The day started pleasantly. I decided to join a Millburn friend for lunch in Maplewood, and would be driving to the town for the first time ever. Little did I realize that before any forks approached our mouths, I’d be gaping at a $180 traffic fine.
Driving to Maplewood was easy enough and my lunchmate had warned me that parking would be thin on the ground. I swung by her home to pick her up and, lo, as I approached Maplewood’s very attractive town center, the sole parking spot beckoned to me. All I had to do was wait for the oncoming traffic to ease up, or better still, a kind driver to allow me to proceed instead.
As it turned out, Maplewood drivers were no more generous than Montclair ones. A cop car then showed up, going the opposite way to me, and just waited. And waited. I waited, too, for surely his duties were more urgent than the impending union of my car and this inviting parking spot.
Finally, with the impasse looking ridiculous, I gave in, and, since I’d already indicated my intentions, turned left on the small two-way street, and parked with satisfaction in the spot. In my excitement over lunch and catching up, I hadn’t noticed a few salient signs earlier in my journey, reading “Don’t cross double lines,” or that I had traversed those very lines to park.
Thirty seconds later, I saw the flashing lights of the cop’s big SUV near my car, and a large policeman appeared in his full, alarming regalia of helmet, badges, gun, baton, and uniform. (I don’t know about you, but just the sight of the scary uniform is enough to keep me on the right side of the law.) More alarming still, he approached my window.
I wound it down.
“Can I help you, officer?”
“I need to see your identification, registration and insurance, please.”
Fumbling around in my overstuffed, multi-carded wallet and glove compartment nervously, I produce all three, including, unknowingly, my recently expired reg card. The renewed card still lay hidden in the wallet.
“Did you know you crossed the double line ma’am?”
“Er yes, officer, but I wasn’t sure how else to park in this spot.”
(To get into my son’s school in Montclair, incidentally, everyone traveling north has to cross the double lines.)
“There are signs telling you not to cross the lines. Where do you live?”
“Montclair, and this is my first time driving in Maplewood. I’m so sorry, I honestly didn’t see the signs!”
Cop goes away to check on my details and comes back to the window.
“Ma’am, your registration is expired.”
What?! I explain that my registration is up to date but that I can’t find my new card.
“I know you have the updated registration, maybe somewhere at home,” says the cop, who had already done his checks on my car. “But I’ve got to give you this ticket. You can contest it in court and if you produce your registration card, they’ll let you off with just court costs.”
Tough day’s work done, he turned on his heels and returned to his car.
I look at the ticket in shock and what stares back at me? A fine of $180 for not having produced one’s registration. Further down on the list of possible offenses, I see that not being registered altogether carries a more palatable fine of just $55. Huh?
Did I contest the ticket? Heck, yes.
So, my second appearance in Maplewood was unfortunately in court, a month later, an edifying experience in itself and an indicator of taxpayer money at work (and waste).
Several other individuals were there for not having one of their three pieces of ID when pulled over by a cop. One group of five teenagers was hauled into court because their driving companion was found to have had a few grams of weed on him. Another young male of African American extraction was shackled for a minor harmless offense relating to documentation – he had apparently ignored two prior summonses to appear in court.
A young, white male, already caught twice before for drunk driving, pleaded successfully to have his appeal against a sentence for a third similar offense heard in court. And right at the start, a mother with a restless infant and two young children in tow was forgiven her entire, minor offense, and told to pay just the court costs.
I was called up by Judge Stanley M. Varon, who appeared to be very fair, non-verbose, and so entertaining I’d happily watch him on TV.
Mine was the briefest case Judge Varon handled that day; I uttered just one word.
He called my name, I walked up to the front of the court and said “Yes.” He asked if I brought my registration card with me. I had it ready and handed it to a waiting cop, who then handed it to the judge. “You’re free to go; pay the $33 in court costs out front.”
And that was it.
I didn’t get to use a long, impassioned plea I’d prepared in my head begging for leniency and a less expensive penalty.
Oh, I’ll be visiting pretty Maplewood again. And I’ll have all the right papers on me, but next time, my friend’s driving!