SAN PAB DIARIES: Law & Order Pt. 1

on April 15, 2009

The day I got my Cali drivers license was also the day I got pulled over in Cali for the first time. And it was on San Pab Ave, early August, and I was actually driving back from the DMV. Something about crossing a double yellow line and not having proof of insurance. It was also the day I discovered the Marshalls on San Pab in El Cerrito, because it’s around the corner from the DMV. As for the traffic violation, I tried to argue that the double-yellow-line rule was unique to California, and I’m from New York, so give me a break. Didn’t fly. Had to go to court in December, and then got a new court date in March. And since I got stopped in El Cerrito, this involved riding north on San Pab to Richmond, to the Contra Costa County Superior Court.

For those unfamiliar with these parts, here’s how you know you’re in Richmond if you’re driving north on San Pab: you pass through Albany and El Cerrito, where San Pab is lined with generic gringo stores and shopping centers, until seemingly out of nowhere, just past the Dollar Tree, you start to see the occasional tienda and mechanic que habla español and this one really good pupusa-taco joint to your left.Then just before the I-80 overpass you hit the Home Depot, where groups of brown men huddle under the thin shadows of trees, hands in pockets, talking, sometimes playing with cell phones, rarely smiling, waiting for work that never comes. You’re now in Richmond.

So, my court date. This is Contra Costa County traffic court: you stand in line, go up to a counter where you either pay or say you want to go to court, and in case of the latter you come back two or three hours later to see a judge.

Observation #1: Turns out that the fines were raised $50 in 2009, so those sneaky bastards ended up charging me $50 more than the original fine, even though it was issued in 2008 and they never told me it was gonna go up when they extended my court date into 2009! They had also upped the driving school fees, which is a Catch 22 because either you pay to relearn how to drive, or you pay your insurance more money for having a moving violation on your record. The clerk consoled me by letting me know I could do it online. For an extra $49. I wasted time trying to argue against the inherent injustice and stupidity of charging upped fees retroactively, only to be met with the blank stare of a state employee who might have sympathized, but had absolutely no power to do anything about it. Observation: bureaucracy sucks.

Tune in to the next edition of San Pab Diaries for Contra Costa County Court Observation #2, or “Do black and brown folks really drive that bad?”

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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