Coats Off, Belts Off, Pants Pockets Empty

By Larry Teren

“Coats Off, Belts Off, Pants Pockets Empty” is a familiar enough refrain when you stand in a security check line at the airport. It also happens to be the same greeting you hear when going to court- in this case, traffic court. But first, let’s roll the tape back to the scene of the crime. (Yes, that’s the way the law enforcement officials treat you now-a-days- as a criminal unless you kill someone- then you’re given all the rights.)

It’s Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving and I’ve just dropped ma off at her house after taking her shopping. I head back north to go to another store to pick up items that are cheaper than at the first location. I am driving on a street on which I’ve traveled literally thousands of times over the past forty-five years. Four blocks from ma’s house there is a grammar school. There is also an extra set of stop signs which otherwise would not normally be needed one full city block from a major intersection containing stop lights.

As usual, I turn on the radio to a sports jabber station and begin to listen to the sometimes glib conversation. I approach the stop sign a little short so I make a kind of jerky quick stop and continue on. As the car goes a half block away, the next thing I see is a police SUV with flashing lights ablaze chasing me down. It is at this moment I feel like O J Simpson thinking how to hide the glove.

I pull the car over, shut off the engine and wait for the copper (yeah- you wanna make something of it?) to approach the driver side window. She is a female representative of the union, the type you’d see on an overnight edition of Latina Girls Gone Wild on television. Who is gonna argue with her?

She smiles and politely explains that I have run a stop sign. I politely (well, she is packing a gun and I ain’t) explain that I stopped but maybe it looks from afar that I hadn’t. So she invites me to get into her SUV and watch the video of the event. Naturally I take up her offer but make sure as I step up into the back seat of the van that I keep one foot on the street. (Don’t want to give her a chance to lock me in. Then, who knows what she does?)

The video clearly shows that I “kind of” rolled through the stop sign. She gives me that sweet smile again and says that I should go back to my car while she processes this. I go back and have several thoughts. The most prevailing is to just take the ticket, pay it and hope that there is a traffic safety test I can take over the Internet which results in a clean record.

Her partner, a tall handsome, graying at the temples dude comes out of the SUV and approaches me with ticket in hand. Knowing that I now may talk mano a mano, I beg the guy to forget about it, that I’ve traveled this route for more than forty years and this is the first time I ever got nailed. He says he can’t because it happened next to a school. I reply that school is not in session because of the holiday. He then says that he is training Maria (we’ll call her that because if I’m casting her for a movie, it would be perfect) and if he liberates me she would complain to their supervisor that he let the gringo off the hook.

I take a look at the ticket and see that I have to go downtown and appear in court as well. I ask why and the copper says that the new rule is that all stop sign tickets require an appearance in court. I later learn that this gives them the right to tack on court costs onto the fine for a city desperate to meet a fifty million dollar hole in the budget.

My next ploy is to throw out the name of a fellow I know connected with the police department who is also from the area and well known to all the officers. The office said, “yes- talk to him and maybe he can tell you how to get to court.” Rats!

As I say, “Coats Off, Belts Off, Pants Pockets Empty”, is the refrain as I stand in line to get past security and on a bench waiting for the 10:00am traffic court docket. I am also waiting for my lawyer, a friend who also happens to be a local politician whom I think may be pals with the judge and/or corporation counsel. As it turns out the judge doesn’t know him. Neither does the eye candy corporation counsel although she speaks excellent Spanish.

About the judge- the court appearance is scheduled for December 30. At least seven justices call in taking a sick day or otherwise they lose it with the new year. This means that the judges who do show up have to do double or triple duty going quickly from room to room to handle the overflow docket. That puts my judgie wudgie in a lousy mood and not looking to liberate anyone from his fine.

When my case is called, His Honor asks if the copper who gave me the ticket is present in the court room. Maria quickly rises. Judgie wudgie notices what I had when I am propositioned with the ticket and instantly smiles. My political lawyer buddy immediately senses the same thing I do and asks to throw his client to the mercy of the court. I look both ways trying to figure out if he means me or another customer. My lawyer looks at me and then the judge and indicates that we are willing to plea guilty and take “supervision”. That’s when I find out about the $100 court costs besides the fine.

I ask Perry Mason what supervision means. He explains that normally if I plead guilty I have to return four months later and prove to the court that I have not received any other ticket. If so, they then erase the ticket from my record. However, with “supervision”, it means that because I bring with a lawyer who knows the law, I am permitted to avoid a return visit and just behave for the next four months.

As for paying the fine and court costs- if by credit card, I have to tack on another five percent. Luckily, I bring a checkbook. For the record, this is the breakdown of the actual payout:

Fine- $100
Additional MFC $104
Court Services $25
Court Automation $15
Document Storage $15
Supervision Fee $35

Now you know why they want stop sign rollers to come to court. No explanation of MFC. Why am I paying for their automation and storage as well as to supervise myself? Makes you wonder who the real perpetrators are.

Now when I come to a stop sign, I do a full stop, wait 10 seconds or as long as it takes for the guy behind me to honk or flip me off. As for going through security lines at airports, I’ve started a new business called “Rent-a-wheelchair”. But that’s another story.

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