A little help from Oregon…

The California Highway Patrol apparently has added some new tools to its arsenal of weapons for slowing down speeders on the Golden State’s busy highways and byways.

We’re not talking the latest radar systems, high performance patrol cars or stealth aircraft here, amigos. No, we’re talking Oregonians.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

I, like many other usually law-abiding California motorists, sometimes allow the velocity of my automobile to creep up past what the CHP may perceive as the maximum legal speed limit on California roadways – quite inadvertently, I might add.

And, like many other conscientious California freeway drivers, I keep an eye out for CHP-like vehicles just in case I might inadvertently be speeding and somehow draw attention to myself by zooming up on an unsuspecting patrol car.

This constant vigilance helps keep me, and the CHP, in a relatively cheerful mood and also aids in reducing the caseload in traffic court.

The commonest variety of CHP car to watch out for is the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria, which has a distinctive silhouette similar to that of a, er, tuna boat. Whenever I, or another inadvertently speeding California motorist, see one of these vehicles looming on the horizon, we glance at our speedometers, utter an astonished “Oh, heavens!” and promptly slow down, thereby bringing freeway traffic behind us to a pleasant crawl.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed that not all the dark Ford Crown Victorias sprouting a half-dozen radio antennas on Northern California’s interstates are CHP cars. A significantly disproportionate number of these patrol-cars-in-silhouette seem to bear Oregon license plates and contain distinctly Oregon-like occupants.

The latter interstate denizen, I should point out, cannot be mistaken for an on-duty California Highway Patrol officer. Oregon motorists frequently sport custodial-broom beards, blue or green plaid shirts and baseball caps embroidered with the insignia of the Portland Trail Blazers. And it’s not uncommon for them to have a large smoked salmon laid out across the dashboard.

Unfortunately, by the time the average California motorist has determined that he’s been trailing nine car lengths behind an Oregonian in a Crown Victoria, traffic is backed up from Redding to Orland (or vice versa).

Where do they all come from?

Somehow I don’t think this is just a coincidence.

The most plausible scenario is that the state of California – with its budget about $99 trillion in the red – has decided to save on freeway enforcement costs by luring large numbers of Oregon motorists in Ford Victorias to our fair state with offers of smoked salmon or free radio antennas. Put enough Oregonians on the road in California and you can save a bundle on patrol car fuel, oil, tires and officer overtime pay.

The downside of this scenario is that Oregon drivers drive like they’re in Oregon and soon it will take the average Californian three days to drive from Sacramento to Fresno.

On the plus side, civilian motorists from Oregon seldom, if ever, write speeding tickets on California freeways…

Originally published January 19, 2003