I just got off the phone from a conversation with my brother, Tom. He lives out in a little California town called Healdsburg. I am not a fan of California. As a matter of fact I think that there is a problem with that whole place, California, Arizona, Nevada, et al. I think the sun out there is too strong for human beings, and that it works strange things on their brains after a while. That’s why I worry about my brother, and caution him when we speak to get plenty of shade. I’d prefer it if he never went outside until after sunset. It causes problems, not the least of which is melanoma.
They have a lot of problems in California, and if someone wanted to do the work, I’d bet that they’d find out they were all caused by too much sun on people’s domes, caused by that and too many people in one place, too. I was out there not too long ago and saw some of the problems, all caused by too many people, too much sun. You think China has traffic jams?
Anyway, that’s what my brother is talking about in our conversation, driving and what can happen when you do. He tells me the story of his Day in Traffic Court. It all starts with him coming off the 101, that’s one of the fabled California Freeways (not so free after all) running nearby where he lives, and making a turn off the ramp. While he does that he has his picture taken running a light which had been yellow when he started to turn but wasn’t while he was turning. So, he gets this letter with a very nice picture of himself attached and an invitation to join some other folks for Story Time With the Judge…200 other folks it turns out.
The judge starts out by telling every one how tough it is for him; he has no discretion about the fines he’ll assess since the legislature in its wisdom, unable to raise taxes, has raised fees and fines to finance the State Givernment (I’ll let the typo stand) and keep themselves employed manufacturing hot air in Sacramento. Then the bailiff begins to call folks up to for what I have named the Rite of Plead or Pay. Tom is not paying too much attention to this. He’s there to get in and get out, just like everyone else; to get back in the sun and have it work its old devil magic on his brain.
But then, he says, he begins to notice a trend developing. He notices the judge as he questions the miscreants before him in orderly ranks assembled offering something Tom has not known is available during the Rite, a change in the rubric. The judge would ask the citizen, “How do you plead to (name a traffic offense)?” The citizen would answer guilty in the vast majority of cases. (Tom says there are only twenty people who pleaded innocent of the complaint and choose to go to trial at a later date.)
Now things get very interesting because the judge asks, after a whopping fine has been assessed, if the defendant has the money (check, cash or credit card) to pay the fine. One fellow, whom he remembers is there for three separate offenses in one incident, and gets a $2400.00 fine, replies that he does not. So the judge offers him a payment plan. Neither can the citizen do this; $100.00 a month, he says, is beyond his means. The proof of that is the fact that the fee for a driver’s license is also beyond the fellow’s means. Well, you might think, the judge is stymied, and the only thing he can do is order the man to the calaboose. I know I think so when I hear this story.
Not so, not so, Pilgrim. This is California, and they are ahead of the curve, or the eight-ball; you choose. As your man says, he places himself at the mercy of the court, and the court, merciful as all get out, offers, suggests, pleads(?) with the fellow to take the option of …TA DA!…Community Service. With a speed approaching light the offer is accepted and the fellow walks away…into the sun light.
My brother listens as one person after another is unable to pay the whopping fine set by the solons for traffic offenses of all kinds, pleading everything under the sun as a reason. This does not fail to have an effect on my brother who tells me that when his turn before His Honor comes that he is prepared to go as high as $150.00. But, when he hears the number, five-hundred and eighty dollars, American, he is suddenly aware that he would like nothing better to do than accept the offer of Community Service to the State of California and all its people. Offer made and accepted, Tom steps aside and joins the growing line of service oriented, and poor, citizens.
Shortly after he has made a public confession of his penury, he tells me, a nice, very well dressed lady from a very well-t0-do suburb in the County appears, receives her own back-breaking fine and is, as are most of the people, quite incapable of paying it. Community Service is recommended. Guess what? She takes it, too. I have a picture of the judge, near despair, his head in his hands simply repeating those two words over and over and over until the courtroom empties and all is quiet.
In answer to my question, Tom tells me he hasn’t any idea about community service, what it is, or where and when it will have to be performed. He does say that the state has the cleanest roadsides he’s ever seen. The thought occurs to my mind that he will have more work in the sun than is good for his mental health. I worry about him. I worry about them all. Pray for them.
Here’s a PS: Tom says that only three people pleaded guilty, and did not take the Community Service option. They are sent to jail. One of them is a Mexican fellow who can not speak English, has no job, no money and no drivers license. He and the other two are probably the smartest ones in this whole mess. They get three hots and a cot, and they stay out of the sun.