Wheels of justice just miss me


June 25, 1993|By KEVIN COWHERD

Not long ago, I came sailing over a bridge in my Toyota and ran smack into half the Baltimore police force at a radar trap.

Apparently, it was a slow day for crime-fighting, because half-dozen cops waved me over and surrounded the car.

"Forty in a 25," one cop said.

He was a big guy with very dark eyes who looked at me the wayou'd look at a hair in your soup.

He seemed to expect some sort of answer, though, so finally said: "I don't suppose Your Worship would let me off with a warning?"

This was the wrong thing to say. Because the cop just stared ame for several seconds, as if thinking: "Should I just shoot this stupid SOB right here? Or do we have to go through the whole business of cuffing him, dragging him downtown, the arraignment, etc.?"

Anyway, he gave me a ticket. And the bottom line was this: If sent the City of Baltimore some money, they would continue to let me drive and would not send a team of large, unshaven officers to batter down my door and haul me off to the slammer.

I was perfectly content (well, maybe that's not the word) to pay the fine. Then some friends decided I should go to court and fight the ticket.

"But I'm guilty," I said.

"So what?" they said. "You gotta go whine and grovel and befor mercy. It's the American way."

So on the morning of my court date, I arose early and fired dowsix or seven cups of strong coffee in order to be especially alert in my groveling.

Then I dressed in a Navy blue blazer, white shirt, red tie ankhaki pants. God, I looked like the world's oldest prep school student! But I was trying for an image here: sober, responsible, you know.

Certainly not the sort of reckless idiot who would do 40 in a 25What kind of animal would do that, anyway?

Next, I tried to get my mother to go to court with me. What wanted her to do was sit next to me and weep softly into a handkerchief.

That way, when the judge looked up and said, "Why is thawoman weeping?" I'd say, "Your Honor, that's my dear mother. This whole thing has been very hard on her. Her legs swell up horribly and she experiences a ringing in her . . . well, I won't go into all her health problems.

"But it would do the poor woman a world of good if Your Honowould consider dismissing the charge against me."

Maybe it would have worked, I don't know. But my mother tolme to get lost. Look, to save my skin, I would have flown my 94-year-old grandmother in from upstate New York.

But Gran, she's at the point in her life where the last thing shneeds is to be crammed into the cockpit of a Cessna for four hours next to some wheezy old pilot with rheumy eyes and a leather helmet who once flew B-17s over Dresden.

Besides, if I told her I got a speeding ticket, she'd smack meShe has a very bad temper.

So I went to court by myself. The place was filled with dozens osullen miscreants just like myself. Naturally, the first person I sat down next to turned out to be half crazy. I'm telling you, if there's a nut case in the room, I always end up next to him.

" POHleece don't listen to nobody," this guy said. He wabug-eyed, and flecks of his spittle landed on my cheek. " Seventy in a 55! Damn car won't even do 70!"

I thought: "Yeah, we all got problems, pal. You're breaking mheart." Finally I got up and took a seat in the second row. You meet a better class of traffic law violators in the second row, anyway.

Just then the judge walked in, touching off a flurry of speculatioas to what kind of a judge he might be.

As I tend to take a dark view of things, I said he looked like hanging judge. But everyone else said, no, he looks like somebody's kindly old uncle.

Yeah, Uncle Torquemada, I said.

My case took forever to be called. Forty-two people were called before me. This did not seem like a good development. I figured the judge would be so tired and cranky by the time he got to me he'd say: "Bailiff, the next defendant, have him taken out back and beaten with tree limbs."

Finally, I heard my name. I was all set to begin groveling, but instead the judge said: "What's your driving record look like?"

"No moving violations in 12 years," I said. Which was the truth. Look, I don't like to tell the truth. But sometimes you have to.

"OK," he said. "We'll let this go."

What a nice man, I thought. I took back all the nasty things I said about him.

Especially that Uncle Torquemada business. That was completely uncalled for.

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