How to Avoid Tickets

By TARA LYNN WAGNER

I didn't always live in Manhattan. I used to live in upstate New York where the trees are pretty and the sky has stars and places to do improv shows are few and far between. Back then, I couldn't rely on so-called organized mass transit to get around. I actually had a car. That's right. I drove. Often at great speeds.

Ah, I loved driving. I devoted a better part of my weekend to it. I loved the feel of the open road, the call of a long stretch of highway, the sound of my voice as I sang at the top of my lungs, feeling the cling of my pink spandex suit, my giant helmet sitting on the seat beside me.

Oh, did I mention, I was dressed as a Power Ranger?
TL WagnerTL Wagner

No, it wasn't for kicks and, no, it wasn't some weird sexual thing either. For three years I performed at children's birthday parties. I'd show up as Snow White, Pocahontas, a Power Ranger, and once, God help me, Catwoman (the Michelle Pfieffer-esque costume, all leather and stitches and sporting a whip) to entertain your five-year-old son or daughter (and likely their father or some weird Uncle Ira considering my state of dress) for an hour of songs, games and face painting.

Let me tell you, if ever my improv classes came in handy, it was during these three years. Children ask a lot of questions and, the older they got, the less they believed that I was actually Snow White. Those kids designed queries to trip me up.

As Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, I was asked why I came in a blue car and not a magic carpet. I proceeded to recount in great and rapid detail how I did fly on my carpet but that you can’t fly carpets in the suburbs of New York so I left my carpet at the carpet-port and rented a car. That shut them up pretty quick.

But during those three years of birthday party weekends, I found I got the most mileage out of my improv skills not at the parties, but in my car.

Speeding along nicely, I rarely noticed the officer who saw me streak by him, a blue blur on the otherwise deserted Taconic Parkway of a Saturday afternoon. Singing as loudly as I was, I rarely heard said officer's sirens as he chased me down. Not until the song was over. He'd practically have the ticket written by the time he reached my car.

But little did he know that he was about to be faced with the most foolproof combination in ticket-evasion in history: a trained improv performer dressed to fight crime (or at least to frolic in the woods with some dwarves). And, of course, tears at the ready should he break through my first two defenses. He rarely did.

"You were going awfully – um‚ just what are you supposed to be?"

And that would be my cue. At this point, having digested the suggestions (i.e., time of day, location, weather, costume, etc.), I would begin to weave my story. It was elaborate and detailed and wholly fabricated, usually involving some mishap in directions, a subsequent loss of time, a dog that ate my AAA map, or an alien abduction, whatever came out of my bent- on-survival brain. The end was always the same. “And if I don't get there by(insert time here), I'll be very late for little Jimmy's third birthday party."

The officer would listen intently, and finally say something like, "Well, I can't go home and tell my kids I ticketed the Cookie Monster today. Take it easy on the speed, though. And have a great time at the party." Sometimes, he'd offer directions or even a shortcut, and then off he'd go, chuckling to himself, thinking about how he'd recap this story later to his buddies.

The moral of the tale: friends, some forms of entertainment, like the WWF or marrying a multi-millionaire you've never met, should go hand in hand with the disclaimer, "Don't try this at home." But improv doesn't have to remain in the theater. Oh, no. Go out there. Take what you learn and apply it to all sorts of tricky or otherwise uncomfortable situations you'd like to get out of. Like traffic tickets. Or work. Or family reunions. Oh, and by the way, the pink spandex costume is recommended, but not required.