An advertisement for a writer's retreat.

Driving through Cary on a very foggy Friday night, I was especially careful about driving at a safe speed, stopping completely at intersections, and looking both ways before entering the road.

That’s why I was a bit surprised when flashing blue lights suddenly materialized in the murk behind me. I’d just made a turn and couldn’t have been going more than 20 miles per hour when I had to start looking for a place to pull over.

I had my license and vehicle registration ready and the window down when the officer arrived, flashlight in hand. “I’m Officer Jones with the Cary Police,” he said. “The reason I pulled you over is that one of your tail lights is out.”

Whew.

I thanked the officer for letting me know, but still had to sit while he took my documents to his car to look me up and make sure I hadn’t busted parole or had any outstanding warrants. Finally, I was able to get underway.

Less than ten minutes later, on the other side of town and still driving very carefully, I looked in the rearview mirror and noticed a telltale bank of lights on the car behind me. He followed me long enough to call in my tag number and determine I probably wasn’t armed and dangerous, then fired up the blue lights.

This time, Officer Scott was doing his duty. They’re required to stop people who are missing a light, he said, and he didn’t have any way of knowing that I’d already been kindly informed. We had a friendly chat — but he still had to take my documents to his police-issue laptop and make sure I wasn’t on the 10-most-wanted list.

I didn’t resent being stopped, but I did begin to wonder if I’d have to look for a 24-hour tail light store so I could make it home without being pulled a third time.

The next morning it was still foggy as I left early for a Baptist Women in Ministry board meeting in Lumberton, and you can bet I stopped and replaced both tail lights at the first opportunity.

Sometimes we need friends to tell us things we can’t see for ourselves. Few people periodically start their car, turn on the lights, and walk around it to check for missing lights. Most often, someone else has to tell us it’s out.

I wonder about the protocol of such things when the matter is more personal. Do you tell other people they have spinach stuck in their teeth, or a dollop of mayonaise on the chin, or something stuck to the seat of their pants, or an unzipped fly?

Those are pretty easy (the answer is yes). But do you point out to other folks that they have a particularly annoying habit, or horrendous halitosis, or that they’re about to make a big mistake?

More personal issues can be tricky. My philosophy is to ask myself if I’d want a friend to point it out if I was in a similar situation. It’s not a foolproof approach: some people don’t want you to tell them anything, and sometimes you need to get someone else to tell them, and you generally need to do such things privately to allay embarrassment.

And if there’s a positive way to point it out, all the better. “Hey, Joe! Walgreen’s had a two-for-one sale on this new fresh-tasting toothpaste and I wanted to try it out. I don’t need but one tube — why don’t you try the one I got for free, and let’s compare notes!”

Or maybe not.

Better ideas welcome!

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