(A follow-up entry to My First Speeding Ticket)
There’s an old saying that high expectations lead to low results. Well, it’s not really an old saying so much as a mantra I use before entering a fitting room, or when dating. I recently had a date with the Van Nuys traffic court for a speeding ticket pulled straight out of Imagination Land aka Officer Stupid Face’s arse.
Armed with just my morning coffee and script supervisor’s recollection of the event, I marched into that courthouse ready to wipe my slate clean. About a half-hour passed before I marched right back out to put more money in my meter. For others who have never been to court, just know, when they tell you 8 AM, don’t expect that to mean you have your own special tea time with the judge. The 8 AM is a meeting time for you and 40 other disgruntled traffic violators, and let me tell you, LA county has a lot a kooky characters.
People of all races, job fields, and levels of physical attractiveness came together in that hallway, comparing violations and previewing their rehearsed objections. I almost joined in and shared as well, but though it best in this waiting hall to hide my gift of gab, like in Hunger Games. One stalky woman stomped around, shouting into her phone how ridiculous this whole thing was, how she had written proof that she wasn’t speeding. Perhaps she wasn’t intentionally making sure the entire floor could hear, but I’m pretty sure this is where the expression “Tell it to the judge” came from. I saw another woman, clearly on her way to work, wearing Baby Phat scrubs. I didn’t even know Baby Phat made scrubs but it’s good to know them nurses are keepin’ it real in style. A few others expressed how badly they hoped their cop wouldn’t show up so they could be dismissed. I’m no lawyer, but if I was, I would proudly point out that a real innocent would have nothing to hide. Then there was a young woman in a head-to-toe bright pink sweatsuit tapping her toe and glaring out the window at the cops entering the building.
"I sure know what Phillips’ face look like. If I see his ass, he in for a rude awakening," like a comic book villain instilling fear in all cops who dare cross the path of bright pink velour.
Over in another corner, a man foolishly revealed to his clique that he was a paralegal. Suddenly, the room swarmed around him, pressing him for legal advice.
With that, I realized I was just as lost as the rest of these folks. I could tell we all prepared basically prepared the same story to pitch to the same people who heard the same damn thing 80 times a day (there were another 40 in the afternoon session). What made me think I was so special?
I did what any adult does in panic mode and called my mommy, mainly because she works in a court house and could give me tips, but also because she’s my mommy. She talked me down a bit, told me not to worry, and no matter what, things would go fine. “And if they don’t, I’ll send you a cake with a saw in it.” Classic Mom.
We filed into the court house; all phones, tablets, and beepers, they specified, were to be turned off. No talking, no sleeping, no gum. It was much like school if school scared you absolutely shitless.
Not guilty, I reminded myself. Remember, you’re not guilty. I repeated it in my head as though it was my new shopping and dating mantra. A no-nonsense officer listed off the rules and code of conduct for the judge. Our options were “guilty,” “not guilty” and “no contest.” The first and the last options there are synonymous. Not guilty. You’re. Not. Guilty.
He called attendance for us, followed by attendance for the officers. Stupid Face was present, unfortunately. The Phillips guy, on the other hand, was not, and the Pink Velour Panther was free to go. Lucky bitch. I got to speak with my officer, where he showed me papers detailing the speed limit of the road I was on, and the manufacturing of the radar he used to clock me. That’s great, I thought. But I’m not guilty, Stupid Face. I almost gave him my whole story right then and there, but then remembered, Hunger Games, Lauren. Wait til we’re in the ring.
They called my name, and No Nonsense asked me how I intended to plead. “Not Guilty!” That exclamation point is misleading, however there’s just no punctuation available to describe a nervously whispered voice crack.
“You heard when I said there are very few successful “not guilty”s, right? Even with witnesses and photographed evidence. You realize should you lose with a not guilty, you forfeit your options for traffic school and a lowered fine?”
“Yes,” I squeaked. I’m not guilty. Look at this face, these eyes, this school teacher cardigan. How could I be guilty?
The judge called me to the stand. She skimmed through my paperwork, hassled me about not having a California License, then offered to lower my fine by $160 plus traffic school if I plead guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty.
I took a deep breath. “N—-no contest.” And that was that. I was dismissed, slightly less poor than when I went in, but slightly more chicken. Maybe it was what No Nonsense said to me about the success rate. Maybe I just felt it was the easy way out. Whatever it was, the lesson was learned. I drove home at five under the speed limit. Next stop, online traffic school. And maybe someday I’ll get a CA license.