Saturday, June 03, 2006

Busted in the Middle of Nowhere


I got a ticket recently. Not your ordinary ticket. I get those too. Those I just say “whatever” and simply pay them. Since they always seem to occur in the same county, I’ve figured out that you don’t have to go before some judge with your incredibly justified story of why you were in the right to be going 75mph through the school zone with children fleeing for their life. Your story is so good, you’re up for a Pulitzer for short story fiction! But of course, the judge had a bad day and you’re S.O.L. However, irregardless of what you say or plea, you’ll get the ticket reduced. What I’ve figured out is that all you have to do is go up to the front receptionist and you get the same standard deduction that any judge would give you anyway. So, unless you intend to be assured of complete innocence, why go through the humiliation? Pay the damn ticket that deep down inside you know you are guilty of but are too stubborn to admit. Now I don’t know if every county in America does this, but they should; it just makes it far more convenient for us perpetual lead foots.

So as I had started saying, this particular ticket was not ordinary. I was on my bicycle. The ticket was for $250. That’s more than any ticket I’ve ever gotten in my life! And to add insult to injury, I got it for making a right hand turn at a four way intersection. IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. I’m not kidding either. It was out in the town of Northplains, OR. Both roads were rural country roads and it was in the middle of a weekday in the afternoon and very few cars were on the road.

The irony of it all is that I actually did stop. Normally, I probably wouldn’t have for a right hand turn but in this particular case, there just happened to be an SUV that was coming from the other way and wanted to turn left onto the same road I wanted to turn right onto. As we both essentially came up to the stop at the same time and I was breaking, I didn’t signal to indicate I would be turning right so he probably assumed I’d just be going straight. He did the old-school traffic safety rule which is to hand wave me on to signify that I could go first and he knew that. So, I’m guessing that I didn’t come to a true full stop where I’d rest my feet on the pavement, instead I kicked it into high and swooped around the corner to get clear out of his path as he made his left turn. Easy enough. I made the turn and he didn’t run over me. That’s the way I like these situations to turn out. Of course, that wasn’t the rest of the story now, was it? Course not.

I first saw the officer pulling over a car on the highway. It’s fairly unconventional to be riding my bike on the highway that close to the city because it’s sort of a freeway there and though bike riding on it is legal, I’ll be many think it isn’t. Apparently he saw me take the off ramp and claims I turned right there against a red light. In reality, I cut through a parking lot; something he really couldn’t do anything about. He passed me going up that road and I didn’t think about him after that. Then, as I’m approaching the four way stop, I see that what he has actually done is to drive up ahead, go through the intersection and then park about 100 feet or so from it facing my way. That way he could just watch and wait.

Sure enough, after the SUV passes me and I’m just cruising along suddenly I hear a loadspeaker blaring “will the bicycle pull over to the side of the road”. So off I pull next to wheat field thinking, “is this guy stalking me??”. He proceeds to read me the riot act about the right hand turn. I cannot believe he’s actually going to ticket me. “So what about all the drivers trying to run me off the road?” I ask him. “Then don’t ride on the roads!” he retorts in a nasty ‘I got you sucka’ tone. I couldn’t resist. I just slipped out. “So then, you think the roads are just for cars, don’t you?” I snap back. This isn’t helping my cause here, but damn it felt good. Of course, this is the point in the story where all my crafty friends (i.e. less ethical) interrupt and point out that I should have simply given him a phony name and address. What’s he gonna do, check my ID? I don’t have any on me! Interesting concept but of course, I could never ride around here again and technically this was my extended backyard in terms of riding locations. I suppose I could have camouflaged the bike in the future. You know, throw on some of the tassels from the handlebar ends and a card in the spokes. Guess I just wasn’t crafty enough.

Well, needless to say I’m steaming by the time I get home and it wasn’t because of the summer heat either. For the first time, I’m taking it to court! So I have a few weeks before I have to plead. You see, you either plead guilty or you plead innocent. If you plead guilty, then they either charge you full price or more likely than not, they give you a standard reduction. If you plead innocent, they set a court date in the future. After watching almost 30 other poor fools plead guilty and get full ticket price, I did my innocent plea and got my court date about a month away.

I used that time to be ready. I went back to the intersection and parked where the officer parked. Then, as SUVs came up to the intersection, I shot digital pictures. Sure enough, you couldn’t see the stop sign where I was supposed to have stopped at all. Jack pot!! Then, I made this beautiful three sequence overhead diagram of the intersection and what happened and where people were. It was in Powerpoint of course. Hey, 10 years of corporate management had to be useful for something!

Court time came. This place is such a joke. It’s not actually a court at all. It’s a converted community center. The judge looks like he took a certificate course off the internet after dropping out of high school. I had nephews older than this guy. My first chance at coming away clean from this vanished as soon as I saw the officer. Many larger city officers don’t show to court and if that happens, you get off clean. Apparently for this town, there’s nothing else going on during court sessions. Looking around, why would there be!

Again, I had to sit through umpteen countless poor souls plead guilty and take a full hit. No reductions ever! Very odd. Then its my turn. All I have to do is simply state my case with the judge and ask questions of the officer after hearing his testimony report. Confident in my argument and that they have no idea I’m prepared, I go through my pictures and diagrams. But then it comes. The officer, having already gotten uncomfortable in what he is seeing me present and stumbling through his answers suddenly just plain face lies to me. “No, I was not parked across from the intersection, I observed you from behind.” What?!?! I’m no lawyer and this was certainly a cruel sixth sense twist I hadn’t anticipated. But Perry Mason would have been proud because I’m quick on my feet. I said, “Really?” “You stated that you observed me leaving the highway off ramp and passed me on the road. I saw you pass me as well. If that wasn’t your police car across the intersection, what police car was that? Are you trying to suggest that there were actually two police cars at that intersection?” I retort. “Furthermore, I caught sight of the police car across from me pulling out and yet no other police car ever passed me before or after getting pulled over, only the SUV” I also added. “I don’t know about another police car, but I watched you from behind.” he repeated but this time sort of stuttering and looking visibly uncomfortable. “Well tell me this officer” I continued, “if you were observing me from behind you would have had to been parked on Glencoe Rd. and how could you do this when there are no shoulders at all on either side of the road.” Stuttering and a big “aaahh” is all I get. “Also, I’m wondering how you could possibly observe whether I stopped or not given that you were watching from behind since you would have no perspective from that angle and bicycles do not have brake lights??”. WHAM!! Gotcha now, big guy! More stuttering and stupidity from him. I rest my case and leave matters into Mr. Survey Course. He doesn’t really say anything except “I’m siding with the officer, $250 fine.” I’m naturally stunned. Where is the justice? Forget that, where is the common logic? As I’m paying my bill, I realize that this is more than just some ticket, this is a full on money racket scheme they’ve got going here. I’ll bet nobody ever is innocent or has a fine reduced. They’d lose revenue. I glance at Officer Whitehead. Yes, that is actually his name! No wonder he’s pissed at the world with a name like that. About that time, I’m thinkin’ “I’d like to pop that whitehead!!!” Of course, appealing it wasn’t a good option because it cost $250 to do so and that money wasn’t refundable. So, it would cost me the full amount just to get back at that officer in a real court. It might cost me more if I lost. Nope, better to just write this battle off and cool down. I was actually mad enough that I seriously considered notifying the Oregonian paper and tip them off to the story and probable money making scam going on, but by the time I got around to it, I was just disgusted with the whole thing and didn’t want anything to do with the incident. So much for happy court room endings!

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