It so happens that the City of Los Angeles gets pretty cranky when you run a red light, even if unintentionally. I became aware of this fact last week when an angry letter arrived from the Superior Court of L.A., containing ominous words such as "court date," "plea," and, most pointedly, "$340."
Needless to say, I could think of better uses for a three-hundred-forty-dollar bill than handing it over to Los Angeles so the city could reupholster the DMV. I had already begun concocting a wild legal counterassault, involving everything from challenging the incriminating officer, to questioning the validity of the senses, to good old-fashioned lying, when I noticed that the letter included several photos of my car allegedly rolling through said stoplight, taken by an automatic camera. This cohered strongly with my memory of several bright camera flashes during the occasion, which I had hoped were merely confused Japanese tourists or my usual paparazzi.
Now I am a man who, were there a magic button that would cause all Department of Traffic Enforcement employees to spontaneously explode, would leave skid marks on the carpet en route to pushing it. But I am also a man who has a deep admiration for technology, and it occurred to me that inasmuch as the incriminating evidence had been provided by an automatic camera system, I had actually been victimized by evil robots.
If you do not understand the significance of this fact, then you are clearly not a ten-year-old boy and have never been one. In my youth, the idea of gleaming, violent robots replaced hackneyed ideals of prior generations such as “world peace” or “reason.” Kids of my generation grew up watching the opening to Battlestar Galactica, where malevolent Cylons cluster-bombed panicky crowds of innocent civilians, and dreamed that one day this vision might be realized. Given all the time I’d spent dreaming about and/or drawing evil robots in service of despotic empires, the prospect of someone actually being nabbed by them seemed too cool to protest. Even if that someone happened to be me.
Also, I am not a man who is about to go toe-to-toe with a disgruntled judge trying to disprove a photo. So I was ready to resign myself to my fate when I learned that the ineffable badness of the situation didn’t end there. As the reckless drivers among you doubtless know, even a harmless Sunday afternoon glide through a red light counts as a dreaded Moving Violation, and makes your auto insurance jump like a cat thrown into a bathtub. A quick call to AAA confirmed that I was in for a joyous “Busted by the Man” annual fee of $173 for the next three years.
However, I also discovered that Los Angeles offers you a reprieve. You’re still in for the ticket fee — someone has to pay for those cameras — but the city is willing to pretend the moving violation never happened if you submit yourself to Traffic School. Although I was excited by the thought of a Breakfast Club-style bonding over shared adversity with fellow oppressed individuals, I soon discovered something even more appealing: Online Traffic School. Same exoneration, but over the web, and self-paced. The course is supposedly eight hours long, which I figured is calibrated to the average Los Angeles IQ, and thus for someone like me would take no more than half that time. And five-hundred-plus-dollars of savings for four hours of my time is a good bargain at my current socioeconomic stratum.
But there was a far cooler aspect to this than the fiscal boon: inasmuch as I was using a remote server on the Internet to get me out of these inflated insurance premiums, I was harnessing good robots to counteract the evil robots. My life had become the embodiment of my wildest dreams for the future. My inner ten-year-old gave high-fives to everyone in sight, then lapsed into a Froot Loops coma.
So I now have until December 27th to pass a test that I suspect will be comprised of questions such as “Are stop signs optional?” And more importantly, I will be leading the charge along the crucial but largely overlooked Robot Front in the war for personal liberty. Not preferable to avoiding the ticket in the first place, but I am doing my part to push humanity into a brighter future.
Also, I am taking note of the address of the Department of Traffic Enforcement. Just in case someone gets those Cylons working.
Michael G. Shapiro lives in Los Angeles, where he writes music for film, television, and multimedia. Samples of his work can be found on his web site, www.mikemusic.com. He has spoken at TOC's Summer Seminar on film music and Objectivist epistemology. Despite his technophilia, he found that robot dog on Battlestar Galactica incredibly annoying.