Most people would consider a significant event in their lives in relation to
some great truth or revelation or to an action made by someone else, probably a
significant relative or something similar. To me, my significant event is more
mundane. Although experienced by countless teenagers around the world, it still
had an impact on my life. I remember all too well, my first traffic ticket.
Being seventeen and done with the SPM examinations, the driving license was a
rite of passage that announced to the world that I was a 'man' with freedom and
mobility. Admittedly, I was a bit of a brash adolescent but the new-found
freedom of driving was a bit intoxicating. At least there was nothing else in my
system to impair my 'rough-around-the-edges' driving skills.
My dad's red
Proton Saga had clicked its 300th kilometer mark on the milometer. Still, he was
probably as nervous as any parent should be when 'required' to hand over the key
to a 'man' and pray he will return with both car and kid in one piece. I was not
so concerned with such matters. "Hey, at that age, we're all bulletproof...
invincible... immortal! A car crash? No, that would never happen."
Fortunately, I did not hit anything or anybody. But that hill along Jalan
Kelisa was a tricky one for an auto with manual transmission. It rose at a good
thirty degree angle, maybe more. At the time it felt like ninety! I kept inching
the clutch in and out, riding it like I was told never to do and trying to keep
the engine from stalling while not ramming into the car in front. There was
plenty of traffic too on this hot and humid day. "Come on!" I muttered. "Will
the light ever turn green?" Drawing that balance of trying to keep cool, not let
the car roll back and switch radio stations was a tricky business.
The traffic light did change to the splendid color of go and the cars moved
forwards through the intersection. Just as I reached it, left foot pushing in
the clutch, left hand trying to find the gear, the light all too quickly hit the
warning yellow. I shifted. The car stalled. Horns honked. It was Kuala Lumpur
after all, people had lives to get to and money to make.
Face burning as red as the color the light now glowed, I managed somehow to
restart the car and roughly jerk through the intersection. All this while, I
tried to avoid the angry glances from the cars waiting their turn at the traffic
light. After gaining confidence, I sped down the road and headed for an easy
intersection. Seeing the familiar amber traffic light flash, I knew I would be
able to make it before the red light flashed even if it was my dad's ancient
Proton Saga, I was expecting to race.
As I 'zoomed' past the intersection, my eyes caught the flash of headlights
synchronized with the `whoop whoop' of the police siren. "Oh, just great!" I
thought and my heart sank. I pulled over and started living for real all those
scenes in television shows about traffic violations and uber-cops. The
humiliation continued with each passing minute feeling like a day as I tried to
find the registration for the impatient policeman. After locating that offending
document and wrestling with the license that always seem to get stuck in the
plastic clear section of my wallet, the officer wrote the ticket and handed it
to me. It felt like a death sentence.
Maybe it was only a moving violation, but I knew facing Dad was going to be
harder than any city judge and it was. With burning ears and tiny giggles from
my 15-year-old sister, that event changed my life for the better. I got over it,
like most teenagers and time healed my wounded pride. The lesson was learned
about proper driving skills, keeping your cool and the responsibility of showing
up for court and taking my medicine. My wish for a dismissed charge never
materialized, but a sincere contrite appearance and first offence lessened the
verdict from what could have been reckless driving to just running a red light.
The wheels of justice turned and in this case, made me a better driver.