Saturday, December 01, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

I have a confession to make. I recently managed to collect a speeding ticket. It was my first on this continent, and my first for 25 years on ANY continent. Indeed, my darling wife laughs at me for setting the cruise control at 60mph on the highway, usually accompanied by unnecessary remarks about me being already too old to be able to afford the luxury of driving so slowly.

Now we have clearly demonstrated that I have either been lucky, for 25 years, or that I generally don't drive too fast, we can get to the meat of the story.

I need to tell you all about *School Zones*. I can already hear half of you laughing, and the other half groaning, but my less American family don't know about School Zones, so bear with me.

School Zones are areas of highway close to schools, that have reduced speed limits at certain times of day, and usually have flashing lights to indicate the reduced speed limit times. The speed limit here is reduced from the normal 40 to 45mph, down to 25mph. The penalties for exceeding the limits are severe, tending to be at least double the normal speeding ticket, and require a Court appearance just in case the Judge had a particularly bad bout of indigestion and wanted to jail you for thirty days too.

I am religious about School Zones (if nothing much else), and it would never cross my mind to exceed 25mph while driving through one. And I wouldn't have, had I known I was in such a place. I was driving, ironically from school, to collect some wood from a supplier. I thought the speed limit was 40mph, and I was doing about 35mph because I was aware that the schools had just emptied for the day. I knew this, at least in part, because I had just left one.

When the Policeman, on his motorcycle, pulled out behind me with lights ablaze, I genuinely thought he must be after someone else. He wasn't, and this soon became apparent. Ho hum! ..... I pulled over in a nice safe place and we conversed. Well actually, he spoke and I listened, nodding and agreeing with him at the appropriate moments.

He wanted to see my Driving License and Insurance. Bugger! The License was all present and correct, but the Insurance Verification appeared not to be. Not to worry, said the helpful Policeman, I can just write you two tickets. This level of generosity appeared a little uncalled for, but I already suspected that he was unlikely to be referring to two tickets for the upcoming OU v. Missouri game, and these doubts were soon firmly embedded in reality. While he disappeared to check my Driving License I called Jodie. She helpfully assured me that the Insurance was safely stuck on the side of the fridge. I looked all around the car, but couldn't see the fridge anywhere, so *helpfully* is a word I use advisedly.

She also asked me if the Police Officer was being nice, or an ass .... I told her that, under the circumstances, it was I who was the ass. As part of my efforts to persuade the Policeman that I was indeed a decent guy who had made a genuine mistake, I repeated this conversation to him. He took the view that I was making his boring job a little less tedious, and wrote down my speed at 34mph, not the 36mph he had clocked me at. This was a significant piece of kindness. Less than 10mph over the limit is way less of a deal than more than 10mph over. The latter would cause an entry on my driving record, and increased insurance premiums (and probably a larger fine). Under 10mph wouldn't. Thank you Tulsa, for decent Law enforcement.

Anyway, a few minutes, and two tickets later, I was on my way, complete with Court date and helpful instructions on how to get there.

This would be simply a sorry tale of one man's stupidity, and there is little of any real interest in that. But there is a sting in the tale, and that became apparent yesterday, in Court.

Tulsa Municipal Court is, I soon came to realise, a cash register for the City. As I sat there for an hour listening to case after case, the fines were racking up thousands of dollars income for whichever departments benefited. Now don't get me wrong. I am not complaining about this, just astonished by the revenue flowing in from various traffic and other less savoury crimes committed daily in this city. It goes on, day after day, month after month, and must add up to a tidy amount per annum. I was simply hoping that, when my turn came the penalty would be bearable. We are not wealthy people and can ill-afford for me to squander hundreds of dollars in this manner. In the end it was a bearable $175 including costs, and I count our blessings.

There were a good number of defendants who were out of work. Some of these unfortuanates were racking up fines in the hundreds (actually, thousands, for one guy), and clearly didn't have the means to pay them.

Tulsa has a *Workday* scheme. I am sure they are common, but this was my first encounter. Basically the Judge, when satisfied a defendant couldn't pay, was able to offer a number of days Community Service in lieu of the fines. I did the math .... He was offering a rate of exchange of about $50 a day (tax free, of course).

I did some more startling, more revealing and much less palatable maths too. At my rate of pay as a Substitute Teacher, I would be financially better off taking the Community Service, than I would be by paying the fine and spending the equivalent time teaching classes of High School students.


Pitiful is the only word I can readily think of to describe a situation where the City values a few hours cleaning graffiti, or sweeping up leaves, or whatever, at a higher rate than they will offer to those who regularly spend days, weeks and months educating our children. Their commitment to Education is underwhelming, and this City, and local School Districts should hang their heads in shame. If the experience of shame was an emotion ever felt by politicians.

Nope ... we need grandiose schemes to develop the River, or a new Exhibition Centre, or tax breaks for business. Meanwhile we will appear on TV wringing our collective hands when school results crop up, when it is demonstrated that half the City schools are on the "need of improvement" lists, or otherwise failing.

Pitiful! There it is ..... Now then, you can start by giving MY $175 to the school my kids go to. Maybe then they won't have to rely so heavily on cash from Quick Trip to fund necessary school activities.


useless_rambler said...

Yes, dear... you had me laughing. I told you not to do that!!!

Seriously, tho... pitiful is a kind word to describe the atrocity that is educator pay. Unfortunately, we are learning that all too well these days.

Oh, well... rest assured that you *do* make a difference, each and every time you grace those buildings. You've got that 'something' that many of these kids need.

Thank you for giving it to them :)

Anonymous said...

Well I have to admit that I also had to laugh when I read this...poor Steve! I suppose the good news is that you *only* got a ticket of $175. ;-)

I can see where Jodie was being helpful by telling you exactly where the insurance verification was...I mean, you did ask! At least you had insurance, because that's a much bigger ticket...and can get your license suspended for a first time offense.
It is true that you can work off quite a bit of your fines by going the community service route. I'm curious, did you see anyone released for "time served" while you were there? I'd like to be able to figure out how much a day of a person's life is worth. Do they deduct room & board I wonder?

While this story makes for a good laugh, it points out a pretty big problem too.
Teacher pay. There isn't enough of it. Hell, there's not enough funding for schools in general.
Is there an answer to this problem? I'm sure there is, but it will not be found through the current leadership in TPS. Those people are more concerned with their own paychecks than the kids that have to attend the schools!

Bah...I'll get off my soap box now.


Steve said...

Yeah, jump down Dearie, and come and sing.