I know there is some contention about whether there is such a thing as monthly quotas for traffic tickets, but I will mention that it just happened to be March 31 this past Wednesday, when I took an ill-fated turn down a side street near school, erroneously thinking there was a chance the universe might grant me a free parking space.
I knew it was a mistake as soon as I made the turn. Up ahead police lights whirled atop a patrol car as the cop stood writing a ticket to a kid on a bicycle. Down the intersecting side street, something else was happening, also involving a cop car. My thought was, I don’t know what’s happening here, but I need to extricate, and go pay my seven bucks at the Shrine.
The car ahead of me at the stop sign was tucked over to the right hand side, but wasn’t moving. Was he waiting to turn right? Or maybe he was about to try to park? I waited a couple of minutes and when nothing happened, I moved around him, and pulled to a stop. With a clearer view of the intersection. I saw maybe he was just waiting to turn, but something was happening in the road. Rather than try to reverse back behind him, I crossed the intersection. And then I heard the sirens.
“Are you in the habit of driving on the wrong side of the street?” Asked my friendly neighborhood policeman.
He explained–I’m not sure why–that his job is only to investigate accidents and give tickets. Maybe he intuited that I might question whether a cop in South Central L.A. (or anywhere) might have something more important to do with his time. Apparently not, since he only investigates accidents and gives tickets. When I went around the car in front of me “half your car crossed the center line of the street”. (Note there was no painted center line.)
“I’m sure he’s just running the plates. He won’t give you a ticket,” said my carpool friend, Conor. I shook my head despondently–if all a man does is investigate accidents and give tickets, and we weren’t an accident (thankfully), well, you can pretty much guess where it’s heading.
I’ve decided that just to get my money’s worth out of the system I’m paying for with my ticket, I will try to figure out how to contest it. I believe it involves a trip to court, which sounds fairly exciting, but is probably some guy at a counter, that you have to pre-pay for your ticket in order to see. I’ll probably also cry–which I don’t look forward to. I cry way too easily, and not on purpose. You hear women talk about getting out of things by crying, but that has never been my experience. Maybe it’s because I don’t get big, luminous eyes that shine as the tears well up. When I cry, my face instantaneously gets all red and blotchy. My eyes swell up, and my nose fills with snot. I don’t think a red blotchy face ever caused a man’s heart to melt. It’s like trying to manipulate someone with your hives.
But, good writing comes out of understanding suffering. And in my life, I don’t experience a lot of real suffering. My life is not really hard–I make it harder by worrying a lot about it becoming hard, and with my career choice and my existential angst, but hell–I’m lying in bed on a Saturday morning writing this blog.
Since the cost of the ticket exceeds my parking budget that I already can’t afford, on Thursday, I decided to boycott my car, and ride the bus. There are two options for buses going to USC from near our house. There is one bus that is a straight shot, but only comes every 42 minutes and you can never trust it not to have arrived five or more minutes early and have passed you by. The other route involves two buses route–but the buses come every 8-15 minutes for most of the day, so it’s a safer bet. I’ve always played roulette with the first route, but decided that with my new, heavy bus use commitment, I should choose the more dependable, two-bus option.
And I learned something interesting about the current L.A. bus system: When I last lived L.A. and rode the bus, they had these things called “transfers” so that if you had to take multiple buses, or if you needed to –hop off one bus to go a store, then get on another to continue to your grandmother’s house, you could do that for a surcharge that wasn’t as much as the original ticket. It turns out the city abandoned “transfers” seven years ago. So now you pay $1.25 for every bus. My travel expense for a round-trip to school is thus $5.00. How do actual poor people ever catch up–ever?
On the way home, I asked the bus-driver what happened to the transfers. Apparently they felt there was too much misuse of them, too much money changing hands with the bus driver (like they couldn’t just make it part of the machine). Then he commented on how expensive it is for people these days just to do the basic things. He said, “They just need our money. It’s not really for the the people.”
Hey! That’s just how I’ve been feeling. I think that’s why I feel a flush of connection when I ride the bus that I rarely feel in my car. I look at the guy across from me asleep in his seat, and I get it. I’ve been so tired like that, and so happy to be able to sit and rest. I don’t know him, but in a vague way I can imagine his life when he gets off the bus.
I don’t feel the same connection with the hidden driver of the Audi with the tinted glass that races by me (passing on the right) on the freeway. I can’t get into how he’s feeling. I mean, judging from how he drives, I can imagine how he’s feeling, but what I imagine doesn’t make me more compassionate.