If April is the cruelest month, no month can make you feel so old as February.
Picture the night before Groundhog Day: Snow piled chest-high on either side of a two-lane road. It was just after six o'clock, but it felt like midnight.
My wife and I, along with dear friends Heidi and Frank Vardeman, were headed to a bistro along the Lake Michigan shore to celebrate Frank's sixty-first birthday.
If we'd been bears, we would all have been sound asleep, dreaming of a springtime feast. But we weren't bears. We were hungry - and thirsty - now.
Driving time from our house to the bistro is usually about 15 minutes, provided one obeys the 25 mph speed limit. Given the snow pack crowding the road and the way our car was being pummeled by polar wind off the lake, I was driving a tad more slowly than that.
So I was surprised when, after creeping through one of two seemingly deserted intersections, my rearview mirror was suddenly ablaze with the hyper swirl of a squad car's rooftop lights, flogging the night behind us.
Probably that damned taillight again, I muttered. "You stopped at both those stop signs," said Frank, who was riding shotgun. But Frank is blind in one eye and has two artificial knees; his optimism is boundless.
We sat there. Finally, the cop got out of his car; I could hear his boots crunching ice on the frozen road. Before he took my license and registration papers, he asked if I was aware I had failed to stop at those very same stop signs Frank mentioned.
No, I said. Well, said the cop, a young guy who shared with the weather a decided contempt for what Shakespeare called the quality of mercy, you did.
It did not escape my attention that the young cop's right hand was resting on the butt of his gun. It occurred to me that, given all the guns riding around in glove boxes in our fair and trigger-happy land, if it was my job to approach a car full of strangers on a dark and stormy night, I, too, would have a hand on my sidearm. Hell, I'd be waving it like one of those rubber fingers you see at football games: We're No. 1!
Anyway, the kid, er, cop, asked where we were headed. I told him, managing not to mention the stiff drink (or two) that was now assuredly in my (near) future. Yes, officer, I could have said, wait here about two hours. I'll be back.
But that would have been like kissing a hammer, so I kept my trap shut.
I was written up for one of my two alleged infractions. The ticket cost $150 and put six points against my license.
All this was new to me since it was the first time I'd gotten a ticket since the summer of 1986. I was driving across Ohio then, rocking out to the Pretenders and yes, going a rabble-rousing 25 miles over the speed limit.
Creeping up the snowbound road, it occurred to me the cop who'd just stopped us hadn't even been born.