Saturday, February 23, 2008

Breakin' the Law! Breakin' the Law!

There's something afoot in my little neighborhood on the banks of the Allegheny River. I've lived here for going on five years, and for the vast majority of that time I have managed not to run afoul of the local law enforcement professionals. It's true that I manage to rack up a stack of parking tickets every summer- who can keep those street cleaning days straight, after all? And I won't deny once being fined for not clearing my sidewalk of snow. It really didn't seem like much of a priority for my neighbors. It's also a fact that the po-po's once showed up at my door to tell me to quit playing the drums. I thought that was a bit melodramatic given it was only 8:30 in the evening. But still I've been a good neighbor, and stashed my kit in the coal cellar where it is (no doubt) gradually warping.

It's no secret among my friends and family that I've been periodically cited for lapses in my driving. There was even a three year period when I accumulated about 22 points for speeding. During that time I entered the byzantine files of the PA Department of Transportation. I had to go through a series of corrective measures that included showing up for a meeting to get lectured by a tired bureaucrat, and taking a rudimentary test to determine my knowledge of traffic laws. At the end of the ordeal I came out of the process with a ridiculously small sum of points that I was able to shed in two years. If you've never been told about how to deal with cops when they pull you over for minor traffic infractions- you need to know a couple of things. Of course you should be as cooperative as possible and never make excuses, even if they are valid. The officer is going to do whatever he feels like doing regardless of what you say. Secondly, you should always plead not guilty, and show up at the hearing. If you were reasonable when you were pulled over, they will usually cut you a break.

I was able to break my habit of speeding for awhile. I haven't had a ticket for that in years. But apparently I have entered a new cycle. Driving around town, I have taken things for granted. I've been making "rolling stops" without even thinking about it. A few days ago I was caught doing that very thing. In fact the guy that stopped me said I blew the sign off altogether. I didn't argue with him, and he let me off with a warning. He let me know that he had instructions to start pulling people over for going through the particular stop sign I had unthinkingly ignored. I was impressed at how cordial he was, and I resolved to pay more attention and break the lazy patterns I had adopted.

Unfortunately my pact with myself lasted for about 72 hours. I was on my way to get coffee this morning, and I evidently failed to come to a complete stop once again. I was surprised to see the flashing lights behind me. As you might expect, I wasn't very happy with myself. I was distraught enough that the officer actually asked me if I was "alright". He said I was "fidgety". It must not have occurred to him that this was a quite natural reaction to being snagged before noon, when all you really want is to continue peaceably on your way and get some damn caffeine in your system. He even asked me if I had something in the car that he should know about. For some reason that struck me as funny, since my back seat is covered with extraneous crap. I watched him make a face as he tried to peer through the window to make sense of all the mess laying about.

I guess I must have further aroused his suspicions when I gave him my documents. My registration wasn't signed and my insurance card was out-of-date. There were a bunch of miscellaneous papers jammed into the envelope I gave to look through. He seemed disgusted. I told him that I could go back to my house and get the updated information. He cited me and told me to bring the paper by the police station. Yeah, it was a pain in the ass. Still my patience eventually paid off. I arrived at the municipal building and wandered about until I had the good sense to ring the buzzer at the locked front door. When he answered, he let me know I had to "get organized". It was a bit emasculating being scolded by a uniformed young man who was obviously fifteen years younger that me. But he told me to plead "not guilty" and show up in front of the magistrate for the hearing. He said he'd see what he could do. I guess my haplessness finally took him off guard.

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