The Truth Board

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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My $1,500 Mistake

If you do nothing else in your life, take the law seriously. The excuses that you have used to get out of mistakes growing up do not apply in the adult world I am quickly becoming a part of. Statements such as, “I’m sorry, I forgot,” or “My dog ate my homework,” are now often met with apathetic results. Acceptance and forgiveness cannot always out-weigh the mistake itself. There is no such thing as, “You are forgiven this time,” or “At least you learned your lesson.” If you mess up with the law all you will get is burned.

I know I did when, on Monday, I opened a letter from the DMV that informed me my license would be suspended due to my failure to appear in court. What?!

Why was I supposed to go to court? They must have confused me with someone else. What could I have done to (no pun intended) warrant this? I haven’t done anything illegal!

And then I had a striking realization of last fall when I was picking up my roommate from LAX Airport—I got a ticket that day. Her flight had landed in the early morning and I had to peel myself out of bed just so that I could climb into my car (still wearing my PJ’s) to go pick her up. Of course, in my groggy state I had forgotten to bring my driver’s license. And of course, as I drive around the farthest bend of the airport looking for her, I see her waiting for me a few hundred yards away. However, with the chaos of LAX distracting me I had missed my chance to pull into the appropriate pick-up lane. The last thing I wanted to do was to make another lap around LAX—I just wanted to go back to bed.

I was faced with a decision: pull over (quickly) where I was, on the red curb, and pick her up now—or—drive around the airport for another 20 minutes so that I can pull into the damn pick-up lane like I was supposed to. I rationed that no one would care if I stopped briefly in the red, so I pulled over and waved at her. That was before I saw the cop in my side view mirror. That extra lap would have been worth it.

Typical of a power-tripping airport police officer, he gave me a ticket for stopping in the red, driving without a license, and failure to present my car insurance. I actually had my car insurance in my trunk but I was so frazzled by the experience I didn’t see it when I looked. I even tried to use the, “My Dad is a cop too. He will be so upset. I’m so sorry” line, which did not work, even though it is true.

So I got a little ticket. I became lazy with it. I had totally forgotten about my first court appearance but was fortunately able to get an extension. Then, stupid me wrote myself a note that said, “Take care of this before 12/2/09” when the actual date was 2/2/09. Oops!

So now I have a mother-load of a fine, I was sent to collections, and was very close to having a warrant out for my arrest. I spend a whole morning on the phone with the court and tried to use the excuse, “I’m sorry. This is the first time I have dealt with this type of thing. I made a mistake. Won’t the judge understand that?” but was immediately shot down. The only acceptable excuses were hospitalization, incarceration, or military service and I did not fall into any of those categories. Like I said, this adult world is a little harsher than I expected. So now I have been plunged back into the credit card debt I have worked so hard to get out of and will have to spend the next several months paying it off.

I wish that I could have gotten a pass this time. I wish that the collections agent had been sympathetic to my situation. I wish I had just driven around the LAX loop one more time. But I also understand that if our government tried to empathize and understand each individual case and then make exceptions, our legal system would be worthless, not to mention even more time-consuming.

Next time (hopefully there won’t be one), I am going to take care of the ticket the same day I get it—or at least very shortly after. In two weeks I will no longer be a student; I will be a working adult. It is now important that I pay attention to the news because it actually affects me. I now have the responsibility of earning enough money to pay my bills. I now have to think about how I can make it in the world, how I can construct my career, and how I am going to make enough money to survive (hopefully somewhat comfortably). This is downright terrifying but it is also exciting. Perhaps the reason why it is so exciting is because there is so much to lose if you mess up. The pressure is on.

But right now my lesson to pass on is to take the law seriously. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about this one. The law is probably one of the most unforgiving aspects of this new adult world—and I accept that. I will just have to learn to step up to the challenge. At least I can say I have learned my lesson, even though I wish it could have been cheaper.

Fortunately I’m still young and, for now, I have nothing to lose (and my bank account will agree).

Laura Woods


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