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Wednesday
Aug272008

Tickets for the Teacher

Dear Mary Beth:  How was your first day in the classroom after a year away?

Well!

Day jobs are bad; returning to a day job after a year without one is hideous.  You've experienced life on the full freelance side, and then... oh, sorry, you shall return to the Land of Other People now.

I'm teaching college again, because the national IQ has risen a point and a half since 2007 and we can't have that.  Also, we ain't got no money.  Back into the pantyhose for you, Master Ellis.

The university hired me maybe five minutes before my first class started, and since the educational theme of my MFA program was "Have Some Proust, and Also a Bong Hit," it took some time for my transcripts to arrive, and the department refused to process my paperwork without it, as I was clearly some sort of security and intellectual property threat.  This meant that I began the semester with no campus ID,  no parking tag, no BlackBoard login, no email address, and no stack of syllabi.  The only thing I was deemed fit for was to enter the classroom and teach.

So I did, and everybody got out alive, and I was in a relieved enough mood at the end of it all that I complimented one student on her footwear and let another in front of me in traffic, even though it was one of those obnoxious two lanes-narrowing-down-to-one affairs in which ninety percent of motorists start switching lanes when instructed to, and the remaining ten percent fubar the entire thing up by zooming down to the absolute point of merge and then sit there with the turn signal on, all, "Oh, goodness gracious me, where did this come from?"

Here's how traffic niceness is repaid:  A friendly wave from a state trooper on an interstate exit ramp.  The sides of the roads were littered with stopped cars, and I lowered the window:  Perhaps all college teachers entering the classroom without a syllabus were, as I feared, cited.

"You look confused," the officer said.

"That's absolutely nothing new."

As it happened, I was a single occupant in an HOV lane during HOV hours.  I looked around and pointed out that I was not, in fact, in a "lane," but an exit ramp, which lacked any indication whatsoever that I was not permitted to drive there.  I've seen HOV lanes on the Beltway; they're marked every four inches with eleventy-seven signs and warnings and diamonds and screaming animated figures and what have you, but on this ramp... nothing.  His explanation was that the entire road was considered HOV at rush hour:  all lanes, exit ramps, roadkill, everything.  I asked where a sign might point this out, and he instead asked for my registration, indicating that this was, perhaps, free-floating Beltway knowledge I was simply supposed to acquire via inhaling, like which Metro lines always run late, or which bars are best for chatting up an Assistant Deputy to the Under-Secretary's Secretary.

I attempted to communicate all this by crying very, very hard, which for some reason failed to accurately explain my position.  The officer, clearly just trying to help, asked me to roll up my window halfway.  He fitted a lightreading device over the side.

"Are you aware that this degree of tint is illegal in the state of Virginia?"

I know approximately as much about tint as I do about stealth HOV lanes, and told him so, and also explained that I'd purchased the car used, tint and all, in Florida, where apparently people drive about willy-nilly with 27% tinted windows, the entire state thisclose to anarchy.  He pointed to my license and reminded me that I'd been living in Virginia for several months, and shouldn't I have taken care of this by now?  And I stared at the steering wheel instead of saying what I wanted to say, which was that it was kind of difficult to take care of something illegal when YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW IT'S ILLEGAL, it's not as if I were operating an off-shore money laundering account and was then stunned at the news that the IRS might want to ask me a couple questions about it.  And he told me to drive safely and left me there with my two tickets, three month's worth of adjunct income in the passenger seat.

At least I wasn't alone in the car anymore.

I called my husband, who could, of course, do absolutely nothing:  "I don't understand what you're saying," he told me as I sobbed the story and my First Day Teacher Makeup all over my cellphone.

"I said, 'WE'RE *&^@ED,'" I screamed.

I don't drive a limo-dark BridesMobile, or carry a concealed weapon beneath that tint, or hate on cops, or break laws, unless I'm perhaps taping the daily Incredible Abs Workout off the DVR.  So that makes me wonder:  What's it like to have the type of job which is, in part, dedicated to just absolutely ruining people's days, upending budgets for months on end and ginning anxiety attacks?  Were there no openings in the collections department at MediCare?  He didn't know that the only reason I was on that road was because our upside-down mortgage won't be met without the job I was returning from, or that my mother had been in the hospital for the past four days, or that I was having Ladies Time.  Although I'm thinking he guessed about the Ladies Time.  All of this should not matter.  And alone in the HOV lane, it does not.

I'll think of that every time I hand down a very well-deserved F- over the next four months.

court date at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

tip the bartender

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Reader Comments (22)

Oh LORD! Poor YOU!!!!!!

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKris

Oh MB,

What a horrible man. He should have given you a warning. I am so sorry you had a horrible cop.

I hope the second day of school goes better. I'll send some chocolate as I am sure sending wine across state lines is somehow illegal.

KB

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKell Belle

Good gracious. What a jerk.

I'm so sorry.

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmy P.

I'm so sorry for your experience. Sometimes it feels like the laws are designed to screw with the people that are honest enough to actually obey them.

And there are days when I wonder if "honest" is not a synonymous of "stupid"; but then again, because most people here in Mexico think that way, is that the country is a XXIst century version of the Wild Wild West :-(

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Oh, Woe. Sorry. I did not pray specifically for no rude cops or HOV lanes unmarked.

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma

I just can't believe how ridiculous those two tickets are! I'm so sorry for you :(

Please at least go to the court appearance. Believe it or not, most courts are willing to deal with first-time offenders. Think of it as a way to sharpen your bargaining skills too. It's kind of like the students who bargain with their professors for their grades!

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCollegeGal

Oh MB,
I can soooooo relate to this! I was on my way to school on Thursday morning of the first full week with students and was pulled over by a small-town Arizona cop who had attitude leaking out his ears. He proceded to inform me that I was somehow miraculously going 20 miles over the speed limit on a road that passes a gigantic Wal-Mart distribution center. How I managed that with the row of semis waiting to turn into the drive in front of me is beyond me. He then chastised me about the children waiting for the school bus who were somehow at risk because of me and my Saturn. Never mind that they were three lanes away from me, and that I was not going anywhere near 20 miles over the speed limit. He tersely gave me a ticket, which killed my budget for the next two weeks, and then reminded me that I better make sure I get it taken care of before the due date or my license would be suspended. He chuckled as he said it.
I haven't had so much as a warning since moving to Arizona four years ago. My last ticket in any state was nearly 10 years ago. I think I'm still in shock.
Why do they seem to enjoy picking on those of us who are just trying to make a living, and who are otherwise contributing members of society?????

I'll never understand.

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWiserlemming

That SUCKS. You certainly don't strike me as the type of person who would enjoy mowing down small children. And I'm especially sorry to hear that this happened in such a nice state as AZ.

"Why do they seem to enjoy picking on those of us who are just trying to make a living, and who are otherwise contributing members of society?"

I think that's what pisses me off the most about this. I kept wanting to say, "Dude... really, *I'm* not the problem here."

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

He was short, wasn't he, the Cop.

Our little Village is lousy with short cops. All rejects from the NYS Troopers because of their munchkin-like height. They're just pissed-off from the start. Even in their high heeled boots...

They should all explode, as my dear friend, Tom Fanella used to dismiss such situations with. God rest his much missed and very funny soul.
Sigh.

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjonna

You said it perfectly. I teach third grade. I am forever begging my students to always, always, always look both ways before they cross the street, be very careful as they walk to and from school, and use both their eyes and their ears to help keep them safe. I want to protect them, not mow them down with my car.

Your response to my question was exactly what I wanted to say to that cop too!!! He looked at my record; he knew I was not out getting into trouble. He just thought he was some sort of superhero. He couldn't even take his sunglasses off long enough to talk to me. It was rather like talking to Arnold Schwartzenegger's character in The Terminator.

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWiserlemming

After what happened to MB, and also http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article4572064.ece" rel="nofollow">this past sad (or ridiculuous if you prefer) little incident, my respect for American police officers is diminishing.

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Wow, they give the tint gizmos to the patrol guys. You must be rolling in a real high rent district if the PD has that cool of toys.

Well, up here if you get the tint taken off we usually let it slide. And typically non-truckers with decent driving records can cut deals to keep a ticket off their records.

But you're in the South now, and they roll hard-core.

Good Luck!
(I fear you'll need it...)

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFlip

A ticket because your window was too tinted? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. "You have been in VA for several months." Um, and I'm sure you've responsibly spent those months looking up all the traffic/vehicle laws to make sure you aren't breaking any. Sheesh, if it's that important, they should give out-of-staters a nice little pamphlet warning you of these things when you register your car at the DMV.

August 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterj.s.

Oh, PS--And congrats on the new job. I know you probably didn't want it, but I'm cheering for you anyway.

August 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterj.s.

So, I had to take a while to digest all of these reponses before I said anything. First, I do respect your right to have opinions, and I do not want to take that away. But I must say, the cop bashing is really bothering me. You all sound like you had tough officers to deal with, but you should not be writing them all off because of this. Most state or highway patrol officers do not run a background check on every person they pull over. They only run them on people who act suspiciously. So for the most part, they do not know if you are a habitual speeder, if you've been written 10 fix it tickets for your tinting, or if you are really a nice law abiding citizen. Their focus is keeping the roads safe and keeping themselves safe while making traffic stops. I know it's hard to appreciate the work they do when you have just been given a ticket that makes your wallet hurt. But they are out there putting their lives on the line each day and I think they deserve more respect than they are getting here.

I love MB's posts, and I love reading everyone else's input, but this was something that just bothered me a little too much. MB, you are free to delete this post if you don't want it shared. But I couldn't sit here silent anymore.

August 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea

I will warn you from past experience- NoVA is not that friendly to first time offenders. Shortly after moving here I got a ticket. When I went to court, I discovered that the cop that pulled me over had to have his own courtroom that day because he had pulled over so many people.

I plead the charge down prior to trial. I'm glad now that I did. I spent the morning in court listening to the judge hear cases ahead of mine.

If you have a good driving record, I recommend bringing a copy and talking to the prosecutor (yes, there will be a prosecutor) before your trial. You may be able to work out a better deal with them then what you would get from the judge. I'm embarassed to admit my original ticket was for reckless driving (20 over the speed limit right off the exit from 66). The prosecutor dropped it down to a "regular" speeding ticket. Smaller fine, less points. When I got through the "trial" the judge was waiving the fine (which was small) but still giving the full points, even to soccer moms driving for 20 years with no prior tickets.

VA gives good driving points (one for each year you go without an accident or ticket). If you can "spare" the points, it may be better to take the fine. The state may be more forgiving than your insurance.

August 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlespsu

Chelsea, thank you for writing in. As the comments section mentions, polite disagreement is welcome here, and that's exactly what you've presented.

Let me explain a bit more about where I'm coming from. One of my nephews' grandfathers is a former cop, and my good friend Flip up there works in law enforcement. I have always held the police in high respect, which is one of the reasons why this bothered me so, because I've never ever experienced a situation like this. When I've gotten speeding tickets in the past, I've been pissed, but shut up and dealt with the consequences, because I was in the wrong, I KNEW I was in the wrong at the time I chose to speed, and that wrong could have put people in danger. This, however, was different. It was extremely frustrating to be punished for breaking laws I didn't even know I was breaking. That doesn't mean the law shouldn't be enforced, and so this post was about matters of right and wrong which are larger than two stupid tickets.

This was a negative experience, but it certainly doesn't mean I now hate all cops or think that the police are corrupt or out to get me. These folks are undertaking a tough, dangerous job which I could never do, and I respect that... but what happened on Tuesday really, really sucked. These tickets weren't about "making my wallet hurt," forcing me to forgo caviar for a week or two. These fines absolutely upend our budget at a time when we can least afford it, and while being in a tough financial spot right now doesn't mean I should be able to do whatever I want, it was devastating irony that I wouldn't have even been on that road had our budgetary circumstances not forced me to the job which took me there to begin with.

I understand the HOV rule is there to thin out traffic, and that the tinting law protects the officers from somebody busting out a Glock on a routine traffic stop. But it is infuriating to run up against this when I wasn't heedlessly breaking the law for my own benefit, like parking in a fire lane or speeding recklessly through a school zone.

I feel like the HOV issue was a "speed trap" type of situation, as there were MANY cars pulled over and I saw patrol cars there again on Friday, right before a holiday weekend. And the tint issue... again, I'm sitting there in a dorky Corolla with a registration which shows it was purchased in Florida and very recently brought to Virginia. I was clearly just a teacher on the way home from her job, bookbag and all, which in no way makes me immune from the law, but I drove away feeling like a criminal.

I'll pay the fines, of course, because I was, technically, in the wrong. But I don't see why the guy just could have given me a warning, which would have terrified the likes of me well enough. I'm sorry, but these were bullcrap tickets, and I respect the officer, but not his decisions in this matter.

August 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

MB, I am in no way saying what happened to you didn't suck completely. My comments were directed at everyone who was posting after you as well. The HOV thing sounds completely insane to me, because we don't deal with that where I live. I just wanted everyone to see that there are two sides. The cop you had was not friendly, or helpful. Most are not like him. Most, even out here in California, would have given you a warning on the HOV, and a fix it on the tinting. I am sorry you had a bad experience.

August 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea

Chelsea, I see where you're coming from. I'm very glad that you are one of my cherished The Readers, and wish everyone presented opinions as kindly and evenly as you do. Thank you for speaking up.

August 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

[...] truly repentant, all  “No seriously, I’m not going to sit around radiating little furor waves at that cop anymore.” (Please note that I’m not including this to start a big ol’ [...]

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBass Ackwards « Blonde C

[...] truly repentant, all  “No seriously, I’m not going to sit around radiating little furor waves at that cop anymore.” (Please note that I’m not including this to start a big ol’ [...]

October 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBass Ackwards « Blonde C

[...] the moment; half an hour to the north is Pike National Forest.  If I trusted my own driving–which, for good reason, I don’t–I could go there, just as I took myself to Leadville.  This is what I wanted so badly as a [...]

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