by Pat Hahn
I have to start out by telling you my most generic personal philosophy: if you don’t like something, either do something about it or get over it, but DON’T bitch about it. That’s a waste of time.
There’s laws: like ’em or not, they’re our laws. We made ’em and we’re supposed to obey ’em. It’s part of our social contract. That’s what you get when you have professional legislators on the dole. That’s what you get when the bureaucratic machines that build the roads are the ones making the laws that govern them. The poor huddled masses, the people the laws really affect–the vast majority–are too busy working to afford the vehicle they’re “privileged” to drive to take the time to participate in the process. Legislators should all be volunteers with full-time jobs on the side, if you ask me.
Then there’s fines. An easy way to discourage somebody doing something you don’t like is to make it hurt. I distinctly remember pounding the hell out of my little brother to shut him up, but that sort of incentive’s not so PC anymore, thank you very much, Mr. Clinton. The more acceptable, universal kind of hurt is to take somebody’s money, or their freedom. There are sometimes better ways, more appropriate ways, but money and freedom are a little more universally accepted mediums: they’re the same in everybody’s pocket, and the common means to almost every end. Besides, fines for bad behavior jive well in a county where the elite few control the vast majority of the wealth and privileges.
And then there’s cops. They keep the peace, protect the free, and serve the public. But due to the recent way our world has evolved, their visible role has diminished into a caricature of ticket-writing and revenue generation. All the important stuff they do, all the humanitarian acts, all the life-threatening stuff–goes mostly unnoticed, except on TV. Cripes, the state police in California are even called the highway patrol. As if there’s nothing better to do than to drive around looking for speeders. Show me a cop without a ticket book, and I’ll show you a cop doing the job he or she set out to do. Show me the “highway patrol,” and I’ll show you someone whose job it is to pay for the damn highway….
But I digress. I wonder when it was, exactly, that we invented speed laws? There probably weren’t any, when people walked everywhere. There probably weren’t any when people rode animals–though there were probably some customs like “always pass on the left” or something like that. About that time we probably began to see our first real crashes, too–when people started riding animals. Great big tremendous clattering collisions leaving bells rung and pots and pans everywhere, spilt milk and cats and dogs running amok. Then, when people started pulling wheeled carriages behind animals, then it probably snowballed the old folkways probably turned into serious rules if you pass on the right, people get pissed. If you crash, people get hurt. Property gets damaged. There was probably a pretty strong pressure to follow The Rules.
So when the first horseless carriage was built (or better yet, the horseless horse) there probably still weren’t any traffic laws–only the norms and customs we’d managed to live with for hundreds and thousands of years. They’ll do. But when that second horseless horse was built, I bet at that very moment someone thought, “Hey, somebody’s gonna get hurt.” When mass-production got going, I’ll bet that’s when it started: stay on that side of the road and yield to the person on the right at the crossroads. The naive buggers probably said, “There that oughta take care of it.”
But sadly, it didn’t stop there. Oh, no. Not with THIS species. Every time somebody got killed, they made another law, like kids making up rules for a game of tag. “Okay, okay. From now on, when the roads come together like this, the person on the right has to yield.” “New rule! Okay, from now on, you can only go this fast on residential streets.” “Well, I don’t mind coming to a complete stop at an intersection, neither should anybody else. It’s for safety. It’s for the children! Who can argue with that?” Every time somebody pissed somebody else off, somebody made another law. Sure, it got harder to make laws as population grew and governments evolved, but mobs and apathetic plebes have a way of helping these things along. “Okay, from now on, everybody has to have a muffler.” “From now on, everybody has to have insurance.” And so on. Now there’s a law for or against everything. Turning on red? Yep. Alcohol? Yep. Changing lanes? Yep. Whether we like it or not, they’re our laws. We made ’em. (There’s all sorts of crazy laws on the books. It’s even against the law to fornicate in Minnesota. Let’s see the highway patrol pull you over for that one.)
Here’s the big secret: roads are not designed to be “fun,” and law enforcement doesn’t expect that everyone is going to obey every law nor do they believe that even if we did, the roads would be safe. Not by a long shot. Roads are designed for Point A and Point B. (Some marvelous blacktop in Arkansas excepted.) It’s not that cops don’t want you to ride fast on your bike. They don’t care. It’s not that they lose sleep at night worrying about your tabs or your loudass aftermarket exhaust or your proof of insurance. They don’t. It’s not that they give a s**t whether you’re licensed or not or that your helmet is DOT approved. They don’t. It is the simple fact that they have to give the appearance that they do. Really, all they ultimately, realistically can hope for is that you drive on that side of the road and you give a nod and slow down a little when you approach a stop sign. (Anybody who truly believes otherwise is fooling themselves.) The rest of it is just stuff somebody with too much time on their hands thought up for the rest of us.
Or, put another way, the cops’ real job on the highway is to be a presence and occasionally weed violators out of the herd as an example to the rest of us. Why do you suppose they use all those fancy flashing lights and sirens? To make a spectacle of it. Remind ’em you’re there. If no one enforced any laws, our highways would be a bloody free-for-all. But 100% enforcement is totally impossible in a free country. (Maybe someday each of us will have our own personal cop, but I don’t see it in this lifetime.) So what we get is partial enforcement–arbitrary, yes, but realistic. The mere presence of a patrol car, the mere thought of systematic repercussions, is enough to keep most people in line, which is all they can really hope for. The desired behavior is accomplished almost entirely through the existence of the enforcers and the visibility of “random” enforcement, and not necessarily the enforcement itself, though that helps, sometimes, on a case-by-case basis. And the “incidental” benefits help, too.
So is it “fair” that a cop should weed one violator out of a whole highway full of violators? Not really, but it’s a necessary evil–not to keep everybody obeying every law (because that’s impossible) but to help ensure everybody stays on the right side of the road and basically slows down a little for stop signs. That’s truly all they can hope for. All the rest of it is window dressing. Yeah, the fines suck. And there are good arguments for the fact that speed limits and speed traps are only county revenue generators, but the truth of that matter is that it’s only a happy coincidence. The most efficient way to end minor behavior aberrations is to take it right out of the pocketbook, so that’s what they do. They can’t jail someone for expired tabs. We wouldn’t stand for it. They can’t throw someone in prison for going 75 in a 55. We’d revolt. They’re not going to incarcerate someone for blowing off a ramp meter. So they fine us. or a good majority of us, it’s cheaper to just pay the fine and “slow down next time” than it is to go to court and fight pointless laws. Revenue generation, yes, but not by design–a coincidence only. Get over it, and resolve to play the game. Think of it like a Nature Channel documentary, like a group of predators weeding out the certain prey who “catch their attention.” In nature, it’s typically the young, the old, and the sick or injured. There are indicators that that make the predators’ ears perk up. “Hmmm. An easy meal. Let’s roll.” It’s an inevitable part of the eternal struggle. We as humans have evolved around it, so we’ve supplanted the lack of fight-or-flight with the game of cops and robbers, er, cops and speeders.
It’s the same with law enforcement: certain things get their hackles up. To play the game, know what they’re looking for, and take care not to draw attention to yourself. And if you do get weeded out, learn from it. Don’t get pissed at the cop for writing you a ticket. It’s his job. It’s his role. He’s playing his position. I’ve heard just about enough from those whiners, and you know who you are, who blanket law enforcement with negative stereotypes because they choose to do a job that interrupts their funtime. It’s time to grow up and separate the person from the job they’re just people, and their job is to enforce the laws. They’re human beings, and they have family troubles, hangups, good days and bad days. They have feelings, they have issues, just like the rest of us. They didn’t make the laws. We did. If a cop is a jerk, then he’s a jer the world is full of hardasses. You’ll find them in every profession. But don’t go off complaining that cops are jerks because they write tickets for laws that shouldn’t be on the books in the first place. They’re citizens just like the rest of us, and they deserve the respect you’d give anyone who spends their life trying to do a difficult job. I have far more respect for the ones slogging it through the muddy trenches of life than I do the philosphers sitting up on the hilltop, pointing and laughing (and bitching.)
So your choices are either A) fight it or B) live with it. C) Bitching about it is a waste of energy, and besides, I don’t want to hear it. Fighting it is a great idea, but it takes real commitment, thousands of registered voters, and uses up valuable riding time–worth it to some, but not to me, and probably not to you. So what’s left? A compromise:
Live with it. Play the game. Don’t draw attention to yourself.