Child is driving force in dad's life

COLUMN

November 29, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

It is, in many ways, a quintessentially American story that began on a warm afternoon in late August, when Rob Pollack and his daughter Kerri were pulling out of the shopping center and Kerri asked if she could drive.

As Kerri is only 6 years old, Pollack thought this might be slightly hazardous.

Aside from the cardiovascular problems that a 6-year-old behind the wheel could induce in other motorists, he figured her driving skills were somewhat suspect.

In other words, there existed the very real possibility that the two of them and the Saturn would end up hurtling through the picture window of a nearby house.

There was also the dangerous social precedent set by the act itself.

You let a 6-year-old drive, pretty soon she wants credit cards and diamonds and permission to date a tall, dark young man named Armando.

So Pollack told Kerri to come see him in 10 years when -- providing there was no deadbeat named Armando hanging around the house burning holes in the couch with his Salems -- they could talk about her learner's permit.

Kerri took this about as well as any 6-year-old would, which is to say she looked like she'd just been hit with a stick.

This was too much for poor Pollack to bear, so he pulled the Saturn into the parking lot of a nearby elementary school. School was not in session, so the place was deserted.

Kerri climbed up on her dad's lap. He let her put both hands on the steering wheel next to his. Then he let the car drift at maybe 2 miles per hour.

And for the next few minutes, father and daughter had themselves a time, Kerri squealing with delight as she "drove" in the soft light of late afternoon.

It was, again, a wonderful American tableau. Tens of thousands of fathers have done the same thing with their kids since automobiles had running boards.

Maybe that's why Pollack initially felt no alarm when the police car pulled up behind him, its lights flashing.

"Licence and registration," said the cop, who, for the record, was not smiling at this Norman Rockwell scene come to life.

Pollack tried to explain. See, officer, this is my daughter . . . heh, heh, she wasn't really steering . . . we were going real slow . . .

The cop nodded curtly.

"Now," said Pollack, "I'm figuring the worst-case scenario is he says 'That's not safe, don't do it anymore.' "

Instead, the cop presented Pollack with a ticket. The charge was "Transporting a child under age 10 without safety seat or belt." It carried a fine of $40.

At this, the blood rushed to Pollack's face. A noise escaped from his lips that sounded like a kettle coming to boil.

"Buddy, I'm cutting you a break," the cop said. "I could give you a $280 ticket for letting a minor control the vehicle."

As the conversation had now officially entered the realm of the insane -- a minor controlling the vehicle? -- Pollack said no more. ,, He decided to fight the ticket in front of someone more grounded in common sense.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, however, and it was not until last week that Rob Pollack had his day in Traffic Court.

He found himself inside an imposing brick courthouse in the suburbs of Baltimore, in an airy room with high wooden benches and an American flag.

One by one, the traffic sinners paraded in front of the judge to tell their stories. Some of the tales were poignant, some hilarious. There is nothing like Traffic Court for studying the full menu of human emotions. They ought to serve refreshments, it can be that entertaining.

But the judge seemed a sensible fellow, not the type to have you swing from the end of a rope for some harmless fun with your little girl.

Finally, it was Pollack's turn to address the court. Butterflies were doing strafing runs in the pit of his stomach, yet he presented his case with a simple eloquence.

"Your honor," he said in summation, "my daughter always wears her seat belt. But she was in my lap, we were going so slow . . ."

Suddenly, it was as if someone had taken a cattle prod to the judge.

"If you lost control of the car, that girl could have been crushed!" he thundered, sparking a debate among onlookers over how anyone could lose control of a car doing 2 mph in a deserted parking lot.

nTC So Rob Pollack was found guilty. He paid the fine plus 15 bucks in court costs, and walked out into the bright sunshine and

shook his head.

It was no big deal, except that if the letter of the law had just been observed, it seemed the spirit of the law had not.

And in contrast to a little girl giggling and pretending to drive in her dad's lap, there was something very sad about that.

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