Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Debt to Society

Just paid my debt to society. Turns out my debt came to $200 even, including court costs.

Got my first ever traffic ticket in September. Actually, got ticket(s). After 36 years of driving with no tickets to besmirch my record, I racked up two in one day: One for speeding and another for not having a valid MO driver's license in my possession. Okay, okay. Not only didn't I have a MO license in my possession, I didn't have a MO license period. Here's the deal:

Got up at the very butt-crack of dawn to take my mother's dog to the groomer. Jumped out of bed a few minutes late, threw on some sweatpants and a sweatshirt and dashed off to pick up the dog and take her across town. After accomplishing that mission, I stopped at the salon (didn't intend to stay more than a minute, given how I looked and all) and, as usual, ended up trapped there for hours. Finally, about 1:00pm, I headed for home along the back roads.

A couple of miles from my house and about a quarter of a mile out of the 45 mph zone, I got stopped for doing 43 in a 30. There were 4 motorcycle cops hidden in a corner, and they were stopping about every other car, all containing motorists who had not yet recognized the shift in the posted limit.

As soon as I saw the lights, I knew my goose was cooked. There were so many cars pulled over I knew there was no way my patented "get out of tickets" schtick was going to work this time. Reached for my purse to pull out my license--a MN license, mind you--and panicked. No purse. I'd left it home on the kitchen counter. Very bad news.

Rolled down my window and prepared to explain myself, when I was confronted my the toughest, rudest, most aggressive police officer I've ever encountered. My respect for peace officers usually knows no bounds. My contact with these folks has been limited to situations where they were helping me or my family--the officer who responded when The Boy fell from his back yard fort, the fleet of officers who responded to the 911 call when the kids were in the wreck, the nice officer who stopped me for going the wrong way on a one way street and not only did not give me a ticket but walked in front of me, stopping traffic until I got out of there and then led me to my destination (I was lost). You get the drift, I'm sure.

This guy was not a member of that team. He didn't care to hear my explanations or my concerns. All he wanted was to see a valid license, and I did not have one in the car. I had to sit on the side of the road until a family member broke into my house, fetched my license, and drove it to the scene. As soon as I produced the magic plastic, he wrote me a second ticket, this one for still having a MN license, and he set a court date for my trangressions.

The bill came due this morning at 9:30 am in the Municipal Court of Jackson County, Missouri at 111 E. Maple Street in Independence, MO.

Wowsers, was that an eye opener. More than a different world, this place was another galaxy all together. The distance from my world to this has to be measured in light years.

To get to an open seat, I had to walk through a wall of smells: cigarettes, old sweat, an indefinable, sweet smell that might be fear, might be something else entirely, something more organic and less legal.

The prosecuting attorney sat at a table at the front of the room, wearing a pink gingham shirt and pink-and-blue paisley tie paired with navy suspenders. His thining strawberry blonde hair had been carefully arranged to cover his high forehead and then sprayed into immobility. He had a body builder's physique and a walk that broadcast how much he longed to be taller than than the 5’6” he probably claims or the 5’5” he actually is. Honestly, he all but carried a neon sign reading "Compensating."

A defense attorney sat at an opposing table, wearing a black skirt and sweater, a large gold watch and an expensive haircut. The designer handbag displayed prominently on table in front of her and her artful makeup looked like attempts to divert attention from the extra 75 pounds she carried on her mid-sized frame. She passed the time waiting for court to convene by reading a book, Violent No More.

Behind the tall counter, at the side of what I presume you'd call "The Bench," sat a tiny 60ish woman with teased hair in a style that was current back when lightened hair was called “frosted." She chewed her gum with the ferocity with which I attack spiders invading my house.

I took a seat in the middle of the room, behind a guy wearing t-shirt that read “I came to drink beer and kick ass.”

As people poured in for the 9:30 time slot, the room gathered a nervous energy quite independent of the change in the sound level or the potpourri of smells and that accompanied the crowd. People whispered together and the tinny sounds of phones being turned off echoed through the air. Some people squirmed in their seats; many tapped a foot on the floor or a hand on the bench beside them. Everyone seemed anxious in a weary sort of way.

The most shocking thing about the whole experience was the obvious poverty of the people involved. I was the only person in the room dressed in a way intended to show respect for authority. Unless, of course, you count several guys wearing tan trenchcoats buttoned over clothes far less presentable. One young man wore black dress shoes with white socks. His dark jeans with a few paint splotches on the left leg disappeared into an expensive tan trenchcoat. Not khacki, but a British racing tan kind of color. Very "found this on a Salvation Army rack-ish." He was holding a business card of some sort as though it held the key to getting out of whatever mess he’d created. Other young men wore screaming white tennis shoes, oversized sweatshirts and jeans carefully held in their left hands, even while sitting.

How is it that, except for me, only poor people are being called to court this morning? Don't the cops stop the more affluent? Or can it be that the more affluent just pay the tickets and go on? I'd have done that if only I had the option, but it would have been a pity. I'd have missed this spectacle, this revelation of how blessed I am. Driving away from the courthouse later, I passed a bar wrapped in a banner that proclaimed, "Welcome Bikers" and a little restaurant with a sign that declared "Gizzards are Here!!" Those are sights we don't find much in my corner of the world, where the general run of people is far more well-scrubbed, far less redolent, and oh-so-much more filled with the presumed safety of the world.

Come to think of it, $200 doesn't begin to touch my debt to society. How am I going to address the rest of it? Gotta give that lots more thought.


Amber said...

You law breaker! LOL
This was funny. Good writing!
I think you are right, that richer people just pay the tickets. I use to go to court a lot as part of my job as an advocate. It always gave me something to tell Kory about when I came home.Heh. It is sad and really freakin' funny at the same time! Opens your eyes to the word, that's for sure.


Anonymous said...

It's about time you had to take responsibility for your transgressions.

And I do somewhat resent your inferences based on the sole fact that the prosecuting attorney was a bit on the short side. (I"m standing on tip-toes so you'll sense my indignation.)

Sorry to be smiling, but this story is somehow really funny to those of us who know how readily you've skated on traffic violations on the strength of your southern charm and winning personality.

A couple of tickets every 36 years ain't so bad, though. I think I've had 12 or so, and I'm much, much younger than you.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Love your descriptions of the people, especially the attorneys. Our legal system is eye-opening (depressing), for sure. Thank you for being part of the awareness heightening process!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I always contest tickets, just on principle. Perhaps because I come from a family of lawyers, but chose not to be one myself. Maybe blood really does tell.

I represent myself, and often win. I am very persuasive and also dogged. Sometimes there is a loophole.

I think you've been amazingly lucky or incredibly law-abiding if this is your first experience with the lower echelons of the legal system.

And you did get a most perceptive and enjoyable post out of it.

jennifer said...

So funny, you and Link are like twin souls!!! I thought I had that job!! Nice story.