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 were police lights whirring 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 drive on by all this mess, 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 run right? Or maybe he was about to try to park. 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. Too late to back behind him now, 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 mentally intuited that I might question whether a cop in South Central L.A. 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 "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 that'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 take a ticket to see. I'll probably also cry--which I don't look forward to. I cry way too easily. 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 when I cry, 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 get a lot of real suffering. My life is not really hard--I make it hard, and worry a lot about it becoming hard, I create the hard with my career choice and my existential angst, but hell--I'm lying in bed on a Saturday morning writing this blog.
On Thursday I boycotted my car, and rode 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 is a two bus route--but the buses come every 8-15 minutes for most of the day, so it's a safer bet. I've always taken the first, but decided that with my new, heavy bus use commitment, I should do the second.
Here's and interesting thing I learned about the L.A. bus system: They used to have these things called "transfers" so that if you had to take multiple buses, or if you needed to make a stop--hop off one bus to go a store, then get on the next one to continue to your grandmother's house, your 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 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 about 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 expect a lot of people feel exactly how I feel.
(That's why I always feel a flush of connection when I ride the bus that I rarely feel in my car. I look at the guy asleep in his seat, and I get it. I've been so tired, and so happy to be sitting and resting, and I can, in a vague way imagine his life when he gets off the bus. That Audi with the tinted glass, on the other hand, that races by me (passing on the right) on the freeway. I can't get into how their feeling. I mean, judging from how they drive, I can imagine, but what I imagine doesn't make me more compassionate toward that person.)