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The ticket wasn’t the annoying part

I consider myself relatively patient when I deal with bureaucracy. Last spring, when I couldn’t file my taxes because Social Security had my birth year wrong, I was understanding. Mistakes happen, I told myself. So I took a few hours out of my busy day to patiently wait in the Social Security office downtown to get it fixed. I didn’t even complain.

So, when I got a speeding ticket in Michigan this week I didn’t even bother whining or trying to get out of it. It happens to the best of us, I reasoned. But I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket before, and perhaps that was why I was so absolutely confused by the transaction that took place.

Apparently, in Michigan if you’re from out of state and you get a speeding ticket you have to do one of two things on the spot, a) you have to pay $100 toward your court costs right then or b) you have to surrender your license.

I didn’t understand what the officer was talking about. I really didn’t. I made her explain three times what she meant. She wanted to take my license? Why? What, like I wouldn’t need it anytime in the next month?! Or she wanted $100? Cash? Right now? Most people don’t carry that much cash with them.

Luckily for me, my grandparents had given me $100 for graduation the day before, which I had in my wallet waiting to be deposited in the bank upon my return home. Needless to say, I wasn’t about to give up my license and hope I didn’t need to produce it anytime in the next month or so. So, I handed her the $100 bill I couldn’t really afford to give up.

I asked her how much the fine would be. I was trying to gauge how much more it could possibly suck. She snapped back, “I deal with five different courts and they all have different fines. Call the number on the ticket.” She was needlessly vicious about it. I consider the cost of the ticket a perfectly legitimate question, and even if you do deal with five different courts the base price of a ticket should probably be something you know.

Today, I called the Eaton County number on the ticket to hear the damage. According to the recording, it is $95 for going 5 mph over in a 70 mph zone. OK. I can handle that. Except one thing: I already put down $100. So what becomes of that $5? I wanted to make sure I heard it right and wasn’t missing some type of other fine that would still be due if I mailed in the ticket without any other payment. So, I listened through the whole recording until the message said, “If you want to talk to a traffic clerk, press 1.”

I pressed 1, and I waited. And waited. And waited. Five rings. Ten rings. Two dozen rings. Four minutes. No one picked up. There was no message saying, “Hey we’re out to lunch,” or “Please call back during our normal business hours, between never and forever.”  There wasn’t even a voicemail where I could ask someone to get back to me. Nothing. Just an endless ring, ring, ring that apparently was going unheard.

Ugh. So I guess I’ll just send off the ticket and hope I wasn’t wrong. Let that $5 be absorbed the state of Michigan and put toward something like courtesy training for the officers who pull people over and phone training for the traffic clerks who are apparently too busy to pick up the phone.

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