When I was growing up, my parents had embedded me with one of their historical, science-less superstition - NEVER EVER wander around a court! The farther you can stay away from that red and brown colored building the less annoying your life will be. As a child, I swallowed the information without chewing it thoroughly and it caused a stomach upset. Which means, I ended up questioning this belief.
It began in the winter of last year. My car and me were cruising down El Camino Real. There is nothing real about this road. This road has been named thus because it used to be the favorite means of transport for erstwhile Mexican royalty. According to some of my Indian friends it's named because most of the real "kamina-s" live on the sidelines of this road. The name and it's origin is still under massive debate.
I was just about cruising past El Camino and Pomeroy intersection, ogling at a random call that erupted on my Iphone screen when a sound, whirring and disturbing emanated from my vicinity. I have been a communications student - I have learnt the techniques of filtering out white background noise. This one seemed to have high frequency peaks and no matter how much I tried ignoring it, it became more persistent. I glanced around my different car mirrors. The rear- view mirror showed a pair of flashing red and blue lights. My heart stopped - my steering wheel wavered...before I knew it I had stopped right in the middle of the lane. The cop car stopped behind me.
A handsome cop swaggered by my window. I had already rolled it down and sat there petrified. He blinked at me and asked, "Are you alright ma'am?"
I nodded. Words didn't escape my lips.
"What I am confused about is this - why would you run through a red light, when I was in the car right beside you in the adjacent lane? I don't get"
Genuine confusion - I must admit. I figured it out in my fast paced brain. I had not seen this ominous cop and his scary cop car beside me. I had been busy staring at my Iphone. Now I wasn't sure whether I should assist in clearing his muddle or act equally fuddled. I decided to act.
He stared at me for a few more minutes expecting something. I stared right back - as if English was phoren language!
He started again.
"Ma'am could you pull over to the curb please? I don't want you getting hit - we care!"
It touched me. I went ahead and did what I do best - try to pull over. My pulling over skills weren't great and the cop didn't pursue the matter further.
"Your license and registration please"
Dammit! I thought I had the sliver of chance where I could wiggle away from this caring cop without a ticket. There was no way out. But I did try.
"It was yellow".
"What was yellow?"
"The red light was yellow."
"Please hand over your license and registration RIGHT NOW!"
I gave in.
He left me with a yellow looking slip of paper. Two weeks later the ticket arrived. A humongous 410$ were charged against my name. The only way out or in was to see the mighty judge. I decided to make my first American Court appearance.
None of my friends wanted to buy into the theory of me trying to contradict the ticket. They were more inclined in giving me ideas about how to look so moppy soppy that the judge is moved enough to slash my ticket price in half. They had fabulous dressing tips as well.
On the appointed day, right on time I arrived. The traffic court was in Homestead. The session was being convened in one of their underground chambers. A thorough security check followed every new admission. I looked sad but dressed well. Maybe if I looked good the Judge would be more prone to pity me?
In my head I had visions of the court scenes I had seen in Bollywood movies. A old looking Judge, a few villainous witnesses and our mighty yet downcast hero standing woefully at the brown cage-like box. I wondered where I will stand. I rehearsed my woebegone speech a couple of times in my head and then I made my entrance.
The court room was definitely non-bollywood style. It was American. Lack luster people sat around in wooden chairs, lackadaisically. The court was already full. I had expected to have private audience with the Judge but that wasn't going to be. Everyone was privy to everyone else's plight.
I sat down with tripedition. A police officer was busy rattling off different rules. I listened intently. 'How and where and how soon can one deposit the ticket money' was what was being announced. I realized me and money were soon to be parted.
A young looking man stepped in. Everyone stood up in attendance. He was the judge. "Your Honor" was extremely soft spoken and very patient. In fact he went on to say that he knew America was in recession and he would do everything he could to help people who couldn't pay. My heart soared.
Names were called off one after another and people stepped in. Some said "No Contest" and some said "Not guilty".
When I stepped up and the Judge asked me what I chose to plead, I said,
"Good afternoon. I choose to plead No Contest" No contest is equivalent to "I am guilty" but it just makes you sound better in your ears.
He asked me whether I would like to go to traffic school. I said yes.
He was done. He asked me to pay 220$ at the court deposit center. I realized my speech would go un-listened. I started abruptly.
"Your Honor, could you kindly consider reducing my ticket because it is my first violation and I really didn't mean it?"
He looked at me and explained the math. 220$ was lesser than 410$. Hence he had already done what I requested.
220$ less I stepped out into fresh air. Two months later traffic school was done. The memories of the court were behind me. Telling my parents that I was going to drag myself to court hadn't gone very well. They had been sure I was in insurmountable heap of mess. No amount of "I am a free resident", "I have rights", "Courts aren't scary"- seem to pacify their nerves.
When I came out of court, I realized that I didn't want to get back there again. I wondered what my cop was up to. Did his confusion finally end? Who knows...