It happened: I finally got a traffic ticket, after 20 years of driving, on and off. I would not recommend it. For one thing, it takes forever. How long does it take to write a ticket? I ask this as a professional writer.
And I say “finally,” not because I’ve been eagerly waiting to get a ticket. Though I’m sure a lot of my readers have been eagerly waiting for me to get one so I can write about it and they can relate.
I don’t even think that what I did was so bad. I just made — sorry, allegedly made — an illegal left turn. Out of a block in my neighborhood that everyone allegedly makes left turns from all the time. I have a student who lives on that block, and he told me that even the cops do it.
But I’ve never done it before. (Allegedly?) And no, this isn’t one of those situations where I tell you that I never make this left and you can’t prove that I do because I only got caught once. I never even go down that block. It’s a narrow little block that does the same thing as another, more convenient block, but not as well. I only went down the block that day because the street that I normally go down was closed.
This happened before this whole pandemic thing. The city I live in is doing a thing where they’re updating everyone’s gas line, one house at a time, by digging through the street in front of each house individually. There are only like three digging teams, and it takes them a full day to do each house, and they’re not going in order.
So every morning, when I tried to bring my sons to yeshiva, I needed to take a different route. And then every day, I ran into all three crews.
“OK, this street is blocked. Let’s go that way! No, there’s the other crew. OK, what about that way? And now here’s the third.”
So this one morning, the street onto which I needed to make a right turn was closed, and I didn’t see the roadblocks until I was about to make that right, so I followed the cars in front of me and I made a right on the next block, which was the last possible block to make a right on. The alternative was making a left and looping back past the construction, possibly as far back as my house, and basically starting over. From my bed. And I didn’t want to do that, because I was already running late because of all the traffic.
So I went down this tiny, skinny block, behind a bunch of other cars that were driving like they were entirely unsure where they were, and everyone else was allegedly making this left, so I allegedly made it. And, as generally happens when you do something illegal that you don’t normally do, a cop saw me doing it.
So he turned on his loudspeaker and told me to make a right into a side street and pull over, right in front of my sons’ school.
“License and registration please.”
They ask for this so they can make sure that you didn’t steal the car. Because that’s what you do when you steal a car — you make illegal left turns and try to get caught. At nine in the morning.
He asked, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” And I said, “No,” because I’m not going to fall for that trap where I tell him something I did wrong and it turns out it wasn’t the thing he was thinking, and I get two tickets. But I did shoot a glance at my inspection sticker, just in case.
And then so did he.
So he said, “You made an illegal left turn back there.”
“Allegedly. No, wait. You made a left turn.” And before I could protest, he said that making a left turn there was unsafe.
Arguably, any left turn is unsafe. Yes, supposedly the rule is there for safety, because the intersection is right near a train bridge, and the visibility is blocked for the people coming from the left. Except that if I’m making a left turn, I’m merging with the people coming from the right. And sure, I have to cross over the lane of people coming from the left, but I’m allowed to make a right at that intersection and merge with them anyway.
I thought about all this afterward. I didn’t have a logical, cogent argument on the spot, because I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and also I know that cops have this thing where once they pull you over, they have to write you a ticket.
“Sorry, I already started writing it.”
Should I have headed you off before you got out of your car? Because that did take you forever. Were you trying to finish your song?
And I get it, because the tickets are numbered, and his bosses are going to ask, “Where did 1507 go? I see you gave out 1506 and 1508.” And then he has to remember what you said to convince him, word for word, so he can use that to convince his bosses as well. He’s not going up to bat for you. So he just writes the ticket. I feel the same way when I write a check. The person is like, “You know what? You can have it for free.” And I say, “Sorry, I already started writing it! My wife’s going to ask …”
“Oh, well, I already started writing the ticket.” Well, I don’t know what legal recourse we have at this point. Can I say, “By the time I saw you and had charatah, I’d already started making the left? Allegedly?”
Anyway, there wasn’t much I could say, because the cop saw me do it. He didn’t see the car right in front of me do it, even though he was sitting in unmoving traffic on the block we were turning onto. He only saw me. Which means that, most probably, he was texting. How do you see the second guy and not the first guy?
Sure, some people would say, to the cop’s face, “I can’t believe you pulled me over. There are so many criminals on the streets, and you’re busting me for making a left turn?”
What do you want? He’s a traffic cop! Also, the real criminals hide it better.
Also, this is where we were. There are no criminals a block from my kids’ school, I hope. And he was sitting in traffic, so it’s not like he could go anywhere else.
So my big argument was that everybody else was doing it. Though even I don’t accept that excuse, as a teacher. So I don’t really expect them to accept it. What’s he going to do? Arrest the whole town? I’m not going to help you fill your ticket quota.
And it’s not even like he’s accomplishing something by giving me a ticket, like he’s making an example of me, on a quiet side street nowhere near the intersection. What did he accomplish? That I won’t do it anymore? I wasn’t the big offender here. This was the only time I ever made that left.
My biggest hope was that he’d finish up with my ticket, go back and watch the intersection, see that I was right, and then quietly feel stupid. I didn’t think that if he saw I was right, he would come back to me and say, “Sorry, you were right. Everyone does make a left there! Let me rip up your ticket. Or give you a negative ticket to balance it out.” He does have my address.
Why aren’t there negative tickets for good driving?
I guess because if there were, no one would ever drive well enough to get one. Who has time for that?
So he was writing the ticket, and after what felt like 20 minutes of writing (it was a long-ticket) another cop car came by and stopped alongside him, and I said to myself, “Great. Now there are going to be two cop cars, and everyone’s going to wonder what I did to merit all that police attention. Right outside my kids’ school.”
Anyway, my window was open, so I heard the conversation. The second cop said, “What did he do?” And the first cop said, “He made a left on that street over there.” And the second cop said, “But everyone does it!”
I should have gotten that guy’s badge number so I could bring him into court and try to get him to say exactly that.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of seven books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.