A Lesson in Communication – Part II
Walking off a construction site can be rewarding, especially when working on a project that you really enjoy. But on one particular day, the job site visit was a little rough. Two feet of snow had fallen the day before, and then Mother Nature had decided she would morph from winter to summer overnight. With nowhere for two feet of snow to go, my day was spent slopping through deep mud as I was doing my inspection.
As five o’clock rolled around and I carefully placed my muddy boots in the back of the company car, I took one last glance up to the sky and thanked Mother Nature for at least providing a sunny trip back home. The only thing between me and dinner was 75 miles of open highway.
One cherry-soda later, with 25 miles behind me and a rolled-up set of muddy drawings riding shotgun, I came across a State Trooper taking the same highway. Now, you can be innocent all day long, but a State Trooper in front of you will still immediately make you question that.
Speed limit: 55 mph – check
Staying in my lane – check
Adjusting the review mirror and turning down the radio – check
(While this has nothing to do with the current situation, it’s human nature for us to do things that make no sense when a State Trooper is in front of you.)
Ok, so my list checks out and I’m good to go…..
In the lane just ahead of me, the State Trooper had flashed his lights on and then off. What did that mean?
Back through my checklist! Still good.
He did it again. His blue lights flashed on and then off.
For ten miles this continued, all as I was frantically looking, checking, wondering, panicking, and yes…sweating.
Finally, he pulled to the side and let me pass. In no time flat, there he was RIGHT behind me, lights flashing, and directing me to pullover.
Thank you, Trusted Checklist. You’re to blame for whatever this is.
Of course, I get pulled over by an officer who resembles the Incredible Hulk wearing a large-brimmed State Trooper hat and sunglasses. He inspects my car as he walks to the window and with careful ease, he asks me for my license and registration.
As he studies each document, he says to me, “Mr. Hines, do you know why I pulled you over today?”
“No sir, I don’t,” I replied.
He pulled out his ticket book and begin writing, as he told me, “Along this highway, we have a lot of accidents. They are usually caused because people, like you, are not paying attention. I was trying to communicate to you by flashing my lights. Did you not see that?”
“Yes sir, I did,” I replied.
“So, Mr. Hines, are you admitting to me today that you knew I was communicating to you and you failed to take my communication into consideration?”
Let’s freeze this conversation right here. I will admit, I could see my face in the reflection of his sunglasses, and for any of you who get this reference, I looked exactly like the RCA dog looking into the old phonograph. Unfreeze.
“You see, Mr. Hines, I was trying to tell you that you were following me too closely. By flashing my lights at you, I was signaling that you should back away from me. So, it does sound like you are admitting to me that you did see that I was communicating with you, and as I said, it does also sound like you are admitting to me that you failed to take my communication into consideration.”
Feeling all the more like the confused RCA dog, all I could say was, “Yeah…but…I….but….what?”
As he continued to scribble in his ticket pad, he continued. “You see those reflectors along side the road?” he asked as he pointed.
“Yes sir,” I replied as I looked.
“Those are exactly 75 feet apart, and you need to be at least two reflectors behind me,” He continued.
Let’s freeze the story again and focus on some lessons I’m about to learn and possibly teach to all of you.
Lesson one: I have no idea if that is the actual law or not as this was almost twenty years ago and who knows how often these things change.
Lesson two: By no means is this article written to criticize any member of the law enforcement, as I respect each and everyone of you. You wear that badge for a reason. I still respect my own family members who were members of law enforcement, including my own father. In fact, about 50 miles from the location where this story occurred, my uncle proudly served as the police chief of a small community.
Lesson three: I’m going to chalk this up to me being young and fairly stupid at the time, but what I was about to say to this officer was for sure going to get me a ticket. In fact, I was sure as all crud that was possibly about to be thrown across the hood of the car, handcuffed and tossed in the backseat of his cruiser.
“Hmmmmm,” I said as I studied the reflectors.
And then I add, “I’m going to question that and say that you’re wrong. Those look more like 150 feet apart, and if I had to be two reflectors behind you, that would put me 300 feet behind you. By doing the math, what your saying is that I should be 150 feet behind you. If I’m traveling at 55 miles per hour, it seems to me that having 300 feet in front of me would allow me to stop sooner and avoid an accident than if I was only 150 feet behind you,” I added.
If there had been another person in earshot, even an animal or insect, I’m sure that the moment I finished those words, they would have flopped down in a big Lazy-Boy chair, front row seats, popcorn in hand, because something was about to go down.
As the words left my mouth, the officer slowly looked up to me and in the most soldier-like choregraphed routine, he stepped back away from my car at full attention. He pulled the hat from his head and the sunglasses from his eyes, leaned down, and looked directly into my eyes as he said the following,
“Mr. Hines, today is not your day to give me a lesson in feet and inches. As a matter of fact, even if you have an occupation where you deal with feet and inches every day, you do not tell me how far 75 feet is. Do you understand me?”
Freeze again. Let me remind you, I have a set of rolled up architectural drawings sitting next to me. Unfreeze.
Slowly turning away from the officer with my hands on the steering wheel, I slid down in my seat and pointed to the set of drawings.
He looked over, studied the drawings, and stepped back from my car. He stood up straight, placed his hat back upon his head, covered his eyes with his sunglasses and closed his ticket book.
“Mr. Hines, you just proved to me that you have an occupation where you DO deal with feet and inches every day. You have a nice day sir,” he said as he handed back my license and registration.
“Thank you,” I replied and pulled away.
I have no idea where that officer is today, and I couldn’t tell you if he shared that story with anyone else, but I learned a big lesson: Your communication must always be clear and never walk into a situation assuming you have full control.
A young, cherry-soda drinking kid may be your next audience member. And no matter what you’ve said, if you’re not clear, be prepared to have someone question you.
It’s ok to be questioned. Take it as a lesson learned.
One last note-to-self… always carry a set of architectural drawings with you. You never know when they will come in handy.