2003.2.13 – how small do you feel?

Let me paint you a picture. The background colour will be that of baby blue, which is plastered on every flat surface in sight. The bench you are sitting on looks as if it was ripped out of a 1970’s church and has been split apart in order to keep people at a distance. Fake wood is all you can think of as you stare at the line of seats against the wall.

The door suddenly opens and you are summoned into a room with more baby blue walls and wooden retro benches. There are large signs hanging from the ceiling that state emphatically, NO TALKING! You sit on another bench, by yourself, and wait for your name to be called.

Is this high school? An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting? The rec room at the local hostel? No, it is the wonderful and pleasant surroundings of the Traffic Violations Bureau.

Yes, you “California stopped” (downshifted) at a stop sign one blustery midnight in December. Yes, you plead “not guilty” on the ticket, believing you could somehow weasel out of it. You are now awaiting your destiny, in a courtroom sense, and it looks nothing at all like The Practice or even Judge Judy.

This is strictly low budget all the way and you assume that the blue walls are to keep the criminals calm. You wait, and wait, and wait and finally a judge shows up (45 minutes after your hearing time) to process the miscreants.

He thoughtfully, although condescendingly, explains that in this “major” city of New York State there is no way to plead down a traffic violation. You are either “guilty” or “not guilty” and it is basically your word against the police officer’s.

If you turn back now you will have let them win, so you decide to stick it out for another hour or so, in hopes that the cop won’t show.

As you watch the other offenders have their “day” in court, as it were, you realize that they are hiding the police. See, at the moment, you are surrounded by only moving violations offenders, no officials. Directly before each case, the clerk picks up the phone and calls somewhere to summon the police officer named on the ticket.

Your name is finally called and you step up to the bench. There is a big, smelly microphone staring you in the face and the judge is looking more foreboding up close. He instructs you to wait for the officer and your palms begin to sweat. The officer enters and you look in the opposite direction. He tells what happened on the night in question and you listen intently. When the judge asks you if you have anything to add, you decide to let this all go. You will not surrender your pride, to be shot down by the court.

“Yes”, you state, “that is exactly what happened, sir”. The judge looks at you in disbelief. You wait to be lectured on the point of wasting the courts time, but all you see is a big rubber stamp and a fine. You walk out into the hall, feeling like dirt and pay the ticket. You will have 3 points on your license for a term of 18 months and your ego will be down for a few days.

You did learn one thing from this experience. Never mistake democracy for happiness. You will only be let down in the end.

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