Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fun With Systems

me: i'm on hold right now, and they're playing this slow, melancholy 40s jazz, like from the movie Chinatown. i don't know how to feel about it.
this is my student loan company, what do they have to be sad about??

they're trying to rub it in


Absurdity is funny. Sometimes. Like that IM exchange. It's funny. But other absurd things are not so funny. Or are funny in small doses, but not when they keep piling up, one on top of the last.

It's been that kind of month. Beyond some plain old bad luck (Kirsten and I had major car accidents within weeks of each other and started this work week out on foot), the really hard part to swallow has been dealing with the system, and the shortsighted, fearful people in it who have been so quick to take advantage of us.

Here's one for-instance: A month ago, I got a speeding ticket pulling into Metro Airport. I was moving with traffic at the time, behind other cars, and doing nothing different from anyone around me besides trying to navigate the labyrinth of lanes and signs for departures, arrivals and airlines. It was frustrating to get nabbed by the fuzz this way, but I wasn't surprised. I know the deal: Pulling me over wasn't done for the protection of the community, or as a lesson to me for my own benefit and safety. These kinds of traffic stops are part of a money-making system for the city; catching people on technicalities to generate revenue. To prove it, the cop didn't even bother talking to me. He just handed me the ticket and mumbled that it needed to be handled in 10 days. I might has well have been buying french fries at the McDonalds drive-through window. Telling me something like "son, you really ought to slow down" was an expired formality, the old song and dance. He took one look at my cynical face and knew not to even bother.

Still, when it came time to pay the ticket I decided to try something new. I checked that third box on the back of it and mailed it in with an admission of guilt and a typed explanation. In the past I've done options a or b: just paid the thing or had my day in court. But just forking over your money for a bullshit ticket sucks, and I learned quickly that the best-case scenario for fighting the citation is where you pay the fine but the court lets you off on the points. (The reason they'll do this is that the points will make your insurance costs go up, which, sadly for them, won't make the city any money, so judges are happy enough to let you slide on this, maintaining the illusion that leniency is possible. It's their little winking concession: "yes, we get our money - that goes without saying - but we'll essentially lie to the insurance companies and help you subvert the system we're supposed to be here to protect.") So this time I thought I'd try this third, mysterious option of writing in, and see if it worked out any better than the road more traveled.

Yeah, no.

I got a reply from the court that offered me, essentially, the following plea bargain: "Mr. Johnson, because we're nice guys, just like you, we're going to knock your speeding ticket down to a double parking ticket. This means that, sure you still need to pay that pesky fine, but there'll be no points on your insurance, thanks to us! Here's the rub. Your speeding ticket was $140. The double parking ticket is $170 (don't ask us why a parking ticket, of any kind, is $170...). So we're actually shaking you down for even more money than if you had just paid the damn thing in the first place. Oops. Oh yeah, you have to take this plea bargain or go to court and fight it. Hope you enjoyed using the write-in option."

That's super frustrating, to be explicitly robbed by the courts like that. They are basically extorting me, forcing me to pay a higher-priced ticket under the threat of a court battle that they control the outcome of. And it's not really the money that gets me down - even though $170 is a lot for me - it's how cynical it is. How aggressive.

But what are you going to do. They're the police. They're going to let you down. In all my years, the police have never served my interests, never assisted me in need. Sure, they've been there to mop up both times my car was totaled by a drunk driver, but there were arrests to be made, money to be had. And when I was standing there on the side of the road Sunday, in the rain and newly carless, and asked for a ride: sorry, the cop couldn't help me. Said he'd call me a cab if I wanted but couldn't drive me a mile down the road. In my experience, cops have only made money off me and shouted me down when necessary. That's how they do. I'm sure there are nice cops, just like I'm sure there were a few amiable Nazis. But in general the profession is shit.

So that's a pretty basic, by-the-book, fuck the police rant. But then there's what happened to Kirsten this week, which takes whatever innocence and faith we had in human beings down a couple more notches.

The dealership she bought her car from - BUFF WHELAN CHEVROLET - rushed in to scoop it up after her crash, assuring her they had an excellent relationship with her insurance company AAA, and even comping her a rental car for a bit while they made the repairs. Great start. But after three and a half weeks had gone by, and BUFF still had Kirsten's car, and had put a stop to the giving of a free rental car, she was starting to get a little bit irritated. We had been sharing my ride until it was totaled Sunday, which meant Monday we started bleeding money on rental car costs. So when Wednesday morning BUFF called Kirsten to say that, not only was the car still not going to be ready today, they'd found something new wrong with the front tire system that they didn't believe was the result of the front-end-collision she had been in, which was going to cost $1,500 to repair, and which they wanted her to pay out of pocket... she wanted to cry.

BUFF insisted the damage had not occurred in the accident. That in the handful of weeks between driving it off the lot and her near head-on collision, she must have snagged a massive pothole, which completely disfigured her steering system and which she either didn't notice or was lying about. BUFF gave us earnest and scientific reasons why this was the case and, even though Kirsten wanted to cry, she believed them because they seemed nice, and honest and why would they lie about that?

The thing is, Kirsten decided to take it somewhere else. And that's how she found out exactly why the body shop guys at BUFF were lying about it. Briefly: the mechanics at BUFF, already approaching the one-month mark and having still not finished Kirsten's repairs, had not bothered to put the car on hoists until making a last-minute alignment, when they noticed the problem with the wheel system. And that new repair, at a cool $1,500, and added on to the $7,000 in fixes already made, would have put the total damage to the car over the actual worth of the vehicle. In other words, the car should have been totaled. They fucked up.

So, rather than own up to their mistake - and with the help of the AAA claims adjuster, who was more than eager to believe the story they were telling her since it would save AAA a few bucks - they decided to lie and put the problem back on Kirsten's shoulders, figuring she'd never know the difference.

Why do I share these aggravating, completely depressing stories? Is is to make you feel my pain, and somehow transfer a little of that poison into your soul? No, it's not. The reason I'm telling you this is because it's actually kind of funny when you think about it. I know I said earlier that it wasn't. That some absurd things were funny, but that we were no longer laughing over here. But I was wrong. Because, these stories are clearly funny, which I now realize, having written them out. Don't you think? Ha. Ha ha.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.


1 comment:

christopher said...

here's a little story (very briefly).
Monday night watching TV at 11am. Hear a car slam into something, something large and immovable. Go outside to see a cop on the corner, with his gun drawn on a Dodge Stratus, yelling cop things like, "hands in the air, I'm a cop, with a flat top!!!" Said Dodge Stratus guns it and takes off around the corner. Cop follows now w/ 5 other little piggies in tow. I think to myself, "at least their making their money tonight." Go back in the house. Make up funny stories, like Riley was the one driving the Stratus w/ Pablo riding shotgun. Continue to watch "Siberia Apocalypse" (side note: if you've never seen this, do yourself a favor).
Later on I see flashing lights outside our house. Go outside and have this gem of a conversation.
Pig: have you seen a maroon dodge stratus thats been hanging out around here, with South Carolina plates?
Me: No, why?
Pig: Just wanted to follow up
Me: So, what happened?
Pig: We lost him on 94
Me: What??!?!?!?!?! There was six of you and he just smashed into a telephone pole
Pig: Our cars are too slow.
Me: So..............He got away?
Pig: Yes, if you see his car again please call us

I've never been so bewildered.

Moral of the story is...Whatever the fuck the guy in the Stratus was
doing, has done, or was about to do, was something serious. Instead of these cops "protecting and serving" the detroit community and putting their lives on the line, they gave up. Instead, I'm sure this weekend they'll give some poor wayne st. student an MIP, pull over a wayne st. student and give him a DUI for blowing a .009, or give me a noise violation.
They are criminalizing everyday people that have good jobs, families and educations with their petty laws. But the fleeing and eluding guy, w/ a gun on him and 8 kilos of heroin gets away.

Sorry for this rant, but my brothers and i very recently had a conversation on how none of us have ever been helped out by a cop, only hindered and berated.

"Protect and Serve"