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An Open Letter to the Officer who Fined me for not wearing my seatbelt (and who saw my boob)

Dear Officer,

I am writing to you as I sit grappling with the dilemma of whether or not to pay the 423 dollar fine you issued me with for not wearing my seatbelt correctly fastened. I am unsure whether paying a fine for an offence I did not commit or going to court in the remote South Australian metropolis of Crystal Brooke on principle is the better choice.

Let me provide some context.

It’s just after six in the afternoon, a temperate 39 degrees Celsius and I have been in the car, alone, for the last 4000 kilometres. The road has just gotten busy as I edge the top of the Port Augusta estuary and head south toward Adelaide. My shoulders are tired, I lean against my surfboard that is long enough to sit its nose on the dashboard as The Teacher’s Pet blasts over my average quality sound system. I’m driving a Holden Astra that looks like I have dropped the kids off at Saturday morning netball and decided to never pick them up, driving like someone without enough money to put their pedal to the metal until I hopefully reach Australia’s opposite coast. The speed limit is 90 and the road is straight and slightly descending, the Astra’s fuel economy is just hitting its optimum and the podcast is launching into the intricacies of police incompetency during the late 1990’s. I haven’t had a conversation for five days and I am slightly worried that the car might overheat and blow its radiator hose so I turn the aircon off and put the windows down. Clad in nothing but a bikini, I am suddenly the sole controller of a station wagon shaped sauna on wheels.

Roadworks up ahead bottleneck the traffic; my bikini straps are pulled down in hope of some late afternoon tanning but I have nothing to worry about as I merge into single lane traffic. Is indecent exposure while driving a crime? There’s a police vehicle parked at the works, so I pull my bikini straps up, I’m driving well under the speed limit. It’s only two hours until Adelaide, the sun is already low and I am thinking about whether or not Chris Dawson really had enough sway in the Sydney Police force to get away with killing his wife or is this podcast just presented in a very one-sided way? I had to have days off from listening to The Teacher’s Pet during my solo drive across Aus because things got pretty Wolf Creek at a couple of moments and I couldn’t handle the murder themes.

Somewhere just before the West Australian border a guy approached my car at a dusty petrol station. He was wearing a green Puma shirt and I thought he worked for the BP garage and was there to tell me I was parked incorrectly. I was walking from the bathroom and he met me by the car which was parked by a stereotypically freaky faded wooden playground, an old rocking horse stuck on its stick and swings in desperate need of a paint job creaked in the wind. The man asked me where I was going and I told him Sydney. We chatted for a few minutes before he asked me to give him a lift to his car which was a kilometre away and had run out of fuel. I thought for a minute, imagined him pulling a Stanley knife out on me as he sat in the passenger seat and how if I managed to survive all anyone would say was ‘why the heck did you let a strange man in the car out there?” I decided I wasn’t prepared to die to please this guy so tried to explain in my most angelic voice that he was a stranger and I was alone and I hope he could understand. He was polite and after a few minutes chat walked away. I sat eating my muesli by that creepy no-longer-rocking horse and then saw him lugging his jerry can down the highway as I pulled out of the servo. Sure enough, a kilometre away a silver Astra (inferior body shape to mine) was parked on the edge. Better safe than sorry I guess.

Anyway, back to the roadworks. About 10 minutes after I passed the works I finally look up from the never ended straight bitumen and see the blasted police car lights in the review mirror. I’m slumped forward, peering over the steering wheel like, well, someone who’s driven 4000 kilometres. “Shit,” I think. “I saw that cop car ages ago,” so pull over. He parks behind me and directs me to pull in further. I shuffle, trying to adjust my bikini, it’s one of those complicated ones with extra straps that head in different directions. The Sarge comes to the car: “Can you please put you booby away,” he says as I realise in mortification that one of my boobs has gone rogue out the side and has pancaked over toward the officer. I apologise profusely, worried I might have been speeding but sure that I had been bent on keeping my fuel consumption under five litres per 100 kilometres so it was unlikely I’d cracked 90km/hour. He asks me why I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt correctly, I look down and I have it on. I can’t remember taking it off. In fact, I am the type of person who will tell my friends in places where seatbelts are not legally required that, “just because you don’t have to doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.” I tell him I am have it on and he tells me again that I don’t. The darn policeman is gaslighting me. I’m flustered, are my boobs behaving? I think for a second how he had called it a ‘booby’ so stupidly say: “maybe my seatbelt was down my arm a bit but I definitely have it on.”

That’s it. He disappears with my licence and comes back with a folded piece of paper. He tells me he’s issuing me with a fine but not a big one. He then looks inside the car at my surfboard, “so you like surfing huh?” he grunts. “When was the last time you smoked cannabis?” he says. It occurs to me that he is wearing full police uniform in the heavy afternoon heat and I wonder what a gent with his kind of British accent is doing out there in that kind of flat red terrain. A teardrop of sweat drops down the back of my neck and I try to make some kind of frail attempt at chit chat. I tell him the last time I smoked cannabis was about six years ago, and it fleetingly crosses my mind that maybe it’s still in my system. He breathalyses me and I return to my straight, endless drive. I few minutes later I open the fine and it’s 423 dollars. I pull over and hyperventilate for a minute. I need some aircon and a ginger beer.

That night I read the driving laws, bi-laws, amendments and acts of South Australia. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing that actually defines what is classed as a correctly worn seatbelt. Only that it must be worn correctly. I had the darn thing on so I lodged an appeal from a musty motor inn somewhere on Adelaide’s fringes. A few days ago, I got a response on my appeal that it had been rejected based on the police officer alleging that I had admitted to wearing my seatbelt off my arm.

So, Mr. Officer, I am writing you this because I now face two choices: elect to be prosecuted in the court of Crystal Brooke or pay a fine for something that well, was a boob of situation. My dad thinks I should push through with the prosecution on principle, but I suddenly am feeling the full brunt of a system that requires money and will and time and I just wonder if maybe I have bigger fish to fry.

The fine is due this Monday, so time is of the essence. If you ever happen to read this, and you’re out there policing the desert, I want you to know that I don’t think The Teacher’s Pet was bias and you’re going to be in a podcast one day.

South Australian desert temperature regards,

Lucy Small

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