…No, that’s not the subject today. It’s what I wish had happened Monday afternoon, instead of what actually did.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I ran into a speed trap on my way to work a few weeks ago. A friend was giving me a ride while my car was in the shop, and she thought I wouldn’t mind driving while she finished her makeup (okay, I’m not singling out one woman, I think every woman I’ve ever been in a car with has decided that a moving car is the right place for face maintenance — I don’t get it — but there it is). Anyway, it’s the stretch of I-55 South near the Valero refinery just before the road narrows to two lanes.
I was driving about as fast as everyone does going through there every morning; trying to get in front of the tractor-trailers before the road narrows. I’m not complaining that I got stopped; I was the closest to where the officer was with the radar gun. I’m not even complaining that I was cited; he gave me a little break, putting me down as only going 9 mph over the limit (it was a little more).
He told me if I went in on the court date, I could probably “get away” with only paying court costs and the ticket wouldn’t go on my permanent record (is there a George Carlin bit in here somewhere?). Fine. It’s been about 12 years since I’ve had any reason to visit 201 Poplar, so what the heck? Funny aside: when I went down to cover court cases when I was reporting at WREG, people would see a clean-cut man in a tie and constantly ask me to represent them. I never did, I was already impersonating a reporter, I didn’t want to press my luck.
I was talking about my upcoming trip to a coworker who shared what the current procedure for traffic court is (it’s none of your business how that person knows; let’s just assume they’re well informed). I was cautioned to go early; if the ticket said 1:30pm, show up at noon. Go directly to the sign that says “Line for Div. 2 begins here,” and stand there. Don’t even think about sitting in the chairs facing the courtrooms — stay in the line against the wall. Earliest in, earliest out.
I forgot my iPod, but did take the Commercial Appeal and the new issue of Newsweek (another aside — the person who delivers my newspaper double bags it, even on days when it’s not raining. However, if it’s dry out, the paper makes it all the way to the door, under the overhang. When it’s rainy, it’s always on sidewalk, in the open, where it gets half-soaked, even with the double bagging).
So there I stand, first in line, holding my speeding ticket and reading my paper, which was dry and crunchy by this time. The guy next to me had to drive in from Fayette County. Slowly, the line grew, all of us shifting as we stood waiting for a police officer to open the courtroom doors at 1:30. There were people sitting in the chairs along the walls across from the courtroom. One of them even asked those of us in line if he should be there too. I guess it happens this way every day, but eventually, an office poked his head out of Division 2 and said, “y’all be sure to be standing in line if you’re hear for court.” A large groan spread among the bench sitters, with several trying to make a case to either the officer or to those of use at the front of the line. Now, I’m just a taxpayer, but with all the signage on the lower level of that building, hasn’t somebody thought about posting clearer instructions about what we’re supposed to do there? Really?
Right at half-past one, the doors opened and the officer brought the first few of us in. A couple of lawyers were allowed to cut in front of me. Judge Sugarmon’s robe was draped on his chair, but he was nowhere to be seen. The clerk looked up and gestured, I went up and handed her the little computer print out that had been giving to people in line about 1:15. She asked how I was doing, I said fine. Then she handed me the paper back and told me that I’d be able to pay the 63 bucks by mail or at any police precinct. Again, not wanting to press my luck, I bit my tongue instead of asking, why we just couldn’t pay the clerk in this building!!! Maybe I should have, but at that point, I just wanted to leave.
Now here’s the classic part. Here we are in 2009, and the preferred way the largest city in the state of Tennessee wants its citizens to pay fines is to go to one location to find out what the fine is, then go another location to pay the fine. Or go home and write a check. To be fair, City Clerk Thomas Long’s office does have an online link to facilitate electronic payments, but it’s not on the bill they give you. You have to look half-way down the back of your original ticket.
When you go the site, you easily look up your violation, using the ticket number, your driver’s license number or by putting in your name and date of birth. Pretty easy. A pop-up tells you how much, and you can click to pay by credit card (here comes the really classic part). You can only pay online if you’re using Master Card! Visa? Nope. American Express? Sorry. Discover? They still make those? They could only make this harder by making you make payments in pennies.
I’ll be writing a check. It won’t go on my permanent record, and at least it’s not Germantown. Their traffic court is after work and I here that unless you have a lawyer, everybody pays a fine.