This red-light district isn’t picture perfect
Parents have a lot of rules to follow when they haul kids around town; no swearing, no singing, and for goodness sake DO NOT attempt to participate in juicy backseat discussions … those are private! Plus we have to model good behavior for future drivers by following the rules of the road and maintaining a good driving record.
My record was looking good until the city of Redmond and new-fangled red-light camera technology threatened my credibility and dreams of never-ending driving lectures laced with sanctimony.
On an average rainy Thursday in October, I ferried my spawn on multiple errands that culminated with a trip to Target Greatland in Redmond. I approached the intersection without hesitation or pause to complete a perfectly legal right-hand turn at the suggestion of the illuminated green arrow above me.
We all noticed an unusual smatter of flashing lights and I distinctly recall saying; “that better not be for me!” and all of the children shared my affront.
To my eye and my stellar driving record, a violation was not only improbable, but impossible. Until I received a $124 ticket in the mail, complete with pictures of my car and a link to video at www.violationinfo.com. As if!
I watched the video until my eyes bled, increasingly concerned I had misremembered the circumstances. It wasn’t until Sweetie-Boy used his special eyes to point out the dim and tiny green arrow that fades to black AFTER I have already entered the intersection. The fight in me resurfaced, and I scribbled and mailed in a request for a contested hearing.
Like other Red Light Districts I have visited, the courtroom was poorly lit, drably decorated and its occupants immediately cast their curious eyes towards me when I accidentally threw open the doors. The smell of guilt and defiance was in the air. I made it just in time to hear the judge slaughter my name during roll call.
His Honor was quite pleased to announce that it was “reverse alphabetical order day.” With a last name that puts me smack dab in the middle of the alphabet, I failed to cheer and then worried that he had noticed my non-reaction. I believe he decided to punish me immediately by rewarding the guilty.
Jaded-looking lawyers in purple shirts and shiny ties stood up to request mitigation and fee reductions for their repeat offender clients, unrepentant red-light criminals copped to their violations in exchange for mitigation of their fines, followed by questionable tales of mistaken identity. Finally it was time for us boring alphabet dwellers to make our best case for innocence before the judge.
An older couple took their places at the defense table. The husband described the circumstances and explained that he has driven a car for over 40 years and had never had a violation. The attorney for the city asked the man to confirm if his testimony about the absence of flashing lights. Then the judge invited the couple to squint over his shoulder at the video screen on his desk, where he pointed out the flashing light shown in the video. Ouch.
The next guy tried to use legalese and technicalities to wiggle out; no dice. The guy right before me had slightly better luck because the judge pulled out the special sheet of white copy paper he uses to as a diviner of truth, a decider, the white line between innocence and a hefty fine. He glanced cynically at the defendant who widened his eyes and struck an innocent pose. Finally the judge said “you can say something, but you should know I am about to rule in your favor. Being the last defendant sitting was starting to look like a good luck charm for me.
I jumped up and walked towards the hot seat while explaining the correct pronunciation of my name. By the time I got there, the bailiff was suppressing a giggle. I tried to sit quietly as the judge pulled up the video of my alleged infraction. He asked if mine was the white van. What? I said mine was the innocent station wagon in front of the van. He squinted and frowned and cocked his head this way and that. Then he pulled out the dreaded white paper. After what felt like three life times of watching His Honor make minor adjustments to the paper as held it against his video screen, he asked the attorney for his opinion; “it’s close.”
As I opened my mouth to offer a little encouragement towards a ruling of innocence, the judge turned to me with a smile and said “I am about to rule in your favor, I could wait if you would like to say something.” Even I know when to shut up … for a second anyways.
I took a breath and waited for what seemed like an appropriate amount of time to make my innocence official. Then I started talking. I told the judge it would be impossible to reach any other conclusion because my expert witnesses had reviewed the video and were prepared to testify in my favor, but I couldn’t justify taking them out of school to appear in court. Then I asked if he could do me a teeny little favor that would help me sleep at night.
Now the bailiff was in full on giggle. I explained that during my in his courtroom I was distracted and had become obsessed with the asymmetrical placement of the flags against the wall behind him. I suggested both the courtroom ambiance and his image would be greatly enhanced if he could just move it to the left about 12 inches.
“Your left or my left?”
“Mine” I said.” No, wait, yours.”
He stood up, gathered his robe and bent down to grab the base of the flagpole, “tell me when.”
“Perfect! Actually, no. Maybe 6 more inches, now two more. Yes!”
And then we all silently admired the new vista.
After all, who doesn’t love a happy ending? Especially in the Red Light District … Court.
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