Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Busted for Jaywalking!


During a recent business trip to Irvine, in southern California (motto: “The other, lesser California”), I was pulled over by a motorcycle cop—while walking. He gave me a long, brain-freezing lecture and a ticket for jaywalking. The fine is close to $200. I’m going to fight it via a written testimonial. This is my rough draft. Very rough.

Appeal to Citation #[———], Superior Court of California, County of Orange

I humbly request that my citation for Section Statute 21955 VC (Jaywalking) be dismissed, on the grounds that it’s complete nonsense.

First of all, $200 is really steep for a victimless crime. If I’m driving a car in an unsafe manner, I’m endangering others—I get that. I understand that driving a car is a privilege, and that by obtaining my Driver License I am agreeing in advance to follow the vehicle code. Walking, however, is not a privilege. It is a God-given right, pre-dating all laws and societies, and I never agreed to anything when I first put one foot in front of the other at age two. What right do you have to fine people for not walking how you’d like them to? When’s the last time a pedestrian hurt anybody?

Moreover, holding my Driver License or Vehicle Registration hostage if I skip out on this fine is totally baseless. How can you restrict my driving privilege on the grounds of any misbehavior I committed when not driving a motor vehicle? What’s next, suspending my license due to moral or intellectual turpitude? And if you actually make it impossible to register my car, which my wife shares, you are punishing her as well, along with our two kids. Why stop there? Why not go after my brothers, my cousins, nieces, nephews, and our parents? It’s insupportable and absurd.

The motorcycle cop who came after me—long after I committed my misdeed, which suggests you’re using video cameras to crack down on errant pedestrians, which is bizarrely inappropriate—has already subjected me to a long safety lecture which was, I feel it safe to say, humiliating to the cop and me both. So haven’t I suffered enough? The lecture insulted my intelligence because the cop said, “Safety is a two-way street. I can’t protect you if you don’t obey the law.” Protect me? When’s the last time a cop protected a pedestrian? There is nothing a cop can do to protect a pedestrian except perhaps block an intersection, which he would never do. Pedestrians are utterly defenseless in an era of increasingly distracted drivers.

Since when do cops protect anybody, for that matter? They only show up after an accident and occasionally assign penalties, and maybe call in the actual paramedics who try to mitigate the bodily damage. When’s the last time you saw a cop and thought, “Oh, thank goodness”? The vast majority of the time, seeing a cop approach you is a basic “Oh, shit!” moment. But this was not always the case. Cops used to be respected members of the community. They walked their beats, got to know the citizens, and built up some rapport and trust. That all changed when they started driving cars. Now they are just faceless badges, ensconced in vehicles, that go around busting people. (This is not just my own supposition. A college history course I took devoted a couple of weeks to the subject of law enforcement, and presented this as a widely accepted assessment.)

The other totally absurd thing about the cop’s safety lecture is that he delivered it while stopped on a six-lane thoroughfare that had no shoulder. I was up on the sidewalk at least, but he was right out there in the road, absolutely at the mercy of the cars whizzing by. Anybody drunk, texting, or otherwise distracted could have just wiped this guy out. As annoying as the cop was, I did not want to see him get run over, so I was cringing the whole time. And you wanna talk about reckless? This guy is riding around this congested megalopolis on a motorcycle forty hours a week! What, is he fricking crazy?! Who is he to lecture me about safety? I was tempted to ask him, “Does your mother know what you do for a living?” But of course I couldn’t, because you just can’t mouth off to cops.

And that’s the most degrading part of all. I had to try to be all contrite and docile, in the vain hope that he’d let me off the hook. I tried my best, but I’m sure he caught a whiff of contempt—even if he didn’t catch mine. I’m sure he didn’t feel this was his finest moment, pontificating to this hapless pedestrian, sensing the passing cars snickering at both of us. I’m sure when he dreamed of being a motorcycle cop—a dream based on watching CHiPs, needless to say—he was thinking he’d be catching bad guys, solving actual crimes, and being a hero. He’d watched Erik Estrada in that one CHiPs episode dancing onstage to “Celebration” and thought maybe he himself also had what it takes. I doubt he figured he’d one day find himself taking his life in his hands merely to slap the wrist of the only person stupid enough to try to walk somewhere in southern California.

By the way, the cop was apparently unaware of how egregious your fines are. I asked for an estimate and he said, “Well, the ticket itself is only like $20, but then you get all the local and state governments piling on, with all these extra fees, so it ends up being like $85.” He acted like this was a real shame, the result of a bloated government apparatus that was a hindrance to us both, when of course he had the option to let me go with just a warning. Maybe if he’d known it was $200 he’d have spared me the ticket, or at least the lecture.

Now, let’s get back to this safety-as-a-two-way street business. You, the so-called Superior Court, see fit to fine me for behavior that put my own safety at risk, but actually, you are going after the wrong party. If you really want justice, challenge a road and sidewalk layout that discourages walking, and seek out the city planners that make walking legally in your county a unreasonably inconvenient thing to do. The setup of your roads and sidewalks is actually putting pedestrians like me in far greater danger than we ourselves ever could.

Yes, I crossed a street in the middle, rather than at an intersection—I admit it. You know why I did it? Well, I was walking along the sidewalk, which was unpleasant enough because all your streets are like highways—nothing even slightly resembling a residential street seems to exist in Irvine—and suddenly the sidewalk just ended. I found myself walking along in the plants growing alongside the road, literally off in the weeds, with nothing between me and the cars. This is not only unpleasant, but unsafe. Why provide a sidewalk for like half of a long stretch of roadway and then suddenly end it? What city engineer masterminded that design? Or did the city or county just run over budget with the sidewalk half built? Or maybe the construction guys got sick of building it?

(Here is a photo of what I’m talking about. No, it’s not the scene of the crime, which location I’m not sure of because your cop pulled me over far away from where I committed my transgression. Meanwhile, I didn’t know I’d be ensnared in your legal imbroglio at the time so I didn’t photograph the civic inadequacy. I snapped the below photo later, in another location which was equally representative of what I’m talking about. One more thing: I jaywalked in broad daylight, not at night.)

So yeah, I could have turned around and walked a quarter mile back to the previous intersection, but to be honest, I just didn’t feel like it. I was not enjoying my walk whatsoever and just wanted to get it over with. I was like, “Okay, Irvine, you win! I won’t walk anymore! I didn’t understand before! I get that you hate pedestrians!” I had come to understand why I was almost the only pedestrian in the entire city, unless you count the quasi-homeless-looking woman I saw herding her small child the day before. But as it happened, an instance of amazing fortuity presented itself: in both directions, all the traffic was stuck behind red lights off in the distance, giving me ample time to cross the road to the other side where there was a sidewalk. I calculated that no believable rate of acceleration could bring either wall of cars in range of hitting me. I was in a position to manage my risk very effectively.

Crossing a road in this situation, I believed in the moment and continue to believe, is a safer scenario than crossing at an intersection, where motorists are allowed to turn right whenever they deem it safe. It’s up to them to look for pedestrians in the intersection, and in SoCal the motorists do a very poor job of this. Why? Because there are hardly ever pedestrians in your sprawling, poorly planned so-called community! We’re about as common as space aliens! In pretty much any intersection in your wretched county, I am putting myself at the mercy of people who have all but forgotten pedestrians exist. Your jaywalking law essentially mandates that I outsource my safety to complete strangers who routinely neglect to use their turn signals, fail to pay attention, and have been taught to believe cars are “the heartbeat of America” and that driving is some kind of game.

When I ponder the fact that you’re slapping me down for my measly infraction, in support of a civic engineering apparatus that demonstrates not just incompetence but practical contempt for safety, I almost throw up in my mouth. You know what’s dangerous? These labyrinths of asphalt, more than driveways but not quite roads, that connect the giant boulevards to the scattered buildings within the bloated office parks dotting your sprawling landscape. Even Google Maps can’t really make sense of these little connectors. Once you’ve parked your car, you have to cross first the giant parking lot, then these twisty quasi-roads, and this is far, far more dangerous than what I did, which was merely crossing a straight road at a perpendicular.  When drivers try to navigate these rats’ nests of tarmac, they get very confused, and end up paying more attention to their GPS screens than to what’s in front of their cars.

You want proof? I took three Ubers during my brief visit to Irvine. The first Uber driver had to crane her neck quite a bit, and stopped dead in the roadway at various intervals, but nonetheless managed to find her way around. But the next two Uber drivers, despite their navigation systems, managed to get very lost indeed. I submit to you Exhibits A and B.

In both cases I watched their groping progress on my phone. That first guy found himself navigating a loop to nowhere. The second guy missed a turn and ended up driving a long way in one direction, making a 90-degree left, driving another long distance—trapped by a little road to nowhere and having to make a U-turn at the end and backtrack both long stretches before getting back on track. Now consider that all these little roads are eclipsed by parked cars, and that you’ve got people walking diagonally across these vague unmarked spaces, without a sidewalk to be seen anywhere. It’s like Frogger on LSD! For you to pretend that you’ve figured out not just a safe way, but the safe way for a person on foot to navigate this automotive nightmare, and that anybody who strays from this safe scheme deserves to be heavily fined—well, it’s like something out of a darkly satirical work of dystopian fiction.

If real justice were to be served, it would involve evacuating your irreparably screwed up county, bulldozing everything in it, and then bringing in intelligent, learned city planners from a properly functioning city—I’m thinking perhaps San Francisco or Amsterdam—and just starting over. Then you could have a place where people aren’t driving fifteen minutes or more to every destination, putting up with constantly bad traffic, and voicelessly accepting an asphalt tyranny that leaves no room for responsible transit like walking and bicycling. By starting over from scratch, you might actually develop a community where people can enjoy getting around. But instead, what do you do? You put in surveillance cameras so you can punish pedestrians for not complying with your absurdist, half-baked, ultimately utterly benighted “safety” principles! You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Obviously there’s nothing practical for the Superior Court of California, County of Orange, to do about a massive civic problem that has been steadily building for decades. You could, however, admit the farcical error inherent in punishing me for your community’s sins, by dismissing my case and striking it from the record. Thank you for your consideration.

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