Three Hours in Traffic Court Hell

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To anyone who’s had to deal with it, it’s obvious that all government, on all levels, is made up of sadists and morons. Or at its worst, sadistic morons. I do everything in my power to avoid having to deal with these occupants of the lowest rungs of the evolutionary ladder or the ridiculous rules they impose and enforce.

A while back, my decision to avoid — or at least postpone — paying tribute to the state for the “privilege” of operating my car on the roads I helped pay for, put me face-to-face with a uniformed member of the government’s Department of Useless and Costly Rules Enforcement. This resulted in my getting a $180.00 ticket for my delinquent payment of tribute. Salt to the wound.

After dragging things out as long as I could with a couple of continuances, I finally had to go to something they refer to as “Traffic Court." But traffic court where I live bears no resemblance to anyplace you might expect plaintiffs and defendants to argue their positions in hopes of securing some sort of justice. It's merely where the sheep line up to get fleeced.

At the end an hour-long ride through morning rush hour traffic I arrived at the courthouse about ten minutes early for my nine o’clock court time. Along with what appeared to be at least 200 other people with the same court time. After placing my watch, keys and other personal property in a basket, and removing my boots, I made it through the metal detectors without need for a strip search and took my place the end of a line so long I couldn’t see the front of it. By government standards, this was a fast-moving line. It took a mere fifteen minutes to make my way to the front where I came face-to-face with the uniformed, gun toting paper checker.

As luck would have it, I was missing a piece of paper no one told me would be necessary to dispose of the matter. “Now what do I do?” I asked the uniformed gun toter with a big, protruding doughnut belly. Ten seconds after telling me I absolutely had to have the missing paper, he informed me I didn’t really need it; I just needed to go out into the hall, find my name on a list and make note of the number beside it. I found the list. It was in front of another long line. This line was populated by other people who apparently were also not told to bring this necessary — but not necessary — piece of paper with them to their nine o’clock court time.

After making my way to the front of the line, I thoroughly checked the list of hundreds of names without finding mine. So I got back into the original line to make my way back to the uniformed checker of necessary but not necessary papers.

“Your name’s not on the list? Well, then, you’ll have to go see the DA.”

In traffic court, the District Attorney is a person living an occupational nightmare after all those years in law school. He (or in this case, she) sits on a chair behind about two inches of bullet-proof glass with a little slit at the bottom, just big enough for a little air to pass through, but not enough sound to make any meaningful conversation possible. In front of the bullet-proof glass is another long line. A line I stood in for forty-five minutes, until it was finally my turn to shout through the tiny slit under the glass.

“You need a copy of your original ticket,” the DA shouted at me. “You’re in the wrong line. You need to be in that (long) line over there.”

At this point, I’ve been in the courthouse long enough to be an hour late for my court time, still trying to get a copy of the necessary but not necessary paper. Finally at the front of the paper acquisition line, I’m told the charge for the paper would be two dollars. I had no cash with me; I only had credit cards. So I placed a card on the counter, at which time I was told I would have to present my card to the cashier.

“Where’s the cashier?”

“Outside,” she told me, pointing to the door. After roaming around for about ten minutes, looking for the cashier, I learned that “outside” meant on another floor. Fortunately, the line in front of the cashier moved a little faster than the others. Unfortunately, the cashier didn’t accept credit cards.

“You’ll have to go to the ATM and bring back cash.”

“Where’ the ATM?”

“Out there,” she said, pointing to the door.

In govspeak, “out there” apparently translates to “another floor." Yes, the ATM was on yet another floor. After visiting the ATM, returning to the cashier and paying the two dollars, I went back to the line for the acquisition of the necessary but not necessary papers, and then back to the line to shout at the DA. While standing in that line for the second time, I noticed no one was sitting behind the bullet-proof glass. A small sign informed me that the DA takes a fifteen minute break every hour. Apparently sitting behind bullet-proof glass, shuffling papers, is grueling work that necessitates a smoke and coffee break every hour. Meanwhile thirty or forty people are obediently cooling their heels in a now stationary line.

By now I’d been in the courthouse more than two hours, just trying to acquire a necessary but not necessary piece of paper. Finally. My turn to shout through the glass. Again. I showed her the necessary but not necessary piece of paper I’d spent more than two hours to obtain. And I showed her the paper that proved I’d paid the mandated thirty dollars to confirm that my tires had tread and my headlights worked. I then told her that I hadn’t yet paid the taxes or bought the current permission-to-be-on-the-road sticker for my license plate.

She stared at me through the thick bullet-proof glass for what seemed like an eternity. Then she scribbled something on that necessary but not necessary piece of paper and said, “Go!”

“Jeeeeeeze. Go where this time?”

“Go. Just go.”

“Go?”

“Go. Case dismissed.”

I wasn’t about to argue with that. As I turned to walk away, I heard the DA shout through the glass, “Next!” And I’m asking myself, “What that was all about?” I did pay the thirty dollars to prove my late model German car was indeed safe enough to be on the government’s roads. But I readily admitted that I didn’t pay the roughly three hundred dollars in annual taxes for the privilege of being on those roads. And there was the matter of the $180.00 fine for failing to do so.

No pleading my case. No arguing. No pissing, moaning and begging. Just case dismissed. Was I living in some weird Lewis Carroll story?

On my way out of the courthouse, I passed by the room I would have been in had I had my necessary but not necessary paper, at least half of the people with nine o’clock court times were still there. It was now just shy of noon. The cost for leaving my car in the courthouse parking garage was four dollars. But on my way back the garage, I noticed the adjacent sandwich shop would validate my parking ticket if I spent two dollars on a really bad sandwich. So I got a cheap sandwich and free parking, which negated the two dollars I spent on the necessary but unnecessary paper.

While trying to make myself eat the two-dollar sandwich, I wondered what my morning-long experience was all about. First and foremost, I figured, it was about job security. From the security goons, to the paper checkers, the cashiers and the DA, to the dozens of people wandering around with guns, none of these peoples’ jobs had anything to do with public safety, justice or anything else one would consider useful in normal times or a normal country. But I would expect even the lowliest of them make more money than I do for doing real work.

But it was also about bullying and control. “Cross us and this is what you get.” The whole experience was irritating at every turn, but what was more discomforting to me was looking at all the other people in “court” for some meaningless infraction. They were so docile. Glassy eyed. Obedient. Like sheep. Shuffling their feet and looking straight ahead like characters in a George Romero zombie movie. Like all this was okay. As if the whole circus actually made sense and they deserved the aggravation and humiliation they were getting for violating one of the state’s silly, arbitrary little rules.

My experience in the courthouse wasn’t scary; it was irritating. What was scary is all those other people who apparently weren’t irritated. The enablers.

The enablers of government waste and corruption, from the District of Criminals, all the way down to the local courthouse. They don’t even care; they just accept it all as if it makes sense. To me, the enablers of government abuse are scarier than the governments they enable.

J. Paul Henderson [send him mail] lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. See his site.

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