Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I Fought the Law and... I Won?

I know that everyone is sitting on the edge of their seats to see a picture of our genetically altered tree in all its decorated glory, however I must digress for this entry because I absolutely have got to share about my recent run in with the law.

Before you jump to conclusions, know that I went to court for a hearing to dispute a ticket for not having my car registered FROM AUGUST. Although I would have loved to have had the chance to "plead the fifth" or "handle the truth," it was not at all glitz or glamor as the 15 different versions of Law & Order would have you believe it to be.

Back on this fateful Friday night at the end of August, I got pulled over in Holliston on my way home from work. When the police officer asked me why I was pulled over I had no idea, as it was physically impossible for me to be speeding on Main Street, USA. He informed me that my registration was expired and that technically he should have my car towed because it's illegal to drive an unregistered vehicle (I love how they tell you all the things they "could do" just to make girls like me start crying, like the time a police officer told me he "could" have me arrested for driving in MA with my NH license that was no longer valid because I didn't live there anymore).

It was then that I realized that I wasn't a moron, I did know that my registration was expired. It slowly started to come to me... I remembered Steve saying something about going to get my car registered, but he couldn't for some reason... because something wasn't done right... the inspection? Had my car not passed? Well yeah, that also happened but it was something else...

"You have an outstanding Fast Lane violation you haven't paid yet," said Officer Intimidation.

Ugh. Now I remembered. Steve had been begging me to look into that notice I had gotten for going through the toll without a Speedpass. Only I had a Speedpass, so I was convinced I was innocent and saw no reason to actually contact them. They would figure it out.

He was nice enough to "let me go" with my illegal car, but still issued me a $100 ticket, and then told me that I was too honest telling him the whole story about my husband begging me to pay the violation so he could register my car and that that was the only reason it wasn't registered and I was so so SO sorry and I would go home and do it right away but it's Friday and I don't think I can do it online this late at night and I have to work all weekend so I have to drive my car but what if I get pulled over again? I was so confused- hadn't I been taught my whole life by my parents, teachers and other generally decent human beings that it was always better to tell the truth than to tell a lie? Was he fining me for my registration being outdated or taking up too much of his time truthtelling?

Just to put me more into shock, he told me that although he was giving me a ticket, I should appeal it and appear in court and LIE and tell them I didn't know it was expired and they would drop the fine. This really confused me because if the whole point of all of this is to get them to drop it, shouldn't you just not give me a ticket right now and save all of us the extra time and paperwork?!

So cut to four months later, I'm due to appear in court for my hearing at 11:15. So naturally I start panicking at 9:00. My first dilemma was, what to wear? How does one dress for a traffic hearing? My goal was to look nice enough that they could tell I wasn't a delinquent but not so nice that I looked like I had enough disposable income to afford a $100 ticket. But I was weary of overdressing and looking like I was trying too hard to look innocent. I settled on dark jeans, black ankle boots, and longish white tank and a cropped black jacket with pearl detailing on the edges.

I headed over to the Framingham District Courthouse an hour early. From what I've heard, these things take an insanely long time and it helps to be punctual. But of course it was POURING. Not just like raining, but like movie rain hose from the sky pouring. Luckily I had my Gap trench and new clear bubble umbrella to chicly shield me from the weather, however parking was another story.

When I pulled up to the lot, it appeared that not only was it full, there was a sign that said "Employes Only." Weird, I thought. How could that many people work in this small building? And where is everyone else supposed to park? I continued on, circling the perimeter of the building. The street adjacent to the courthouse appeared to serve as additional parking, but the sign said there was a parking ban that only permitted people to park on the odd side of the street. I looked around. People were clearly parked on both sides of the street! I knew I couldn't take my chances and inched into a space on the odd side. Parking on the incorrect side of the streets and ignoring the signs when it's clearly marked is something that only happens to you once. Or in my case, twice.

After my minor parking dilemma, I tried to mentally prepare myself with my story for when I took the stand. At this point I was about a half an hour early and still feeling okay, until I realized that my two index fingers had NO nail polish on them all, while my other eight digits were polished with shiny red glitter. I forgot that were majorly chipped yesterday and I peeled them off with the intention to repaint them prior to my hearing. This did not look good. If having an unkempt manicure isn't a sign of disorganization I don't know what is. Good thing I always carry a small bottle of nail polish remover with me in my little purse emergency kit.

BUT IT WAS GLITTER! Red glitter. It took me a solid 15 minutes to get all of it off. Now I would only be 15 minutes early. Also I smelled like rubbing alcohol. What if the judge thought I was ingesting it in order to flush illegal narcotics out of my system to pass a drug test? I hear that's what the kids are doing these days.

And what was I going to do with all the nail polish remover soaked tissues? I couldn't leave them in my car. It would ruin my new car smell. I didn't see any trash cans in sight and there was no way I was going to litter because it's totally against my beliefs. Also there were tons of cops around, but that's besides the point. I figured I would just have to put them in pocket and throw them away inside.

I hustled down the sidewalk to get into the building, getting splashed by giant waves of water with every car that passed by. Nice. I rushed into the building only to be confronted by a giant body scanner/metal detector thing. Were they serious? I plunked my oversized purse down on the conveyor belt and stepped through, setting off the detector immediately. I couldn't believe it. In all the years since I became a bionic woman (i.e. had a titanium rod put in my back) I have never set off a metal detector, even though there have been a few times I wanted to for some strange reason. "It's probably your shoes," the security guard said. Fat chance, I wanted to tell him, as I buy pretty much all my shoes at Payless and they are clearly plastic.

So I had to stand there with my arms and legs spread as he waved that little wand around me, while his buddy over at the machine informed me he had to check my purse. Of course he has to check my purse. It was then I realized that in my state of frantic nail polish removal that I had torn through my bag, leaving it completely disheveled and unorganized. As he started poking around, I could clearly make out that my bag seemed to be exploding tampons everywhere. Not only were there feminine hygiene products in plain sight, but I seemed to be hoarding all of my electronic devices in my bag as well. "Just make sure you keep that camera inside your bag when you're in there," he warned. Right, because this was a day I really wanted to remember. Also, my laptop cord was hanging out, which I was pretty sure he was going to consider it a weapon and confiscate it. For some reason he let me go, and even offered to hold my sopping wet umbrella for me.

He told me to head up the stairs to registration for my paperwork. What was this, freshman orientation? They were the ones who told me to be there at a certain time. Weren't they just expecting me? I raced up the cold metal staircase and found myself in a bustling courthouse like you see on TV dramas. The floors were marble, which only exaggerated how many people were rushing around there as you could hear every step they took. Every office had one of those wooden doors with the big glass windows on them.

After finding my way through registration, the woman told me to head up to the second floor. But I had already went up a flight of stairs to get here. Aren't I on the second floor now? Whatever, I didn't want to ask anyone, as nobody seemed particularly friendly.

Finally I made it to the second floor even though I was convinced I was really on the third floor. Maybe this is one of the ways they get inside your head and break you down so you confess. I took a seat in front of hearing room 4 and awaited my fate. But I couldn't stop myself from staring at everybody who walked by, wondering what horrible things they have done to end up here.

It was then I realized I still had all those tissues in my pockets. I scanned the room for a trash can, trying to stand as close to it as possible in order to minimize people witnessing me tossing out multiple red stained tissues, which I had just realized probably didn't do much to convince anyone of my innocence.

The sign on the door said "Quiet- Court In Session," but the building was so echoey there was no way I would be able to hear my name called. Oh God, I realized, I have to pee. I always have to pee when I get nervous. But it was already 11:10. What if I missed my time and was automatically found guilty? I would just have to hold it.

A woman leaned to take a drink at the water fountain beside me. I looked over and she was wearing handcuffs. HANDCUFFS. She was in a total mom sweater and looked like someone that would bake cookies for your local PTA. Hardly seemed like a criminal, but was being escorted by a police officer nonetheless. She was still smiling though! This place was insane.

Across from me, an elderly gentleman was being spoken to by an attorney about whether he meant to intentionally steal something from someone. He looked like he could have been my grandfather. Oh dear God, please get me out of here, I begged in my head.

It was then I noticed that a bunch of other people seemed to have lawyers accompanying them into their hearings as their names were called. For traffic hearings? Was I supposed to get a lawyer? Or should I have been studying up these past four months with online law courses to learn how to defend myself a la Bringing Down the House?

I started to feel lightheaded. Probably from inhaling all that nail polish remover in the car, but I was beginning to debate booking it out of there and just paying the $100 fine.

Everyone that was there was on opposite sides of the wardrobe spectrum. There was not one person who was in the middle (except for me, of course). People were either decked out in sweatpants and Ocean State Job Lot athletic sweatshirts or they were in full suits. There was one guy in a navy suit with an aggressively green dress shirt that made him look like the Joker. Not a great way to prove you're not a criminal, buddy.

Oh jeez, now a baby is crying. This had to be what hell feels like.

Finally, my name was called. I grabbed my stuff and bolted into the room, which looked oddly like an academic classroom in an old building. There was no bench, no judge, no jury- not at all like what I was expecting. Just me, a police office and a clerk sitting at a desk.

As the officer read my offense, I tried to remind myself in my head what my story was. Don't say too much, I reminded myself. Don't tell the truth, the whole truth so help you God. Just say, "I didn't know."

"So did you fix this online?" the officer asked after he finished reading.

"Yes," I said. "I tried to do it that night but it was Friday so they wouldn't let me do anything until Mon-"

"So it's all set then."

"Um yes. It was all set on Monday. And I ended up getting a new car like a week later so I had to reregister anyway." Too much?!

"Well then," he said. "Aren't new cars nice?" Wait, was he mocking me? It almost sounded like he was implying I was a spoiled housewife who was just sitting around, waiting for her husband to buy her a new Bentley. I had to defend myself against his unfair judgements!

"Yeah but it wasn't just like, a new car, I mean, I really needed it. It's the first new car I've ever had. My old car was almost 11 years-"

"Okay you're all set. You can go."

"Oh. That's it?"

"That's it."

And just like that, it was over. After days of preparing my alibi, selecting the most court-worthy ensemble, and having mini panic attacks for the past 3 hours, I was a free woman. I flew out of that courthouse, grabbed my umbrella, and got the hell out of there. And I vowed never to return.

So the moral of the story is, stay on top of your crap. Don't end up a cautionary tale like me. And apparently, lying to a police officer is okay.

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