How an unusually bad (Valentine’s) day turned to good

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Have you gone to traffic school in the last 18 months? This question, doled out by the Traffic department of the SF Superior Court, determines whether someone who's gotten a traffic citation can attend school – and get the violation removed from their driving record – or plead regular old guilty and deal with the negative consequences (usually, an increase in auto insurance and a superficially deep feeling of Oh, Shit). The only other option is to contest the charge, and live to appear in court another day.

Did you guess that I'd gotten a ticket? And that I went to court on Valentine's Day? You're so smart. That's why I like you.

I find the Why pretty uninteresting, but here it is: I offered to take a friend to the airport (at 5am <– which is irrelevant) and borrowed his car while he was away. I drove to SF from Sunnyvale to see my sister the dentist. I was fine until I had to park. Then I had to park. In SF. Like a lost, little puppy being called by two voices, I thought of going one way and then decided to go the other, and made a U-turn (first looking carefully to make sure the way was clear). I was thusly pulled over and cited for (1) making a U-turn in a *business* area, (2) not having (or being able to find in someone else's car) proof of insurance, but not (3) not having a California driver's license (!). Fast forward: studied for the DL test, got 100% (Boom! See, I know what I'm doing, police people!.. who also happened to be correct in telling me I could indeed not make a U-turn in a business district), and got my license. Next up: Court.

The last day I could go to court was 2/14/13. Ok. I had no idea what to expect. Would a judge see me and ask why, if I had procrastinated to the last possible day, she/he should grant me any leniency? Stories made up: It's a holiday – I thought fewer people would be there. It was easiest to get this day off work. I was out of town? I'm so sorry Mrs. Sir Lady Your Honor – COMPASSION FOR MY SOUL!!!!!!

Finally, I thought of Yelp! People have posted some really informative + emotionally rich posts:??
My takeaways: show up early (~7:30am), have your paperwork (what paperwork? was not answered), relax dawg

Got up 2/14/13 at 4:57am (1 minute before my alarm was set to go off, which is weird). Hopped a Caltrain to SF and walked to Court. Inside at 7:14am. No one in line. Hm. Lady walked through Security. Followed suit. Asked if I worked there. No. We don't open until 8am. You'll have to stand over there. Where? By the bins. Ok.??

Am I Doing This Right

When you're forming a one-person line, you're scared about going to anything with "court" in its name, and you haven't had coffee… it's setting you up for wondering if you're doing the right thing. Even if that "thing" is, am I standing in the right place? So, I felt, and I waited. Person after person took the same action as me, walking through Security, only to be told by the guard that they didn't open till 8am. [Clearly, he was used to telling people this. Why hasn't someone put up a sign already? I don't like places that don't do obviously helpful things like putting up signs when they're called for.] Most people walked out, to wait someone else. Finally, one guy stood behind me. Yes! We're officially in the line business! What a relief I felt.

Then, one guy stood in front of me. Ok, fine, go ahead, I thought to myself. Then, a woman got in line behind him. Enough! "Hi. We were already in line," gesturing to me and dude behind me. [Why do I feel like a bitch doing this, ever?] The woman seemed embarrassed and scrambled away quickly to the back of our line. The guy, an older black man in a yellow shirt, holds his ground. Ho ho, looks like we're in for a showdown. Time to toughen up, kid. He says I can go first, can stand in front of him. He thought I wasn't in line because I needed to text. I'm not texting, I say. I'm ok here. I like leaning on the bins. I have a bad back.

For Love of Money

Then, how it happened, I'm not really sure, but we got into a conversation. Some of it was "what are you in for" kinda talk. Oh, yes, I think it was that he said he was supposed to be here yesterday to appear in court, room 404 or 450, maybe. He shows me his piece of paper, different than mine. I ask him where room 145 is. He says it's on the first floor, so upstairs (no comment). Supposed to be here yesterday? Then you should go first! I say. Now, his story, piece by piece meal, as remembered by bits of understood-by-me conversation.

He can't follow the speed limit. He just can't stop from going fast. Vroom vroom. He's 77. Born in 1936. He was born in Alabama (back and forth on Alabama – that's where my parents went to school, met etc!). Boy, it was racist back then. Martin Luther King, Jr. He had a dream. He was an inspiration. How'd you end up in California? His wife. She went to school at Tuskeegee. You know Tuskeegee? (Throughout this conversation, he asks me if "you know" almost every thing he mentions. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't) My parents went to the University of Alabama. They didn't let black folks in there. Only white folks got to go to the University of Alabama. That's why we were at Tuskeegee.??That's true.??

He met his future wife when she was in the 4th grade. He was in the 5th grade. He used to tease her and say he was going to be her boyfriend. My teasing that she went for older men got nowhere – I was only a year older (I know. I was kidding….). She was born in 1937 or 1938, he tells me. I'm 77 he tells me again. I bet you didn't know that. Sure didn't. (and he really did look awesome for his age) I always know. I always know your age. I know your age. You're 26 or 27. Pretty close.??

His wife had 14 brothers and sisters. 9 boys, 6 girls. That's 15, we both agree. They were all smart. All went to school. His wife took healthcare studies. Then she bought a brick house. (meanwhile, I'm noticing vocal intonations that remind me of my dad) It wasn't on the hill. That's only for white people. Cost too much money on the hill. That's where the white people spend money and look down on everybody else.

He fixes cars. He always fixed cars. When his wife was two years through college, he bought her a car. Then, he installed a new clutch himself, and her car worked like new.

She wanted to move to New York or California. They sold the brick house and came to San Francisco. They went to the hospital. The only job they had for black people was a dietician. So, his wife became a dietician. He didn't want to be a dietician, so he went down south to San Jose. He went to another hospital and became an Instrument Technician. He can fix anything. (we agree) He makes good money.

Then, his wife started to love money. She would get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and not tell him she was leaving or where she was going. She wouldn't put breakfast on the table. You're not making me breakfast! (You're not performing your wifely duties? Another time, bros.) She bought a car, and another car. She loved money. Loved money. (This was mentioned many times in the conversation, before we even went through the AL to CA story.) I thought I knew what was coming but then he got called to go through Security. And we parted. No goodbye. I wished him a mental good luck as I rushed past Security down to room 145.



Security opens at 8am. Room 145 opens at 8:30am. I was first for the one and first for the other. I feel tired, weird, and proud. I look at shoes on my phone while I wait. I scribble some stuff in my notebook about organic produce and make a mental note that I'll only buy organic green beans, spinach, and lettuce from now on, since I eat so much of them. (This will be hard for me to do, in practice.) I say Happy Valentine's Day and Good Morning! to random court people. I occasionally chat with the guy next to me, and Eastern European guy with a combover in a full-on grey suit. I'm learning so much!??

Yelp-ers said stuff about not bringing a book or a phone – that neither were allowed in court. No one gave either a second glance. Nearly everyone in the now 40 person line was using a phone. Man, some people were unhappy. Back to the phone, though, Internet sure makes waiting not a big deal, but some people still act insanely frustrated. I feel like Jane Goodall.??

First one in. Some girl who was pacing back and forth in front of the door for 10 minutes races in (past everyone else from the line) to ask a question. She seemed stressed.??

It's not clear where to go once you're inside, which is weird. Reminds me of that need for a sign from Security. Oh, well, that's not what I'm here for today. Go up to an open-looking window. Guy in red shirt. What am I supposed to say? I'm here for a citation. That would have been my first guess. (Oh, good. Humor….) I bet some people get confused. Yeah.

To him: ID, copy of citation, then proof of insurance, plea of guilt, fine of $320 (Mastercards and Visas only), answer of "No, I haven't been to traffic school in the past 18 months."
Received instructions on how to attend traffic school and was out in less than 10 minutes, walking down the street at 8:40am.

Waking up at 4:57am left me with loads of time in my day. That's perhaps obvious, but it wasn't clear to me before.??

TL;DR Waking up early left me with lots of time on my hands. Learning one man's story enriched my life. I got to be the Jane Goodall of stressed out people under the control of legislative forces. And it was good.

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