By A.J. Llewellyn
Current mood: grateful
Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am the type of guy who frets over so much as a parking ticket and will do anything to avoid trouble. So, when I was driving through Old Town Pasadena one day and was pulled over by one of the city's er...finest in very dramatic fashion, I was stunned. The cop who ambled over to my car however, was actually very nice.
"You haven't done anything wrong," he said. "Your brake lights aren't working."
He gave me a Fix-It ticket and I was on my way.
That's when my troubles started. The ticket never showed up on my record with DMV and I even drove to the local court in Pasadena several weeks later with the original citation and was told they couldn't do anything until the officer involved turned in his book.
"Keep checking the computer twice a week," the woman behind the thick, bullet proof glass told me once I reached her window. "It could take him up to a year to do it."
Well, two days ago, justice caught up with me. I received a bench warrant for my arrest and a ton of other wonderful stuff unless I paid the fee plus accumulated fines.
I raced down to the court house yesterday in total panic and found two lines forming.One for traffic violations, one for criminal. Lemme tell you we the traffic violators were a gnarlier looking crew than the criminal offenders. By the time I reached the window I'd played several games of "What did you do?" in my mind looking at the people around me. I soon realized justice in California has taken some weird detours.
My accumulated fines would cost me $1,500. I almost fell over.
"You can see the judge," the woman at the window told me, sounding bored. Judge? Sheesh. Was she talking about a trial? But I really had no choice. I don't have money to squander. Okay. I'll see the judge. She took my papers - including proof of correction on the tail lights - and I ambled toward the court. I took my seat in the back row. The place was packed. As people's names were called by the Bailiff, I moved closer to the front.
The judge was a gray haired, sweet-looking old guy. The type who would either be a real darling or a complete prick. I was thinking he veered somewhere near the latter as a very young girl stood before him. She was picked up for loitering in a park in Pasadena after sunset and had neglected to pay her fine. "$1,000 or 10 days in jail," he told her.
"I'll take jail," she said and was immediately taken through a side door and I imagine, the pokey. Now they were only up to the letter B in the alphabet and I freaked out completely. I went into the main lobby and called my best friend Gustavo.
"Help!" I screamed into my cell phone. I told him what happened. Gustavo used to be a cop and he told me the girl in question must have been a repeat violator.
"You're not going to jail, A.J. Calm down. And if you do go to jail, can I have your John Cassavetes DVD collection?" I hung up on him and went back into the court room.
Old Town Pasadena is a den of iniquity. I've never known so many people in a quiet, sleepy place to be doing so many naughty things. I was by now sitting beside a beautiful, very pregnant black woman who looked petrified.
The judge took a brief recess and I immediately started talking to everyone around me.
"What did you do?" I asked her. She stroked her belly. This gorgeous woman is from Eritrea, her very white, pale blond husband is German and they found themselves ticketed "For taking up too much space."
"This would never happen in Germany," he muttered.
"I can't pay the fine," she shrugged. "Because there is no code for what the officer ticketed me for."
She apparently was waiting for a bus with her hubby, surrounded by shopping bags and a cop strolled by and ticketed her for the shopping bags. Everyone around us was up on pretty minor stuff, most of them too, had never received their fine information in the mail.
Gustavo called me on my cell. A text: What's going on? Are you pets to be orphans? I ignored it. My lovely pal Tony texted me next. Is it true Christmas has been canceled?
Stepping outside, I called Tony back. "So what's going on in the court room?" he asked me. "Gustavo called me all frantic."
"I'm talking to the loveliest people," I told him. "The lady next to me--"
"A.J. can't you ever sit in a room and not find out everybody's life story? You're about to get hauled off to the Big House, mate!"
"No, I am not."
"Yes you are. You're going to be a nice little cupcake for some guy called Bubba."
I ended the call and went back to the courtroom. My new friend from Eritrea was standing before the judge.
He kept staring at the citation. "This is rubbish," he said, tossing the paper aside. "Case dismissed."
I turned and caught her anxious husband's gaze. I gave him a thumbs up. He was so happy, he gave me two thumbs up and rushed to escort his wife out of the room. I listened to a few more people with massive problems beg and wheedle with the judge. I tried not to think about owing favors to some guy called Bubba.
It was my turn soon and I stood, trying not to panic, trying not to think about going to the Big House for brake lights.
The judge smiled at me. "I'll accept this proof of correction. And I'll reduce your fine to...$80. Can you pay it today?"
"Yes," I said, thanking the gods and goddesses of cupcakes like me and ran from the court room to pay the fine in case he changed his mind and decided to make an example of me. Tony was on the phone as I was writing my check. I had a special piece of paper that needed to go to the DMV and I took possession of it, hurrying from the court house.
"I was just thinking," Tony said, when I called him back. "The Big House might be good for you. You'd find loads of inspiration for your stories there."
"Too late. I paid the fine."
"Oh, Mate! Bubba will be devastated!" he said.
I hung up on him. I drove out of Pasadena a free man, brake lights intact, seat belt on, trying not to think about cupcakes. Up ahead, my own Twilight Zone. A Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop, the big yellow light indicating they were cooking right now. Man can not live by good intentions alone.
Currently listening : A Lammas Ladymass - 13th and 14th Century English Chant and Polyphony By Plainchant Release date: 1998-09-01