Pleading my case
I know people who contest every traffic ticket they receive.
I’m not one of those people.
I’ve always had a difficult time explaining why I should get out of a ticket I know I deserve.
This reluctance to plead my case stems from something I first became aware of in childhood, when I observed classmates shamelessly lobbying for better grades on tests. Now, I can totally understand asking for your grade to be changed if you uncover a mistake — if the teacher erred when correcting your exam.
But that’s not what was going on here. These students weren’t pointing out mistakes. They were arguing that because they really wanted a higher grade, they should get one.
My few attempts to engage in this sort of behavior were abject failures.
During tests, I observed that my classmates were sometimes able to summon the teacher, ask for clarification about a question, and receive helpful hints. I decided I should try this, too, and requested some extra guidance during a chemistry exam. My teacher simply stared at me. “I can’t just tell you the answer,” she said.
Perhaps this experience explains my lack of confidence at pleading my case.
Unless I have an airtight, unimpeachable argument, I’m just not really sure what to say.
I never try to get out of speeding tickets. When I receive speeding tickets, I pay them. After all, the radar gun does not lie. When I get parking tickets I pay them, even the ones I think are ridiculous. And when you live in Albany, most parking tickets are ridiculous. However, “This is ridiculous” is not a cogent argument. And that’s the problem: I don’t have a cogent argument for why I shouldn’t have to pay my parking tickets. And so I pay them.
Not everybody operates this way.
When my friend Brian announced his intention to contest a speeding ticket, I asked him what his argument would be. I mean, it’s not like he wasn’t speeding. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll think of something.” Immediately, I flashed back to high school chemistry. I imagined the judge would be a lot like my teacher — that he would dismiss Brian’s ticket, but that if I waltzed in with a similar request, he would simply stare at me and say, “I can’t just let you off the hook.”
For years, I’ve been unable to shake the sense that other people can get away with things that I cannot.
But last week I made an important breakthrough.
I went to court and pleaded my case and got what I wanted, which was leniency.
About a month ago, I was stopped at a registration checkpoint, where the police pointed out that my registration had been expired for an extremely long time. I’m actually embarrassed to say how long it had been, other than to note that I had to get new plates when I went to the DMV to correct this problem because my registration had been expired for more than a year. (Closer to two years, really.)
I was actually quite surprised to discover that my registration had expired.
Though I should have noticed, of course.
After reviewing my paperwork from when I purchased the vehicle, I came to the conclusion that I was ripped off — that I paid the dealership $124 for a registration that expired in less than three months. (I’ve since learned that a two-year registration plus new plates costs about $88.) “We can take care of the registration for you,” I remember the guys at the dealership saying. I suspect that when my registration sticker arrived in the mail, I slapped it on the windshield without taking note of the expiration date, and assumed someone would notify me when it was time to renew. And since I managed to get a parking permit last year, and pass inspection in January, it never occurred to me that anything was amiss.
I explained this all to the judge, while also acknowledging that keeping my registration up to date was ultimately my responsibility, and that I should probably have been more observant. The judge listened to my tale of woe, asked a few questions, and then said that the maximum penalty was $300, and the minimum was $40. “I’m going to give you the minimum,” he said.
“Well, thanks,” I said. “I appreciate it.”
As I left the courthouse, I remembered something else Brian once told me: “If you want something, you have to ask for it.”
Well, I’ve always hated asking for things.
I wish people could just anticipate what I need and want without having to be told.
In my ideal world, a mysterious benefactor would have taken care of my expired registration for me, and I wouldn’t have had to deal with the DMV, or the court, or call the car dealership to inquire as to just what that $124 registration fee got me anyway.
But the world doesn’t work that way.
Sometimes you have to plead your case.
Which is something, I think, I’ll be doing a little more of.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.