Thank you, St. Louis city police, for pulling me over and giving me a traffic ticket

The other day, I got a traffic ticket.

No, really. I did. And it was in the City of St. Louis, too.

I was driving down an otherwise empty road and I saw flashing lights behind me. Being the good citizen that I am, I pulled over to the side of the road to let the cops go by. He pulled over behind me.

“What did I do?” I asked, genuinely interested.

“You failed to come to a complete stop at that stop sign back there,” the officer said.

“Oh. Yeah, you’re probably right.”

In terms of scofflawdom, my offense was not particularly great. I did not blow through the stop sign at top speed, as you see so often in the city. Rather, I slowed down to a bare crawl, perhaps 1 mile per hour, before continuing through the empty intersection.

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If I were so inclined, I might argue that doing so saves energy because you don’t have to use extra gas or electricity to overcome inertia at every stop sign — and St. Louis has approximately 3 million stop signs. If I were so inclined, I might argue that doing so saves wear and tear on your brakes.

But I was not so inclined, at least not to the nice officer. Instead, as he handed me the ticket, I thanked him for being out on the streets and enforcing our traffic laws that so badly needed enforcing.

I extended my hand. He shook it. I imagined that when he went back to the station house he was glad to have a good story to tell. A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.

I meant what I said, too. I thought the price of a ticket would be well worth it if more cops on the road meant drivers would think twice before pulling into the left-turn lane — or oncoming traffic — to run a red light.

And what could a ticket cost? Maybe $25? No, probably it would be more like $50.

It was $75. That’s the very outer edge of what I would want to pay for the sake of more enforcement of traffic laws.

And then there was $55 in court costs, even though I mailed in my check and didn’t go to court. And on top of that, there was a $2.50 charge for — well, I don’t know what it was for. They didn’t explain what it was for. It was just there. It was as if the court were saying “He’s already paid $130, he probably won’t mind making it an even $132.50.”

Which I paid, but with somewhat less sanguinity than I had expressed to the officer.

Luckily, my run-in with the local constabulary has brought me lots of new friends. Lawyers aplenty are seeking me out, wanting to represent me in my perilous confrontation with the labyrinthine legal system.

I remember a time, not very long ago, when lawyers were forbidden from soliciting clients. They could be disciplined or disbarred for trying to drum up business. It was considered unseemly and was thought to tarnish a noble profession.

Those days are gone, but not entirely. The bar still looks upon solicitation with disdain. Lawyers are still prohibited from soliciting business face to face. So I have been receiving letters from lawyers seeking to do through the mail what they cannot do in person.

One came from a lawyer who calls himself Esq., for esquire, and I have a deep and abiding dislike of any lawyer who inflates himself by calling himself Esq., especially when he practices this kind of law. His goal was to minimize the impact the ticket will have on my driving record, with prices starting as low as $50, depending on the offense.

Another, more lurid letter said, “Don’t take points on your license and pay high insurance rates — Call the Pros for fast, friendly & professional help on your Case.” I’m not sure I fully trust lawyers who want to use ampersands and indiscriminate capitalization.

A third looked more like a flyer and offered a $10 discount off their ordinary beginning fee at $50. As Humphrey Bogart says in “Casablanca,” “I don’t mind a parasite, I object to a cut-rate one.”

Thank you all just the same, but no thank you. I have paid the fine myself.

And you’d better believe I now come to a full and complete stop at every stop sign in this town.

Certain demographics are more likely to be pulled over than others, and the consequences for drivers who are subject to a traffic stop vary significantly.



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