My first official act upon moving to Oregon was to get a speeding ticket. I made sure to do this almost as soon as I had crossed the border, to get it out of the way.
It was near a place called Baker City, and the State Police officer said I was doing 91 in a 65. I have every reason to believe this is true, more or less. They use those radar guns, or at least they say they do. I don’t know. I’ve never seen one. The cop always says, “I clocked you going 91” (or whatever; I’m not always going 91 specifically), and I take his word for it. I just believe him that he has some magic device in his car that tells him how fast I was going. He could tell me there’s an elf with excellent depth perception who sits on his dashboard and announces the speeds of passing vehicles, and I’d have no choice but to believe him. What am I going to do, demand to see the elf?
Anyway, this particular officer said I was going 91, and so it was. He wrote me a ticket and sent me on my way. As I drove away, I looked at the ticket to see how much it was going to cost me.
Now, I’ve gotten speeding tickets before. Most of us have, I think, at least once. You figure for speeding on the freeway, it’s going to be eighty, maybe a hundred bucks. Maybe as high as one-fifty if you’re in freeway-intensive, money-desperate state like California. And that’s part of the risk. You know you’re speeding, you know there’s a chance you might get caught if you don’t keep your eyes peeled for Smokey, and you take that into account when you choose to drive fast.
My point is, if I had known a speeding ticket in Oregon would cost $431, I wouldn’t have sped. They should put it on the sign when you enter the state: “Welcome to Oregon! Speeding tickets are $431!” Or more to the point, “Welcome to Oregon! Bend over!”
Four hundred thirty-one dollars! That’s an outrageous amount of money. I bet if I called whichever county it was and asked someone, they’d admit it’s outrageous. They’re probably embarrassed by it.
My friend Rob, with whom I am living in the Portland suburbs until I find my own place, is a sheriff’s deputy, and he examined the ticket carefully, looking for ways to support my intended “not guilty” plea, which we will file by affidavit (I’m certainly not driving to Baker City again) in an attempt to have my fine lessened. He found several things wrong with it — nothing strong enough to invalidate it altogether, like the cop signing “Up Yours” instead of his real name — but enough to make a case that the judge should at least lower the fine. Rob is a good friend. Of course, if he were a REALLY good friend, he’d make the ticket go away altogether. But alas, in addition to being a good friend, he’s also a good cop. What I need is a good friend who’s a bad cop. One of those would come in handy.
The preposterous traffic fines are one of the things native Portlanders don’t tell you about Oregon when they’re babbling on and on about how great it is here. When you visit, all you get is, “It’s so green! And there’s no sales tax! And the people are so laid-back!” Once you’ve actually committed to relocating, then the truth comes out. “Yeah, speeding tickets are the same as a month’s rent. Oh, and feral dogs roam the streets, making it unsafe to go out at night. Oh, and once a month there’s a poison gas leak that forces the evacuation of the entire city. Just so you know.”
The other day it was raining so hard that a river of water was flowing down NW 21st Avenue, where I was trapped in the lobby of a movie theater. The Portlanders gathered and gawked and pretended to be surprised at the event, but they weren’t fooling me. I know as soon as I left, they got in their gondolas and paddled away, saying, “Do you think we convinced him this isn’t normal? Do you think he’ll stay?”
I’m not going to move to Portland and then complain about all the rain, of course. That would be like moving to Utah and complaining about all the Mormons … which, in fact, occurs daily on the Letters to the Editor pages of Utah’s newspapers, and far be it from me to act like one of those crackpots. No, I will embrace the dampness. I will grow to love it as I sit on street corners and beg for spare change. If just 1,724 people give me a quarter each, I’ll have enough to pay off the speeding ticket.
One time I paid a speeding ticket with a check signed "Up Yours," and the city sent it back and made me write them another one. Said they couldn't cash it because of the "irregular signature." I bet they didn't even try.