COLUMN TWENTY-NINE, JANUARY 1, 1998
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
Elizabeth's North Avenue is a heavily congested artery at rush hour, with parking banned between 7 and 9 a.m. on the thoroughfare's south side, where my apartment building is located and where my girl friend's car is usually parked on nights when she sleeps over. She owns a Saturn, you know, one of those cars with paper mache bumpers.
Moving the car before 7 a.m. is no problem for us, because we get up at first light. Except on the morning of last April 2nd, we couldn't move the car because we found that the left rear tire was flat. When I tried to reflate the tire, using a pressurized can of "Gunk Non-Flammable Puncture Seal," the end of the can's tube that screws onto the tire valve proved defective. We had no recourse but to seek road service at Bob & Richie's Sunoco, three blocks away on Newark Avenue. I left the can of "Gunk Non-Flammable Puncture Seal" partially attached to the flat tire valve, wrote FLAT TIRE on a sheet of paper with a black magic marker and left it under the windshield wiper on the driver's side. Then we walked to Bob & Richie's Sunoco, where we were told the tow truck driver didn't report to work until 8. When we returned to the Saturn to await the tow truck driver, we found, under the windshield wiper, under the sheet of paper that said FLAT TIRE, a $37 parking ticket, issued by one Officer Williams, No. 508. at 7:46 a.m.
I was outraged. The next morning, I saw Officer Williams harvesting that day's crop of parking violators (in other words, writing summonses) and I made the mistake of asking him if he'd had his vision checked recently. I knew immediately that remonstrating with him was stupid. "Tell it to the judge," he said. "There's nothing wrong with my vision." He was just doing his job. Besides, everybody knows that there are few municipalities left in America which don't list parking fines as anticipated revenue in their yearly budgets. I wanted to honor Officer Williams for his Draconian law enforcement and write a story recommending him as Robocop of the Year. Except, it turned out that Officer Williams is not a cop. He is the equivalent of a meter maid.
I've had a previous adventure in frustration fighting a ticket in Elizabeth's magistrate's court, but I decided to protest the summons anyway. The summons required me to appear in that court at 9 a.m. of April 16, but they didn't even open the courtroom doors until close to 10. When my name wasn't called, the prosecutor told me to go outside the courtroom to Window No. 3, one of the two soundproof, bulletproof windows in the hall. There, he said, someone would give me a new court date. After waiting in line at Window No. 3 for what I thought was an annoyingly undue length of time, I was told I would receive notice of the new court date in the mail. When the notice came, it told me the new court date would be June 6.
Again the courtroom doors didn't open until well after 9. I never did get to see the magistrate, Alberto Ulloa. After the prosecutor came in and announced the day's cases, I approached him and asked why my name hadn't been called. He told me to go back to Window No. 3 and ask for my paperwork. The wait in line to get to Window No. 3 was, as usual, agonizing. Everybody in the line kept complaining as the workers behind the soundproof, bulletproof windows conversed with one another and took their own sweet time about doing whatever they were doing. The woman clerk staffing Window No. 3 seemed to be staffing it only periodically. When I got my turn, she looked and looked and looked all over the office for my paperwork. Finally, she consulted another woman clerk and eventually handed me a computer printout which said that, on April 22, someone had pled guilty to my alleged violation and paid the $37 fine. All I know is I didn't pay it and my girl friend didn't pay it and nobody we know paid it. For that kind of parking ticket to get paid by somebody else because I shouldn't have gotten it in the first place may be only poetic justice, but is poetic justice as good as the real thing? ##
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