Johnson Police Department: Thank You?

Need a laugh? Read this needlessly long anecdote. The only ticket I received in Johnson in my life was a warning for speeding down the hill (on a ten-speed bicycle) that connects Main and goes over the railroad tracks to hit Johnson Road. (When I used to run and walk, I did get a “stop-and-greet-who-are-you” kind of thing several dozen times, though.) I lived there many, many years and have always been extremely careful, given that there are 3,457 cops in Johnson at any given time. (Some statisticians have stated that Johnson has more police than citizens, although I think they might have been drunk when they postulated this…) I’m not a good driver, not really, so when it matters, I have to pretend I’m not an idiot. I drive to work at 4 a.m. so I don’t do anything to draw attention to myself. I drive past Johnson police to and from work and in my daily life a few dozen times a week, waving to most of them as I pass.

I bought a used car from Ford on College last year, so the police have seen me drive past them in my lovely 2007 Ford Focus no less than 500 times in this last year. Before that, I drove a beige Honda and they knew that car very well, too. Important to this story is that this car is UGLY. I bought it solely based on price and that I needed a car with working wheels and a motor. There are so many defects on this car it might as well have been in the demolition derby. I haven’t done anything to it. I don’t even wash it. I don’t care about the appearance of my car, whether it gets reception on the radio (the antennae is broken), or even if there are spiders in it. It’s ugly and only intended to get me to work and back. Dawn will get a laugh out of this story because she loathes this car. She would rather have to ride a donkey than be in it. What is really going to confuse her is that I came home and ate lunch without mentioning this incident today. She’s going to be really happy that my ugly Ford Focus resulted in a ticket. (As happy as she was that fine Sunday morning when we for some reason drove past the Johnson police department on the way to church, doing 23 mph and got blue-lighted, even though there was no other traffic anywhere on the planet. Have you tried driving 23 mph? It’s like explaining physics to your cat.)

Today, as I turn off of Main Street heading up the hill, a Johnson police car is about to exit the church parking lot on the left-side. He pulls part of the way out of the lot into the street, stopping suddenly, having to yield to me as I come up the hill. “Great,” I tell myself, “now I have to ride the brake all the way down the long side of the hill with a cop behind me.” Which I do, because I’m not stupid. I ride that brake so hard that I can feel the car getting angry at me. So, with no traffic in either direction, I ride the brake, the cop literally on my bumper. Almost at the bottom, the blue lights come on. Incredulous, I immediately pull over in the grass in front of the railroad tracks, excited to hear what heinous crime I must have committed. In my mind, I’m more curious than concerned, because I knew I hadn’t broken any laws. Was my license plate stolen? Did I have a flat? Maybe the policeman was going to tell me something helpful? Since it was Johnson, my optimism at such an outcome was less than high, to say the least. I would’ve taken Vegas odds against this being a positive encounter.

I of course have my window already down, the car off, and all my papers ready. Due to my ridiculous name, I don’t take any chances. Trust me, if your name were X, you would be quite careful in your interactions with police. I don’t mind being shot; I just don’t want to see it coming. The officer walks up to my car and after asking where I work, tells me that he noticed that my windows looked awfully dark. I told him, I bought this car used from Ford on College last August and had asked them directly if the tint was perhaps too dark. Ford told me “no.” I didn’t care whether the car had tinted windows and that I don’t care if any of my vehicles do. Since the day I bought the car, I’ve never once thought about the windows on this car. That’s not what a car is for me. It’s a box to get in and drive. The policeman returns with a photometer and shows me that the windows are in violation. He could have used a Star Trek device for all I know, as I’m ignorant about tint – or anything on a car that isn’t necessary. He said, “Yes, the legal limit is (insert whatever imaginary number applies in this blank) and your windows aren’t legal.” (Nerd joke, all I could think of what that I was using pirated software on my Windows computer.)

When the officer presented me a ticket, he was very pleasant. I’m in no way faulting his presentation, dress, demeanor or ethic. Who wouldn’t be nice? He was the one writing the ticket and making me have a terrific afternoon by giving out involuntary autographs to people with guns. I was very polite in my entire interaction with the officer. I’m certain he would agree that I was nothing but pleasant and respectful to him. Nothing I said or did lead to him writing the ticket. He had decided immediately to ticket me, no matter what the circumstances. That is what really, really bugs me. I asked him (paraphrasing): “So, even though I acted in good faith and asked about the tint of the windows, and don’t care about the windows being tinted, I’m getting a ticket? Even though no one was harmed and even a verbal request from you right now to go pay and have the tint stripped at my own cost would result in me doing so immediately?” “Yes,” he answered, “your tint is too dark.” He then showed me on the ticket where to call if I had questions. I was puzzled. I would have had the tint removed, immediately. He didn’t have to warn me or even talk to me in a helpful manner. But he could have – and it would have fixed the problem. No, he was nice and can’t be faulted for his demeanor. But the decision to give me a ticket requiring a court date or prepayment is counterproductive.

Instead of teaching me a lesson, it is only going to make me make incredibly funny remarks at Johnson’s expense. I will no longer pretend to defend the countless remarks I hear all the time about the “speed trap” mentality that most people think that motivates Johnson. While I didn’t get a speeding ticket, the one I did get was just plain dumb.

Granted, he must be absolutely right to have given me a ticket. It was his right to do so. Please note that I agree whole-heartedly that he had the right, assuming he wasn’t playing a prank on me with his Star Trek photometer. He’s also right- it doesn’t matter that I asked Ford to make sure that the tint wasn’t too dark or that I could care less about having tinted windows, or that it is my responsibility even after all that. But I’m also right that no real progress was made here today, other than to the Johnson City’s coffers once I pay the fine. The officer could have told me, “Sir, get this fixed immediately and please remind those people you know to be aware of the tint laws.” I would have agreed totally and driven off and done exactly as he told me, probably directly to the nice dealer who apparently misled me about the tint not being too dark. The fine from the ticked is not important to me. I don’t care. It doesn’t serve to deter me from further crime, because I didn’t commit one in the first place. It’s not going to impact my ability to eat at Subway’s or cause me to be homeless.

No, it encourages me to look at this interaction with a very humorous and snarky eye. I guess Johnson does need the revenue. I didn’t commit any other alleged offense other than buying a car with windows that are too dark. I then proceeded to drive this in front of Johnson police, day in and day out, a few hundred times, in both total dark and high noon sunlight. But today, for some unknown reason, I drew the attention of this police officer who wanted to write me a ticket. Hundreds of times Johnson police officers sat and watched me wave at them, and wave back at me, without a hint of an issue with my windows being too dark. Yes, it’s my fault for believing Ford when I asked and they told me my windows were fine. Yes, it is my responsibility. I’m not arguing any of that. I guess paying fines that serve no purpose is good civic practice. But an even BETTER civic practice is getting on Facebook and being snarky about it. I pray that Johnson has no law on the books that prohibits talking about this. But if there is and I don’t know about it, then I am automatically at fault for that, too.

(Maybe I have a fan on Facebook who saw me warning everyone to get out and push their cars instead of driving them to avoid a speeding ticket on the new road by Johnson Mills? If so, hey dude, what’s up? Send me a friend’s request.)

Based on the confidence of this officer to write me a ticket for something that should have not went past the warning phase, I would go so far as to say publicly that in reality, all those Johnson police officers, day in and day out, who waved at me as I passed them in my illegal 2007 Ford Focus should be called out and given a harsh lecture about public safety. How dare they allow Mr. X to drive past them for an entire year without being issued a ticket? Don’t they know that Johnson needs dollars to pay for those cruisers? Don’t they know that in matters of good faith, it is always better to punish the driver?

Before I forget, the joke is that this ticket was issued to me on the very same hill I was ticketed on back in the early 90s, riding my ten-speed bike. Granted, the previous ticket was the on the opposite side of the hill. For years, I had that warning framed. I should have kept it. For those of who aren’t familiar with the reputation that the Johnson police once had, you can suffice it say that they weren’t on the “Let Jesus forgive them” side of the equation.

Now, of course, I want nothing other than to get in my highly dangerous 2007 Ford Focus and drive up and down the Johnson roadways going exactly the speed limit. You read that right. The best revenge is driving the speed limit and making all the other motorists put their heads out their windows and shoot me in the face as they drive by in anger at moving so slowly. I guess my illegally tinted windows will help me evade the shots as they ring out? The Johnson police will be so busy investigating me getting shot at that they won’t have time to get creative with the ticket writing.

I’m not going to go to court and explain to Johnson’s judge that I didn’t know. I spend enough hours of my day at work, explaining the obvious to my own bosses only to watch their eyes roll back into their heads. I see no need to be prattled at for something as stupid as this. But it was worth a long facebook rant. Remember, you will never get these moments back, the ones you spent reading my goofy story.

An old joke: If you ever feel un-noticed or like no one knows you are alive, then drive through Johnson.

Later, I wrote the Chief of Police an email. While I’m glad he eventually wrote me back, it made me shake my head in bewilderment at what he wrote. His response was that he couldn’t teach his officers to do the right thing and to always be sure to not do something simply because they can. It wasn’t written even that plainly – it was disjointed and not focused. But that’s the argument: he couldn’t teach his officers to do the right thing. I had a couple of other smart people I trust read the letter to ensure I wasn’t imagining. “4th grade” was the response. Oops.

I did pay someone to remove all thee tint from my windows, every bit of it. It damaged the windows and defroster, among other things.

Since then, many people have told me their Johnson Police Department stories, engaged with me on social media, and universally told me that they routinely avoid driving in Johnson thanks to the police force there.