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You know you live in a small town when …

… you go to the hardware store looking for a tool to cut a stubborn piece of molding off a wall and the clerk offers to loan you his Sawzall.


A motorist repeatedly flashed his headlights at me as I was on the highway about to hit the town limits this afternoon. Sure enough, there was a cop lurking next to the first business around the curve.

I realized it’s been years since another driver gave me that signal. Has that particular little courtesy gone out of fashion? Or have people been scared away from it by hostile traffic cops?

Or could it be, heaven forbid, that I just drive like such an old lady that fellow drivers no longer feel the need to warn me about speed traps?


The local police chief openly admitted the other day that the job of cops is to “make money for the city.” Oh yes, and by the way, “keep people safe.”

They used to be not quite so blatant in talking about it — though of course it’s long been true.


I’ve also not been tailgated in a few years — until last week when, on two consecutive days, in the exact same spot on the highway, I ended up with somebody riding my bumper. (Where were those money-making cops right then, I wonder?)

The nice thing about tailgating is that it’s one of the rare acts of rudeness where the right response (barring getting out of the jerk’s way, which there was no room to do) is also the satisfying response: sloooowwwww waaaaaay dowwwwwn until the so-and-so realizes he’ll get where he’s going faster by backing off than by continuing to push.


Mostly, though, everybody drives like little old ladies around here. Judging by the police reports in the paper each week, those brave, heroic money-makers on the local city, state, and county payrolls specialize in out-of-towners. They’re quite enthusiastic in that regard.

In the last city election, a candidate dared ask, “Wouldn’t it be better to encourage out-of-towners to stop here because they want to stop and spend their money on restaurants, motels, and shops? Isn’t it counterproductive to stop so many of them in ways that make them never want to come back?”

Said candidate was resoundingly shouted down, accused of outrageous disloyalty, and answered by letters in the paper declaring that there were absolutely no speed traps being conducted here and how could anybody say there were?

These letters were written by the other candidate for the same office. Who promptly won the election. Meanwhile, two of our (formerly) three art/antique stores have closed down and at least one restaurant is on its last legs. Oh well. At least the crazy slumlord mayor is no longer in office. That’s something.

Politics. No matter where you are, it attracts the most interesting caliber of people.


  1. Bear
    Bear May 3, 2014 6:19 pm

    Rhetorical Q: “…somebody riding my bumper. (Where were those money-making cops right then, I wonder?)”

    Rhetorical A: Riding your bumper. The last time I had trouble with tailgaters, it was the cops. I’d made the mistake of pissing off the Lyndeborough police chief*, who then made it his mission in life to make mine miserable. Aside from that, it’s a favored technique to get people to panic sufficiently to screw up and “earn” a ticket.

    And yes, the cops in my town do prefer to chase out-of-town prey. Last time I checked the numbers, they wrote over 5,000 traffic tickets. In a town of fewer than 1800 people (including children and other non-drivers).

    * He was soon to be the ex-chief. We eliminated the very position since it was so prone to abuse. Sadly, most folks around here have short memories and forgot that we’ve eliminated the police chief job a couple of different times… and reestablished it late last year.

  2. Phil (Bustednuckles)
    Phil (Bustednuckles) May 3, 2014 10:38 pm

    It is currently illegal to flash your headlights for any reason in the State of Washington.
    (Probably for this very reason)

    Oregon very recently struck down a similar law on the grounds it violates free speech.

    Another state did the same thing last year, I want to say Ohio.

    Both cases were for people flashing their lights to warn oncoming motorists of police speed traps.

  3. Keith
    Keith May 4, 2014 3:59 am

    Haven’t been doing much driving for the past couple of years, but I did 30,000 to 50,000 miles a year for each of the twenty years before that.

    I always used to flash when there was a speed trap around. I generally used to drive with side lights on, so the only clue a cop would get would be the occasional reflection from a parked vehicle or a reflective road sign.

    The ex used to give me grief about flashing – to her, speeders got what they deserved – unless it was her getting the ticket. The Irish cops used to get you from about a mile away, which says a lot about traffic and visibility conditions, and appropriate speeds.

    I found the screen wash was a very effective and deniable deterrent to tailgating, they seemed to get a fright and back off when all that water and dust suddenly hit their screen, the less sociable, and less deniable one was to drop down a couple of gears and de-coke the exhaust system in their direction. An old, worn diesel engine that’s been driven around slowly for a few days can give a very impressive cloud of black smoke when it is rev-ed hard, and the beauty is, once all the coke and crap is blown out, it’ll pass an emissions test, so even if you do it to an unmarked cop, and he sends you for a test, you’ll be ok.

  4. furrydoc
    furrydoc May 4, 2014 8:10 am

    As a local who wasn’t born here, I love this blog on so many levels. First, my husband and I always “flash” for speed traps. It is not unusual to see as many as 5 officers on patrol in a 3 mile stretch on a Friday afternoon during travel season. On more than one occasion we have asked officers to leave our business parking lot that is situated in prime speed trap territory. Last weekend, I was driving back from our nearest large town on a highway cruising 62 in a 60. I was rudely run up on from behind by a white unmarked car. It rode my bumper for several minutes before traffic cleared enough for me to change lanes and get out of his way. He sped by my at 70 or 80, weaving in and out of traffic. He flew by too fast to get the number off the gov plate. About 3 or 4 miles later he was tucked in a spot off the side of the road in wait for his next victim. My son who was in the car said we should be able to pull him over and give him a ticket, he is driving unsafe. I could go on.

  5. ENthePeasant
    ENthePeasant May 4, 2014 11:38 am

    I must say that I live in a pretty nice place, Law Enrichment isn’t a big problem, tourists are treated well and you’re more than likely to be warned than ticketed if pulled over. A large percentage of small business is weed and the locals do not make a big deal about it. Cartel growing operations in the national forest are treated harshly but from my point of view they should be. The destruction in these grows is criminal not to mention we’ve had women held in virtual slavery in these operations. So they do work. As for how things work in real life, if you’re a bad person here (child molester, chronic “agricultural” thief, etc, you will eventually go missing. Just the way it is and I’ve yet to see someone go missing who anyone missed… if you get my meaning, and LE doesn’t get too heavily involved). A friend of mine, who grew up in this hellish all white mountain town, is an officer in a fairly large southern city which is very multicultural… and as everyone knows, multicultural is the best. He works nights and doesn’t see more than 2 to 3 murders, a dozen rapes, and uncountable numbers of lesser crimes in a week. He posted this on his Facebook page recently:

    “To all my friends in Sonora, your news of record section in the Union Democrat’s web page had me rolling! The fact that a mattress was removed from the road and returned to the owner made the news along with two squirrels found at an apartment complex!! This is a good thing and I’m glad that your not dealing with much crime. I will say this though, when people are killed in Tuolumne county they get chopped up and burned. Other places just shoot em. Least were doin something right back home. Sonora is awesome!”

  6. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty May 4, 2014 11:52 am

    Not doubting you, furrydoc, but I’ve never heard of any police department that used unmarked cars to issue traffic tickets. This would be a disturbing new trend.

    No “speed traps” in the nearby town, and we hardly ever see the police. I think they have just four cars now. In the eight years I’ve lived here (just outside of town), I’ve only seen a “traffic stop” a few times, and all but one was on the truck bypass road (but I’ve never seen a truck pulled over!). I don’t always go to town that much, so there are more than I see, obvously, but it is not common.

    Not sure what the “officers” actually do here, and seldom even see them on patrol. There’s only one coffee shop, and no “donut” shop, so I have no idea where they hang out. A real mystery. 🙂 But when I do see them, they are polite, wave when waved to, and they even smile sometimes. Imagine that.

    But be careful if you drive the I-80 across the southern part of Wyoming, or up the I-25. I’ve heard many people talk about the seriously nasty “highway patrol” down there. And now, of course, they’re pulling over people with Colorado and Washington plates because they think they have cannabis.

  7. LarryA
    LarryA May 4, 2014 12:55 pm

    Lets just say that nearly every local band where I live plays a version of Blue-Hairs Diving in my Lane. I almost never get tail-gaited because I’m often the only one driving as fast as the speed limit.

    Local law enforcement has a pretty good civilian volunteer program (Citizen Police Academy Alumni) that picks up administrative tasks like digitizing back records, and helps out during parades and such. It seems to give most cops a more “protect our citizens” attitude. That and the fact our zip codes have some of the highest CHL percentages in Texas. (I’m proud to have contributed to that.)

    Last time we moved we had the choice between living in the medical center in San Antonio (Realtors were proud of burglar bars and state-of-the-art alarm systems.) and a small town up the highway. (“Can’t keep the dang deer out of the flowerbeds.”) I believe we chose wisely.

  8. jed
    jed May 4, 2014 2:06 pm

    I’ve seen unmarked cars make traffic stops in Denver. Heck, I assume that’s their main purpose. I can imagine the surprise on the part of the driver zipping down the HOV lane by himself when the lights come on from the black Dodge.

  9. Terry
    Terry May 4, 2014 4:47 pm

    Boy, every comment’s been on speed traps.

    *I* work in a small town hardware store, and I have loaned out personal tools.

    I thank my wife for getting me out to Mayberry.

  10. Bear
    Bear May 4, 2014 4:55 pm

    ML: “Not doubting you, furrydoc, but I’ve never heard of any police department that used unmarked cars to issue traffic tickets. This would be a disturbing new trend.”

    Old trend. In fact, many years ago back in Georgia, it got so bad that the legislature finally passed a law stating that you were not required to stop for an unmarked cop car (the “problem”, from the statist viewpoint of course, was people pulling over for freelance non-cops just faking it). Pissed off the actual cops who whined that no one would speed if they could see them (remember, cops are primarily revenuers). Paint and body shops, and decal makers, loved it because they got lots of business repainting unmarked cars to just. barely. meet. the. minimum. marking standards.

    Mostly what I see these days is an unmarked vehicle used for the radar trap proper, with a marked partner vehicle used for pursuit and issuing the ticket. So yeah, there’s a good chance that the cop issuing you a ticket that claims he clocked you… is perjuring himself. Again.

  11. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty May 5, 2014 5:12 am

    Well, Bear… guess I really shouldn’t have said anything about the unmarked cars. I’ve only been “pulled over” a few times, and only had one “ticket” in over 50 years, so my experience is limited to what I’ve seen when I’ve been on the road. Just never saw any such traffic stops, that’s all. 🙂

    The police cars here are well marked (all four of them), and so butt ugly nobody else would dream of driving them. Just as well. 🙂

  12. Mark Call
    Mark Call May 5, 2014 6:58 am

    Several years ago we bought a place in a small mountain town in Colorado (Buena Vista). On my first visit to the local hardware store to get a few “fix-up” items, I was in the process of checking out when I realized that I had left my wallet in the clutter at home. I tried to catch my wife, who had just headed to the grocery store next door, but was overheard by the white-haired owner behind the counter.

    “Oh, that’s OK, hon. You just pay for it NEXT time you’re in,” she told me.

    It was a wonderful welcome to a town that we came to love.

  13. Matt, another
    Matt, another May 5, 2014 7:40 am

    I never flashed headlights as a warning. I figured it impinged on others freedom to get a speeding ticket. Traffic violations are a cat and mouse game, speedy Gonzalez has to be smarter than the cat.

  14. Nicki
    Nicki May 5, 2014 8:00 am

    I make it a habit to slam on my brakes when someone rides my tail. I drive fast enough in the left lane (usually about 20 mph above the speed limit) that no one needs to be riding me like that. When I got stopped by a Frederick County sheriff’s deputy a few years ago, he asked me why I was driving so fast in the left lane. I told him it was because he was tailgating me, and I was trying to get him off my arse. I told him next time I would just slam on the brakes. He let me go. 🙂

  15. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal May 5, 2014 12:11 pm

    I don’t “flash my headlights”, I “clean the switch by flipping it back and forth several times in rapid succession”. For some reason, seeing a badgebully lurking to commit highway robbery against people traveling faster than some arbitrary “limit” just reminds me the switch probably needs to be cleaned again. Funny, that.

    I get tailgated. It usually makes me slow way down, if I can’t move aside. On the Texas side of my house the badgethugs have declared the left lane is “for passing only” and have put up signs reminding you. Well, I am sure they can use that lane no matter what they are doing. But I guess it leaves a whole lane vacant for those who would otherwise tailgate. By the way, I consider a cop to be tailgating me if he’s within sight at all. If he’s closer than that he’s being aggressive about it.

  16. naturegirl
    naturegirl May 5, 2014 9:45 pm

    Back in the 90s Colorado highway patrol use to have the most unmarked Camaros ( ! ) laying in wait to catch the speeders once they crossed into CO from the northeast on I-80…..By the time I was over my astonishment, it was time to sign the ticket…..I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just a stock Camaro, either LOL.

    Not sure what state it’s legal or not in, but they do still flash headlights in western states quite often. And rural west (which there’s a lot of once you’re away from the coast and few bigger cities) you can just about do anything and no one will see you except a lizard or maybe a rabbit….

  17. naturegirl
    naturegirl May 5, 2014 9:54 pm

    Sorry, I mean I-70, I keep forgetting it branches off over there….

  18. Hanza
    Hanza May 5, 2014 10:13 pm

    I’ve been driving since 1958, lived in a number of different states, plus have driven coast to coast a few times. Have never had a moving violation.

  19. Dana
    Dana May 6, 2014 7:07 am

    People do flash their lights in these parts (NH).

    I hopped coasts last week for a quick trip back to Silicon Valley — and got caught in a speed trap on the way to the airport on a rural road in the wee hours. For you California residents with money to spare, here’s a good tip from Slashdot.

    Here’s another interesting article from Lew Rockwell from a different perspective. If I’m honest with myself, there are also places around these parts where people really do need to slow down a bit — before another roadside cross goes up — but the speed trap I got caught in isn’t one of them.

  20. Karen
    Karen May 6, 2014 2:40 pm

    Around here, flashing is more likely to mean slow down for deer or elk on the road ahead. On winding mountain roads you just never know what might be around the next bend.

  21. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau May 9, 2014 6:46 am

    I’m waiting for the day when the response to cops in a speed trap is not flashing headlights, but flashing muzzles of rifles. I hate those bastards.

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