Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Lesson in Civics; Principal vs Economics

A few weeks ago, I received a traffic ticket for disregarding a posted highway sign.  To be clear, I did ignore it following a bunch of other cars doing the same thing.  We all got tickets.   The whole situation felt like a bit of a scam -- the intersection was very confusing, the traffic patterns change daily due to construction, and the police officer was a dick -- literally.  And less than two hours after I got the ticket, the sign I violated was gone and the whole intersection was back to normal.

After a few days, I checked on the Ramsey County Court's site and found that this breach of the law would cost me $131.  Given I have a pretty clean driving record, I almost succumbed to the temptation to just drop a check in the mail.  But I wanted to tell someone, anyone what a scam I thought the whole thing was so I called the court.  I was given an appointment to appear before a hearing officer to plead my case.

I spent a few years in the criminal justice system decades ago and there was no such thing as a hearing officer.  You either paid the fine by mail or you appeared in court before a judge to plead your case.  Unless the policer officer was a complete idiot and/or the judge was having a bad day, that court appearance was usually a waste of your time.  As police officers, we were paid to be there, and I always enjoyed the theatre that was traffic court.

Visiting the Ramsey County Courthouse is actually pretty cool because it is an amazing art-deco building.  I got there early and wandered around and would have taken pictures if were not for the Ramsey County deputy who reminded me that photographs were not allowed for security reasons.  Apparently, al-Qaeda must have its eye on something here.  Waiting for my appointment was fascinating in and of itself given the cast of characters present hoping to walk away with driving records intact.  There were several well heeled women who were clearly uncomfortable sitting with the rest of us flotsam, several guys chatting loudly in Arabic, and an older guy who reeked of alcohol.

When my name was called, I didn't recognize it at first because the hearing officer was Hmong and the English language was not his strong suit.  As we entered his office, I presented my ticket and drivers license and after some work on his computer, he tells me I have three options.  I'm thinking -- wait, when does the hearing start? When do I get to plead my case?  It felt like talking to the finance guy at the car dealer when he's laying out the options he wants to sell you, the ones you really don't need.

In broken English, he presents my options:

A.  Take a court date in March of 2013.  I could plead my case before the judge but would have to pay     $100 in court costs regardless of the outcome.  The extended warranty option.
B.  Pay $231 and plead not guilty.  The ticket goes away, my license stays clear and nothing is reported to my insurance company.  When I inquire as to why this option costs $100 more, I am told that this pays for the Ramsey County Attorney waiving the charge. He tries to close the deal by saying "This best option. Keep record clear."  The paint sealant option.
C. Plead guilty and pay a reduced fee of $82 and have 1 point added to my license.  The mudflaps you don't want but are already installed option.

Now, I went down there because I felt the ticket was crap on principal alone.  But faced with the cold hard economic facts, I chose option C.  It costs me less out of pocket today and hopefully my insurance company will take pity on me.  My hearing officer says "Best option.  Very cheap".

He could make way more money as a car dealer finance guy.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry"

No truer words written (originally from Robert Burns) can describe my life in the past 24 hours. For the past year, I have been scheming about taking a trip -- something long and epic, that would provide memories to sustain me as I sit drooling in some old age home. My plan is to drive from Dead Horse, Alaska to Ushaia, Argentina, a distance of some 12,000 + miles -- essentially from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the tip of South America.

I was planning the first leg of the trip this year to commence after spending a few weeks in Washington State working a bike trip. Linda and I were going to take the ferry north towards Skagway and then drive the Dalton Highway to Dead Horse. From there, we would head south through Banff and back to St Paul. The next leg from Mexico south would start, probably in 2013.

To make this journey, I had purchased a 2011 Tacoma last year and spent a fair amount of time making it into a vehicle in which we could live comfortably for extended periods -- refrigerator, dual battery system, upgraded suspension and bumpers, a winch -- and a comfortable sleeping area. I used and tested most it last year on multiple trips west, and it all worked amazingly well, sometimes serving as luggage hauler, ambulance and home away from home.

Unfortunately, it was totaled yesterday afternoon as I was headed to work a shift at the Minneapolis Convention Center. While sitting at a light, I was rear ended by a Jeep Cherokee that police estimate was traveling at about 50 mph. After I got out of my car, the driver of the Jeep took off running down the street. One of his passengers was on the ground complaining of a broken leg and the other was clutching her arm, screaming. She too ended up running down the street after the driver. I attempted to chase them both down on foot but given the driver's head start and the guy laying on the ground screaming, I turned back to care for him. It turned out to be a good choice.

After calling 911, the fire department and the paramedics were on the scene quickly, treating the injured. One of the police officers informed me that both the driver and the passenger had been followed by a tow truck driver and taken into custody. After they were brought back to the scene, one of the officers tells me that the Jeep had just been used in a robbery of some sort, and they had been escaping the scene when I was hit. The Jeep was demolished, the engine pushed back into the passenger compartment and all the airbags deployed. When the driver was brought back to the scene, it was evident that he was able to run away uninjured due solely to his rather high level of intoxication.

My truck suffered extensive damage to the rear end. The cap was shoved off the bed rails, the drivers seat back was broken, and we discovered that the frame is twisted all the way to the cab. Aside from a little bit of stiffness 24 hours later, I walked away uninjured. I owe a little of that to the over sized bumper I had installed, and the rest to luck.

I can salvage most of the work to the truck and will hopefully find a replacement soon. I am scheduled to leave for Utah and points west for the beginning of the 2012 tour season in less than three weeks, and I will get there somehow.

As for Prudhoe Bay this year, who knows? Maybe this is a sign that, instead of doing the trip in sections, I should throw caution to the wind and take the year or two to do it in one trip. Whatever happens, I was reminded that while plans can be made, they can just as easily be undone.

"The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination."
Don Williams, Jr.

Amen to that!!!