Who doesn’t dread traffic court? It’s three to five hours trapped in a featureless room with attorneys and rules and uncomfortable seating. That’s the stuff of nightmares. I know, I was there last week.
The place is a maelstrom of human misery and despair, even at 8:45 in the morning. By then, dozens upon dozens of perps, myself included, were milling about in a narrow, claustrophobic hallway, waiting for the courtroom doors to open. Those poor sad sacks were packed in like sardines. They sat wedged on beige benches or pinned against beige walls, staring at a beige ceiling.
Where did they all come from, I wondered. Was there a dragnet? I thought everyone had moved away. And therein lies the conundrum: the population is shrinking, but traffic’s ten times worse. Do you know why? Because our highways and byways are chockablock with traffic control devices: lights, speed bumps, stop signs, potholes, roundabouts, road work.
This isn’t a sprawling metropolis, it’s a dinky little town, yet we spend more time waiting at stoplights than moving. As a result, it takes for freaking ever to get anywhere. City traffic moves like the drive-thru line at lunch hour. That is to say, barely at all.
Naturally, people become impatient and anxious to get where they’re going, so they speed through lights, take illegal shortcuts, pass in no passing zones and, voilá, traffic tickets become a leading source of revenue.
But I digress.
Traffic court. Before the bailiff (why are those dudes always older than God?) would allow the teeming crowd through the doors, he issued a stern warning: “Cell phones off. Behave yourselves.” Seriously, that’s a direct quote. Behave yourselves. Yeah, well, we’ll see.
Once in the courtroom I spotted a handcuffed woman in prison stripes. It wasn’t the usual orange jumpsuit, but pajama-like things, loose-fitting and oversized. They were light gray with wide black stripes and reminded me of the Three Stooges for some reason. Her name was Buffy. She was charged with dui hit-and-run. From what I could hear, Buffy had pasted a pedestrian in a crosswalk, slowed down, then sped off. Happily, there were no serious injuries. Sadly, her case was continued until late in the day.
After that, I quickly lost interest. Traffic court is monotonous. Nothing happens. So I pulled a book out of my backpack and started reading (The Humans by Matt Haig). Forty pages later the bailiff tapped my shoulder and told me to put the book away, they’re prohibited in the courtroom. Books are. I blinked in disbelief. I asked if he was kidding. He wasn’t. He said he’d been alerted to my nefarious activity by the eagle-eyes monitoring the security cameras.
Was my book ringing, I asked? Was I reading too loud? Moving my lips? What? He didn’t think I was funny. People like that never do. They think I’m lippy. There’s no point arguing with them, either. Rules are all they understand, no matter how stoopid they are. So I put the book away and I kept my mouth shut, but I sneered at him. And entertained unkind thoughts.
In Illinois, you’re free to carry a concealed weapon — you can pack heat — but you’re prohibited from reading a book in traffic court. The book, ladies and gentlemen, is verboten. Read it and you’re flirting with contempt of court charges. Absurd, isn’t it? Sort of explains why the state is teetering on the brink of financial collapse, though. These people are clueless. Intellectually bankrupt. They’re bozos.
Can someone explain how an open book is disruptive? Or interferes with the pursuit of justice. A regular, old book, not an audio book. Not an e-book. A traditional book, paper and ink, from the library. It doesn’t ring or blink or flash or vibrate. It sits, like I did, quietly. We weren’t creating havoc. We weren’t threatening anyone. We were simply there, which is all it took to throw a wrench into their works. Sensitive little nudniks, aren’t they?
Well, there’s no constitutional amendment protecting our right to bear a book. But, then, who thought we’d ever need one? Am I wrong or is life becoming more and more like the Twilight Zone. Cue the music — do do do do, do do do do …
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