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Time served

Thanks to the widely publicized Alcohol Law Enforcement crackdowns, a startling number of Duke’s underage drinkers are now experiencing what it feels like to be on the wrong side of the law. Anyone who knows me knows of my gangsta ways, so of course I could share any number of stories about encounters with the po. Yet one particular incident stands out, as it led to a two-year saga that has only recently been resolved.

In the summer following my senior year of high school, without a care in the world (seriously—I had no job), I was on my way to meet a friend in my mom’s Saab station wagon, sporting the bumper sticker of my pre-school (forgive the transparent efforts to establish my gangsterdom). I was stopped at a red light when a minivan passed me on the left in an opposing lane of traffic and came to a halt in front of me.

A middle-aged woman emerged from the car, her face distorted with anger (or just ugly). She approached my open window, demanding, “Are you old enough to drive?” Somewhat taken aback by the whole scene, I didn’t respond to her question immediately. Probably noticing my confusion, she explained her qualms with my performance on the road, claiming that I had cut her off. I replied that I was quite sorry if that was the case, but (more or less) cordially invited her to move her car from the middle of the road—a busy thoroughfare in the Philadelphia suburbs.

She would have none of it.

She demanded to see my license, apparently still concerned that I wasn’t of legal age and definitely still hysterical.

Perhaps it was that her little angel had a bad day at soccer practice or her manicure from earlier in the week had already started to chip. Maybe she had just found out her husband was having an affair. (Let’s ignore, for now the possibility that I did viciously cut her off.)

Whatever the cause of her hysteria, there was no reasoning with this woman—and the irony of the fact that she was now endangering everyone else on the road by parking her van in the middle of it was clearly lost on her.

Before an actual accident occurred, a police officer showed up and instructed us to move our cars to a nearby parking lot (good idea, no?). After talking to my supposed victim, he informed me that he was writing me a ticket for careless driving, which he claimed was the mildest penalty than he could have chosen to inflict. The officer also recommended to me that I plead guilty to the offense and not go to traffic court, as there was a possibility that an even harsher sentence could be imposed. I thanked the officer (without asking him for “another”) and went on my way.

I later asked my father about the soundness of the policeman’s legal advice. We decided together that instead of paying the $104 ticket and accepting the two points on my license, I should at least have my day in court. As it turned out, that day wouldn’t come any time soon.

Fast-forward two years. In the interim, we requested repeated continuances (waiting months for a response each time) as I was assigned hearing dates that fell during the school year when I would be at Durham and unable to appear.

Finally, on the day of my hearing, I was ready, my thoughts turning to Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird for inspiration. I would present my case and defend myself against the tyrannical arm of the state and its soccer mom informant. I checked in with a bureaucrat (whose brusqueness indicated to me an underestimation of the magnitude of my struggle). Then I waited. I waited for a period that seemed to rival the two years leading up to it.

Finally, I heard my name called. Wearily, yet with my heart pounding in anticipation of my moment of reckoning, I approached the desk again, expecting to be led back to the courtroom with its oak paneling and imposing bench. Instead, a policeman questioned me: “Why’d you get this ticket?” Defiantly, I informed him that I would prefer not to implicate myself but that it was a woman’s claim that I had cut her off.

“So it was a road rage incident?”

“Uh, yeah… I guess so.” He looked impatient, glancing at the other defendants waiting for their day in court. He said to me mechanically, “Time served, have a nice day.”

I thanked him (again, more or less cordially) and burst out of the township building, loosening my tie, marveling at the whole saga. Time served, indeed.

David Kleban is a Trinity junior. His column appears every other Thursday.


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