About four weeks ago, I gave an impromptu $430 donation to the community of Fort Lee, New Jersey, a town I thought was named after the garrison of Korean noodle restaurants that circle downtown like bandwagons, but is instead named after General Charles Lee, the George Washington-appointed hero who defended New York City during the Revolutionary War. General Lee would be pleased to see that more than two centuries later, the town carrying his namesake remains heavily guarded, not by 18th century farmers-turned-soldiers, but by Fort Lee and Port Authority cops, lots and lots of beefy, burly, take-no-prisoners cops.
I had the pleasure of unexpectedly meeting one of these cops four weeks ago when I was in a right turn-only lane and was trying to squeeze my way into the straight-on lane at the base of a small hill. This is near the George Washington Bridge, it was a Wednesday at 5:30 pm and everyone was beeping their horns and flipping each other the bird in the mad quest to get home to their loved ones so they could nuke their dinners and watch TV as a family, the way our Founding Fathers envisioned American life when they defended this Great Land. Lane-changing is a no-no, and the whole incident was observed by four cops parked on top of this nearby hill looking to score some revenue for their town. And score they did.
I was given a ticket and a date with Justice, which occurred this past Wednesday. I had to attend court to prevent points from accruing on my license and to stop my car insurance from skyrocketing. So me and about 30 other law-breaking citizens stood in line for the prosecutor and then stood in line for the judge. The whole ordeal took more than two hours. During the process, I got into an argument with a 78-year-old man budging his way into the line. His name was Norman and he had a hand-drawn diagram to explain to the judge What Really Happened. Norman was very eager, yet old people should know never try to cut in when a working mother’s blood sugar is hitting the floor. That, my friends, old and young, is also a no-no.
If you ever want to see the underbelly of your community, go to traffic court. I can’t count how many times the judge had to tell some guy (and it was always a guy) that his license had been suspended for months on end and that the latest offense followed a long list of traffic offenses. And the response from the guy was always the same: “I didn’t know my license was suspended, Your Honor.” Yet, no one seemed really offended, because in the end, Fort Lee makes a nice chunk of change off these traffic offenses and everyone knows the offender will be behind the wheel offending again as soon as he pays the current offense. That’s how the world spins, apparently.
What bothered me is that my offense cost so damn much. I was in the wrong lane at the wrong time, only doing about three miles per hour because it was bumper to bumper, and while delivering my slap on the wrist, the judge kept referring to my “unsafe driving.” The guy who did 89 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone had to pay a far smaller ticket than I did. It takes some doing to cough up a spare $430. That dollar figure right there is about what we spent on a recent weekend to the Catskills. Both the officer who ticketed me and the court clerk said the judge was a “mellow” guy and that my polite manner would help in getting the fine reduced. What I learned Wednesday night was that none of that was true, a fine is a fine, and I could’ve been Mary Sunshine. The bottom line was that I owed Fort Lee $430. I just hope that moolah goes toward a public playground or an extra snow plow on the road should a blizzard hit. Maybe even something to benefit all those Koreans who run the noodle restaurants. Yeah. That would be good.