Maybe I was lulled into a Supremes stupor by the oldies radio station, but I didn’t notice the speedometer creeping up.
Maybe I was just tired, cruising home from the Jacksonville airport on a Sunday night with two mewling children. My husband insists it was because I was squawking at him for leaving his glasses in the hotel room in Miami.
It could’ve been because I was driving his Honda, and I’m not used to piloting anything other than my beleaguered minivan that shakes like an angry drunk with the DT’s when I push it past 65 mph.
Whatever the reason, I momentarily placed a little too much pedal to the metal. It was at the wrong place — the notorious stretch of I–95 near mile marker 46 — where it’s always the wrong time.
While the illegal speed traps of Southeast Georgia supposedly disappeared in the ‘70s, these are still the 24/7 hunting grounds of the Darien Police Department, and anyone skating even one mile on the superfluous side of the 70 mph speed limit is prey.
Blue flashing lights descended upon us like steroidal aliens. The cop, unimpressed by my Diana Ross impersonation, shined a flashlight in my face and said he clocked me at 90 mph, which I found hard to believe since I had glanced down to see 75 during the chorus of “Stop! In the Name of Love.”
But he stuck his face in mine and growled “Do you think lasers LIE, ma’am?” Officer Meanie didn’t even tip his hat when he handed me the ticket with the guilt trip that a mother should know better. I didn’t bother to explain about the Absurdivan.
As a mostly responsible grown–up, I understood it was my civic duty to pay the fine. I was speeding after all, if only for a minute.
But when I discovered the cost of getting caught in McIntosh County equals more than a week’s pay and would tack three insurance–bloating points on my license, I decided to keep my court date and throw myself upon the mercy of the judge.
Here’s an account of my trip to court last Thursday:
• 7:30am: I leave Savannah in the Absurdivan, eliminating any possibility of speeding anywhere. In the last mile of I–95 before Darien, I pass four police cars pulled on the side of the highway, each paired with a victim. I send a silent fist pump of solidarity to the poor suckers.
• 8:30am: I arrive in Darien, founded in 1736 by a clan of Scots who sailed up the Altamaha River and now the county seat with a population of 1,700. Driving past shuttered restaurants, a dessicated car dealership and empty storefronts, one can understand why speeding tickets might be an attractive revenue generator.
• 9:00am: The tiny courtroom is packed. Purses and cell phones are forbidden, cutting us off from the outside world. A pack of prosecutors in blue blazers mutter with their heads together, fanning themselves with manila folders. I half expect Atticus Finch to roll in. No sign of the judge.
• 9:18am: Deprived of Facebook, I chat up the young Marine in uniform next to me, who received her speeding ticket on Veteran’s Day. We both agree this is a travesty to God and country. She tells me she was supposed to have been deployed to Afghanistan today but got a reprieve until spring. For now, she’ll stay at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C., and fix helicopters. And stay out of Georgia.
• 9:48am: A couple of clerks have clopped in wearing stunningly high heels, but the judge’s seat remains empty. People are clicking their feet, biting their nails, drumming their fingers and basically exploding into a storm of tics without their phones. I chew on the irony of how very slow things run in the Speeding Capital of South Georgia. The collective redolence of other people’s perfumes, hair gel and coffee breath approaches dizzying levels.
• 10:21am: A murmur ripples through the room: “Here comes the judge!” His Honor hobbles into the room, an esteemed but clearly ancient arbiter of the law. The first case called is a DUI, and the judge stares for so long at the paperwork I assume he fell asleep.
• 10:42am: Still on the first case. The judge keeps asking the prosecutor to repeat himself. I practice my yogic breathing and imagine all the clever Facebook updates I could be posting right now.
• 11:07: Things still moving glacially. My Marine friend is called to the bench and leaves smiling, so perhaps justice prevailed. The woman on the other side of me keeps up a running commentary while dabbing at her runny nose. “Take the probation,” she hisses to a stringy–haired man charged with possession of marijuana who can’t pay the $1,000 fine. I resist pinching her. I notice that no matter what gender or age, everyone adopts the same obsequious head-bobbing when in front of a judge.
• 12:15pm: The judge announces we’ll take an hour-long break for lunch. Everyone files out, pawing at their phones madly. I wander two blocks towards the water and find a delightful vision: A wildly painted bungalow housing The Purple Pickle, an “eclectic eatery” full of colorful local art and servers who call me “honey.” I settle into a pink-cushioned booth and console myself with a giant slice of chocolate cake before I must return to the sad, stuffy world of the courtroom.
• 1:15pm: Court resumes right on time, though it seems more than half the defendants have disappeared. As each case is called, it becomes evident that though the judge may be old, he is not lenient. It occurs to me that I may have driven to Darien for no reason except to enjoy some truly stellar chocolate cake.
• 1:48pm: Finally, I’m shaken out of a sugar coma by the sound of my own name. I approach the bench with my best groveling face and a cheery “Yes, sir!” Within 30 seconds we ascertain that I am guilty, but I am sorry. Since it’s my first offense, Judge Methuseleh will knock off the points but I still get to pay the full fine plus court costs: $408. I bob my head like a serf that’s been bestowed a year’s worth of gruel.
The morals of this story: First, don’t speed, especially near Darien.
Next, should you end up in court, be sure to bring a book and stop by the Purple Pickle for some cake.
And most importantly: Even with the ticket, a day lost and the gas burned, it was still cheaper to fly out of JAX than Savannah.