When Life Imitates The Dukes of Hazzard

downloadDo you remember the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard” (CBS Jan ’79-Feb ’85)? Even if you aren’t old enough to have waited anxiously on Friday nights for each new episode like I did, you may have seen reruns on CMT. No? Well, it was a pretty simple premise-a family of cousins with the last name Duke get mixed-up in the schemes of County Commissioner Boss Hogg, who along with his sheriff, Roscoe P. Coltrane, enjoyed trying to put Bo and Luke Duke in jail for cause or not. Filmed in California, but set in a rural Georgia community known as Hazzard County, the show depicted a sleepy town where not much would happen without the money grubbing ploys staged by Boss Hogg to line his pockets. Does Hazzard County, GA actually exist? Not on any map, but speed traps targeting out of state drivers to generate revenue for Georgia towns are a reality. This vignette is my personal experience of being pulled over by a local county sheriff in Georgia.

Traveling in the middle of a three lane stretch of I-95, I cruised along with predominantly Georgia plated cars. When blue lights flashed behind me, I pull into the right-hand lane to allow the policeman to pass by and ruin someone else’s day. Inexplicably, he stuck to my rear bumper until I eased onto the shoulder. When the policeman insisted I was driving 87 in a 70, my jaw dropped, but as much as I wanted to call out his BS, I was wise enough to restrain myself from arguing with this local county mountie on the side of a highway. Few laudable accomplishments remain in my mid-life pocket, but a clean driving record was one I intended to preserve. After accepting the ticket, I scanned it quickly to find out which day I’d be returning to clear my name it in court.

 In my younger years, I received speeding tickets in other areas of the country, but in those instances, I was guilty. So, I paid the fine by mail and moved on with my life. This time I was ready to fight. Besides, the officer would not bother to show up and the judge would let me off. Isn’t that’s the way traffic court usually works? Well, not in Hazzard County and like that soundstage in Hollywood, this little Georgia town ran its circus a bit differently from most. The two-story brick courthouse was tucked off the main drag just behind town hall. After parking under the moss covered oak trees, I took the five minutes necessary to stroll around town. I read the requisite civil war placard, admired the tidy brick buildings with painted wooden calling cards above the doorways, and marveled at the solitude. Neither tourist nor resident strolled the abandoned sidewalks at mid- day and no cars needed wait as I navigated the four-lane main drag at a snail’s pace in my black flats. This little town was lost somewhere too far from either I-95 or the ocean to be relevant. 

After waiting on a hard wooden bench outside the court room where the other speed trap victims gathered, we were eventually ushered in a slow moving mostly straight line into the old-fashioned wood paneled court room like a chain gang headed for sentencing. Before court began, a jester-like bailiff explained how the judge would call each of us by name and ask how we chose to proceed. Since more than 50 anxious out-of-staters like me fidgeted on the now thinly cushioned benches, it appeared that proceedings might take a lot of time, but she assured us that things would move quickly. “You’ll see” she winked. The judge entered and everyone stood. After being instructed to sit, her honor explained that each of us would be called by name. When our name was called, we should stand, and let her know which if the two options we chose. Option 1: Speak with the prosecutor, or Option 2: plead “not guilty” and set a future date for trial. The crowd began to murmur, but she assured us that after the first few, the rest of us would “get the hang of it”.

 We learned fast that despite the illusion of choice, only one correct answer existed. “I’d like to speak with the prosecutor ma’am” is what her honor wanted to hear. If anyone insisted on pleading “not guilty” she re-instructed them to speak with the prosecutor. After every single person in the room relented, we were lined up in two rows and hurried through our chat with the prosecutor based on our violation. Anyone driving less than 90 mph (in a 70 mph zone) had their charges dismissed as long as they forked over the $180 fine plus court fees (a total of $240) in cash. Luckily, I came prepared after noticing the large bold print at the bottom of my summons indicating that no credit cards or checks would be accepted. Easily 85% of the culprits were set free after paying the fine, though I did see one woman escorted to the pokey (as Sherrif Roscoe P Coltrane of Hazzard County called it) after it turned out she had been speeding at 107mph and (I’m guessing), she was not so flush with cash.

After walking out of court, I felt certain to spy Boss Hogg in his white three-piece suit checking his pocket watch as he crossed the town square with Roscoe hot on his heels. I took one last look around the little town that was not named Hazzard but probably should have been, and thought about how I could have insisted on having my day in court where I called out the system for its unfair targeting of out of state drivers and questioned the legitimacy of my infraction, but that would have required a second trip to rural Georgia to defend a not guilty plea. So, myself, and most of my fellow victims (one man drove down from Baltimore, MD to fight his ticket) sold out for an expunged driving record and no need to travel hundreds of miles for a second court appearance. 

I believe we all do our best to stay on the right side of the road in life, but when the potholes grow deep and there is no money to fix them, blazing a new route is the most sensible way to keep moving forward. I could see that this town needed help to survive. It didn’t have appeal enough to draw industry or forward thinking to encourage innovation. Maybe they identified with Hazzard County a little too much. To an outsider like me, it seems unfair and dishonest to prop up a town with revenue gathered from unsuspecting passersby, but it is this subtle style of moral degradation that increasingly permeates current American society, and no one complains too loudly as long the targets are strangers  rather than neighbors.

Another Reason Not to Fly

This is a real complaint I recently filed with the TSA:

Dear TSA,
On October 20, I was departing MCO (Orlando) with my 85 year old father. We arrived at the security line at 10:25am in plenty of time for our 11:42am Jet Blue departure.
I had purchased expedited security (even more speed) through Jet Blue so that my elderly father did not have to wait in the long lines that I knew would face us. My sister was with us, but she had a different flight to a different city and entered the regular security line.
Here are my complaints:
1) The expedited security line was interminably long. My sister cleared regular security before we cleared our “expedited” line. This is alone is unacceptable. If we had purchased a product that didn’t function properly, the company would give us our money back, but since Jet Blue took our money, and TSA didn’t perform properly, we have no recourse.
2) My father suffers from cancer and has an implanted port device, but takes pride in the fact that he is able to stand on his own two feet and therefore refuses a wheelchair. Due to his advanced age, he is sometimes ushered through the metal detector and given a brief pat down at security. The times he is sent through the scanner machine, he ends up with yellow boxes showing all over him. I’m not sure if the machine picks up on his radiation treatments, or if it reacts to his inability to stand still in the machine (he shakes due to overall weakness). When we finally arrived at the screening machines, I requested that my father be put through the metal detector and given a pat down (citing his medical issues and our past experiences). I was refused (as I watched a teenager and his 40-something father use the metal detector and NOT have a pat down). The TSA agent was calm and polite, but unwaivering as he forced my father to attempt to stand still in the scanner with his arms raised. Of course, the yellow boxes appeared all over him. They checked all his pockets (which I had already carefully cleared), and they MADE HIM DO IT AGAIN. Once in the scanner was bad enough, but TWICE? After standing in line for 45 minutes, suffering the scanner twice, and enduring an extensive pat down, he needed a wheelchair! When we arrived at our gate, the flight was already boarding.
     I ended up in tears after the terrible experience because I felt like my poor father had suffered unnecessary abuse. On the plane, I searched the internet and found that other elderly travelers has suffered far worse. I understand that everyone needs to be screened, but I would encourage DHS to invest in ways that the elderly can suffer less during the process. The ability to keep on their shoes is helpful, but it is not enough, and please don’t think that offering to screen the elderly 2X is a benefit. That merely extends the torture AND holds up the line.
Thank you for your time. We will drive on our next trip.
In response, I received a brief apology stating that the TSA officers at MCO “may have mishandled the situation.
Anyone else have a fun TSA story?

The Greatest Gift

Since his first grandson was born, my father and I pack the car with gifts and travel north to spend Christmas with my brother and his family. Work is extra busy each December and with limited time, I never bother to find a tree or decorate our house. Arriving at our destination on December 23, we find their tree is trimmed, stockings hung, and baking completed. Time is spent distracting the little ones with long walks or make believe games to keep their anticipation in check until Christmas morning when gleeful exuberance erupts sending scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon flying, but this year is different.

Our holiday hosts set off to tour warmer climates, and Dad, at 84 (and not in great health), didn’t feel up for the trip. As the others planned their adventure, I felt frustrated. I couldn’t leave Dad behind all alone, but I also yearned to join their holiday adventure. After all, what would the season bring without the children here to make it merry and bright?

It turns out, despite the chill of winter, this Christmas has been one of the most enjoyable and memorable in a long time. I didn’t realize how big a gift I’d been given. By staying behind, I was able to select and trim the tree. I hung lights around the windows. I planned meals while listening to Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole sing Christmas songs.

At night, after dinner, Dad and I sit by the fire, admire the tree, and remark on the pictures streaming through my tablet of the grandchildren splashing in the waves at a beach far away. We’ve reviewed our year, reminisced about Christmases past, and begun looking forward to what will come. This Christmas might be Dad’s last, and the peace we’ve enjoyed together has been a true delight. I realize that I’m not missing out on a tropical paradise, everyone else is missing out on the beauty, joy, and gratitude of home. My special Christmas with Dad has been the greatest gift I could imagine.

Explore Locally

“Travel is a glorious form of procrastination” –Here is Where by Andrew Carroll

Frequenting travel websites partially satiates my desire to disappear to a remote tropical island, but mostly, I peruse Kayak and Expedia because my job includes arranging travel for others. Booking airline tickets and hotel rooms that I will never set foot in is a little like standing on the sidelines of a road race. I would much rather be taking part in the action.

I read recently that planning a trip, even if you never take it, can be good for you-something about anticipation sending happy chemicals to the brain. Now you know why the Travelocity gnome is always a little loopy.

I remember traveling to Greece and Rome, finally seeing all the places that I’d learned about in school. Even though the ruins were…ruined, to be there allowed me to absorb a little of life in BC. It was SO cool, and I think about trips like that when I’m moving through the humdrum of daily life. Why mow the lawn when I could be hiking the Great Wall of China?

Time off from work and my meager bank account are two reasons why not.

My limitations started me thinking about how to open my mind to the everyday world around me. I shouldn’t have to travel to China to create new experiences. Instead of pushing a mower around the yard, I could lay down on the lawn with a pair of scissors to discover a new perspective, or I could delve into the local culture. There are streets in my town I’ve never driven down, people I’ve never talked to, and restaurants I’ve never tasted.

It doesn’t cost a lot of money or require a lot of planning (or Bonine) to achieve perspective and adventure. Most of us can find it around the corner or down the street if we are willing to do some exploring in our own backyard, and once you have made the effort, the experience won’t just be a memory, it can be shared over again with neighbors, family, and friends.