Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11, 2011 ~ Day 153
On the Way to the Courthouse

Before I say more, let me just reveal that our afternoon ended delightfully at the Cold Stone Creamery with "Oreo", "Peach" and "Cheesecake" ice cream effectively erasing any stress or tension related to the events I'm about to relate.

I'm a happy ending type of gal, so I thought I'd let you know up front that this story comes with a smiling, ice creamy conclusion.

Just wanted to make that clear - in case the word, "Courthouse," had any reader feeling nervous.

Followers of this blog may remember a post I made some months back in January, when I was stopped by a very vigilant female police officer for (a) chatting on my cell phone without a hands-free device while driving; and (b) throwing the cell phone into the back of my car next to the baby seat when I realized I was being pulled over.

Ha! Not my finest moment perhaps, but definitely one of my funniest.

Since that time, I've had to learn my lesson the hard way by working many extra hours for my husband's company to make up the cost of the traffic ticket so that it wouldn't eat into our family's monthly budget... and then go through the surprisingly lengthy process of online traffic school, extending my deadline for completing the course - not once, but twice.

I couldn't believe how much there was to read for the traffic school class... and I did read it, being the Type A nutso that I am. I read every single sheet, examined every single diagram and traffic sign, and even waded through the final section about DUIs and legal limits of alcohol in the body despite the fact that I don't drink.

While my husband and son were traveling in Georgia, I spent my free evenings working on traffic school chapters and taking the quizzes. Finally I'd completed all of the reading and quizzes, and prepared to take the online exam.

Ironically, the exam was pretty much a joke and since we needed to earn only 80% or better to pass, I probably could have passed it without an entire weekend full of studying.

That said, I've noticed that I am actually a more aware driver right now on the road - keeping my gaze farther ahead now that I've been reminded how long it actually takes to put your foot on the brake and stop a vehicle traveling at 60mph.

My course certificate was due to the traffic court this Monday... but on Friday I didn't feel like making the 45 minute drive to the courthouse to turn it in, so I cheerfully exercised my option to extend the deadline one more time. We had a great playdate that afternoon, much better than stressing on the way to the Courthouse.

Today then, with my sons out of school early on half day, seemed like a better window of time in which to make the journey East.

I happened to be far from home visiting my lyme doctor's office when I got that ticket in January, so the Courthouse where I needed to return my traffic school certificate is not extremely convenient to reach. It actually requires traveling on three separate freeways, not to mention the time from my home to the freeway.

So when I looked at the clock at 2:30pm and realized that the Courthouse would be closing at 3:30pm, I announced to my children:

"Hey guys, it's time to get our shoes on and jump in the car. We've got to be at the Courthouse before it closes in an hour."

At this point in my story you may be wondering why I didn't just mail in the darn traffic school certificate. The answer is simple - paranoia. I've had way too many things go wrong in the past with trying to send legal documents through the mail and having them get waylaid, lost, or wrecked by the Postal Service.

If we'd had a working scanner at home, and I could have made myself a good copy of the certificate, that might have sufficed to assuage my anxieties about lost certificates. Our scanner is broken however, and I figured that for just about the same stress as taking my three children to the local Fed-Ex/Kinkos and Post Office, I could take them with me to the Courthouse and teach them in the process about our legal system.

So there we were, 2:30pm and all of the kids were scrambling for their shoes when two things happened. First, I couldn't find the spare keys that I've been using to replace my own keys that I lost almost two weeks ago. Argh!!! We must have a house elf because in the last two months I've lost my wallet, keys and cell phone. Someone may be stealing my identity LOL!

Second, my daughter found this rush to the car to be a magnificently opportune time to pour a glass of water all over her head, shirt and pants. "MeMe Baff!!!" she giggled, as I struggled her out of her jeans and shirt and into dry clothes. Sigh. 2:45pm. Then we had to find her shoes.

At last in the car at 10 minutes 'til 3pm, I wondered aloud if we were nuts to be setting out so late. "The Courthouse closes in 40 minutes, and Yahoo! Maps says it is a 33 minute drive to get from door to door without traffic. I really don't know if we'll make it."

"Oh Mom," said my eldest, "Why don't we just try?"

"Yeah," said his brother. "We can always get a treat afterward if we don't make it."

I laughed. "You find a way to work a treat into every adventure, little man." Still, I didn't say no. Treats come in very handy as leverage for doing lousy errands with small children.

Off we went then, hurtling slightly above the speed limit toward the East County Courthouse. "SLOW DOWN!" read the flashing lights on the downhill speed sign as we sped by at 28mph.

"That would be ironic," I thought, and slowed down - imagining myself getting a speeding ticket while rushing off to the Courthouse to finish getting the cell phone ticket off my record.

"We're probably not going to make it on time,"
I announced. "Just wanted to let you know so you don't feel let down about it."

"Okay Mommy,"
they chorused. "Let's just try."

3:00... we see the first sign: "11 MINUTES UNTIL NEXT FREEWAY"

"If that sign is correct, we aren't even going to get to the second freeway until 3:11pm."

"How many freeways do we need to take, Mom?"
asked my eldest.

"50 FREEWAYS!" chortled his little brother. "100 FREEWAYS!"

"Three freeways,"
I corrected. "But we don't have much time, and I think I forgot the directions at home on our dining room table."

"Do you remember them?"

"Yes, I think I can remember them pretty well,"
I nodded, and then recited them out.

We forged ahead.

At 3:13pm, we merged onto the second freeway.

squealed my daughter.

"No Sister,"
admonished her big brothers. "We're not there yet!"

"Look for the exit. Do you boys see the exit?"

At 3:15pm we exited to the third freeway.

"Mom, are we going to make it? Are we there?"

"Oh honey, I don't think so. Look over there - see that big building in the Valley there? That's where we need to go. We need to get all the way down there and park, then walk our certificate into the traffic office before 3:30. I don't see much chance that's going to happen."

"There's always ice cream!
" sang the little brother happily.

"The ice cream store won't be closed too, will it?" asked my oldest child anxiously.

"No, the City government closes at 3:30 but ice cream stores will be open all night," I replied - thinking for a moment about the deeper political and social implications of this statement.

We pressed on.

"Mom, is that our exit? Is that it?"

"Honey you know, I think it is!"


"Um, it's 3:18."

"Are we going to make it?"

"We'll try!"

Of course, we hit two red lights in the four blocks between the freeway exit and the Courthouse parking lot. "TIME???" the boys screamed as we pulled into the lot.


they cried, laughing anxiously.

"Oh no! Your sister isn't wearing any shoes!!!"

"Put them on in the building!
" directed her big brother.

We joined hands and began to walk swiftly from our parking space across the lot and into the big Courthouse building.

"This place is REALLY LARGE!"
said the middle brother.

"Keep walking!"
shouted his brother.

"Sweetheart, please don't lay down on the sidewalk right now,"
I begged their little sister.

"TIME?" the boys asked in unison.

"I have no idea!"

We walked through the threshold and found ourselves facing a security guard, a metal detector and an x-ray machine for my purse. "Wow, Cool!" said my sons.

"Which way to the traffic department?"
I asked the guard.

"Up those stairs to the left and down the hall."

We looked up to see fifty steep stairs. "No elevator?" asked my son.

"Yay, stairs!!!"
cried his brother.

"Oh, my poor back," I laughed as I hoisted their sister.

We began our ascent.

Fifty stairs and some aching lower vertebrae later, we arrived at the top of the staircase and began to rush toward the "Traffic Department" sign.

"We have to get there before 3:30! or they won't let us in!!!"

"Let's RUN!" squealed my middle child. I did not protest. We ran.

"WE MADE IT!!!!!!!!"

We entered the doors to the traffic business office just as one of the workers was coming to lock it. "Are we here in time?" we asked.

"Two minutes to spare," he smiled.

"WOO HOO!!!!!!!!!! TWO MINUTES!!!"
We danced around the lobby in front of three bemused looking clerks.

And from there, we did the business we'd come to do. I submitted my certificate of traffic school completion, the clerks searched in frustration for the record of my ticket - it took three tries before they found it (...glad we came in person) and at last we got a stamp as receipt that we'd turned it in and my ticket was now excused.

"Ready for ice cream?" I hugged my kids.

On the way out of the traffic office, we began to look around a little more carefully - noticing all of the things we'd missed in our initial rush.

This particular Courthouse serves a less affluent demographic than the more metropolitan "downtown" Court of our city and many of the people milling around looked quite downtrodden... rumpled clothes, large gold plate jewelry, tangled hair, etc. Even their attorneys looked a bit second-hand, not that there is anything wrong with second-hand. (I buy most of our clothing at thrift stores these days.)

The building itself was a bit grim, dirty and old looking. Shabby would be a good word for everything about it.

"This place is kind of scary,"
announced my older son.

"That's good!"
I replied. "I'm glad you feel that way. You don't want to end up here someday because you've done something bad."

"But YOU did something bad,"
reminded my younger son. "That's why we're here today Mommy."

"You're right,"
I agreed, "And I am not ever going to do that bad thing again. I don't use my cell phone while driving any more, because it is dangerous and I have learned my lesson."

"Why don't we want to end up here?
" asked the bigger brother.

"This is where a judge and a group of people called a jury decide if you have done something so bad you will need to go to jail,"
I answered.

"Like in "Cars" the movie? When Lightning has to repave the road for the town?"
they asked.

"A little bit worse than that."

"I don't want to go to jail!"
wailed my smaller son. "I just want ICE CREAM!"

"I agree! Ice cream and NO jail for any of us!" I laughed.

With a more reasonable pace, we ambled back to our car and began the much more leisurely and enjoyable trek to Cold Stone Creamery.

As my children settled down to demolish their kids cups of Oreo, Peach and Cheesecake ice cream with rapt attention, my eldest child looked up just one last time before diving into his personal sugar fantasy.


"Yes, honey."

"Don't get any more tickets okay? We don't want to go back to that big Courthouse. We want to stay safe and we don't want you to go to jail."

"Thank you, little man. It's a deal."

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