time.
I mention the skunks because one of my earlier memories of tournament time came during my early high school years when I was coming back from a tournament game with a bunch of friends. Somewhere around Paint Valley High School we came upon a skunk that must have just been hit. The smell was so strong that it actually made my eyes water, and before long we were all laughing so hard about that smell that it looked like everyone was crying. It was that bad — and that funny — and the memory lingers with me to this day.
But basketball tournament time can be even more treacherous for high school sports writers with lots of time on the road going here, there and everywhere, and many short nights. For some, like your’s truly, it can be a time of great consternation.
Like the time I was headed east on U.S. Route 50 when I noticed my parents in a vehicle ahead of me. We were headed in the same direction but to different tournament games, and I thought it would be cute to zoom around them and give them a smile and a friendly wave. So I did.
And I paid for it.
A few miles down the road I saw the flashing lights behind me. I was caught for speeding. Not long after the officer asked me to take a seat next to him in the front of his cruiser, my parents caught up. They pulled over to check things out.
“You know those people?” the officer asked.
“Uh, yes. It’s my parents,” I mumbled, as I sheepishly waved them on.
You’d think I would have learned a lesson.
A few years later I was headed east on U.S. Route 32 to help cover a couple of games at Ohio University. I was comfortably cruising down the road when I saw the flashing lights in my rear-view mirror again. When the officer walked up to my car, I told him I was on the job and where I was headed. He said, “No problem, as long as everything checks out, I’ll get you on your way as fast as I can.”
So he went back to his cruiser and started doing whatever it is state troopers do. When he returned to my car he asked if I remembered what he told me about everything checking out.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, your driver’s license is expired,” he replied.
I had no clue, it was only a handful of days expired, and since I was on the job I thought he might cut me a break. Not that state trooper. He handed me one ticket for speeding and one ticket for driving with an expired license.
Then came the crazy part that I still do not understand. He said I had a couple of options. First, he said, I was going to have to leave my car parked on the side of U.S. 32 and take a ride with him into Jackson. Or I could have my car towed. Then he said that if I could pay both tickets on the spot — and I mean right there while I was sitting in my car — I could wait in the office at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office until someone could pick me up. If I could not pay both tickets, he said I would have to wait in a jail cell.
I had enough cash on me to pay one ticket, but not the other. As I was fumbling through my wallet, he noticed my AAA card. He said I could pay the second ticket with it. So he took my card, and said AAA would send it back once I reimbursed them.
Now, I don’t know if it’s common practice to have to pay on officer on the spot, especially when he’s going to take you for a ride anyway, but I have never heard anything even remotely close to that. When he got me in his cruiser he tried to make small talk during the 15-minute ride. But I was a little perturbed, and figured I’d be better off if I just kept my mouth shut. It was a quiet ride.
When we got to the sheriff’s office, I was told that I could call someone to come and get me. But whoever was going to come and get me had to bring someone with them, because the other person had to drive my car.
That was long before cell phones, and I already knew my wife, parents, siblings, grandparents and many friends were out of town. After an hour or more of calls — which probably cost them more money than the $60-some my tickets added up to — I finally got ahold of a brother. He said he and his wife would be there as soon as they could.
Five and a half hours after I arrived at the sheriff’s office, I was still sitting there alone. I could have gone somewhere to eat or get something to drink, but the trooper had taken all my money. By then the deputies at the sheriff’s office were joking with me, telling me it was looking like I might be spending the night with them.
They seemed to think that was funny.
Shortly thereafter a brother and his wife arrived to rescue me. I would tell you what happened next, but I might incriminate myself, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.
The last ticket I got, probably more than 20 years ago (and yes, I’m knocking on my wooden desk) was coming home from a high school tournament game I was working. Of course, it was for speeding.
So, if you’re heading out on the tournament road, be careful. It can be a treacherous trail.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.