What Susie Wrote on My Blog

Susie said: I avoid these intimate interactions, second-guess everything I do, and am thin skinned and extremely private. I like live groups (once upon a time, before Internet, all groups were live, remember?) so that I can socialize without giving of myself. It all stays nice and superficial--er, easy--that way. And if I reveal too much, I disappear. Forever.

Friday, June 30, 2006

You CAN Beat City Hall (part 2) -- Saturday, March 18, 2006


(Susie leaps out of bed and rushes at the computer, by-passing the kitchen and her morning fresh-squeezed juice.)


I started things that I must finish. That's why I don't start things--so I don't have to finish them. And now I have to finish them because I made the committment to Dad. And because people who don't finish things probably sink into some level of mental illness. I think I'm beginning to.

So, mood for writing or no, here's my post:

You CAN Beat City Hall (part 2)

An older-model, half-beat-up pickup sits in the parking lot. Out climbs a slim, robust, forty-ish man. He sports a tasteful, well-tailored suit and a full head of hair with a trendy cut. He greets me with a thick southern drawl. Cosmopolotan or hick, he could hail equally from these boonies or a big city. He smiles nervously at me, but his eyes spark fire.

A 78-ish woman unlocks the small hall and seats us. The man is quiet until she leaves.

Then he pounces. "What are you here for?"
"70 in a 55."
"And how much is your ticket?"
"Well, mine is for 'No Seat Belt.' I always wear one. Only this time, I was going just four streets over to a friend's house after stopping at a convcenience store. And in my hurry, I didn't put it on. And they want 75 bucks for that?!"
"Now that's extortion. All other cities surrounding here charge 25 bucks for 'No Seat Belt!'" With that, he whips out a home-made poster drawn with blue magic marker mapping all the nearby cities, along with their fees of $25.

I'm startled. A lot of planning went into this. But he looks overeager to me. And overeagerness never sits well with authorities. My strategy when dealing with authority is to to appear calm, quiet, and forceful. This demeanor of inner strength scares people, like big growling dogs get scared when you chase them with newspapers and yell. I'm afraid for this man.

It turns out that he was once a stockbroker. He gave up his career to be a chef--graduated in the first chef class of his college. He had cheffed in different areas of the South but settled in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a city 30 minutes away.

"So what do you think?" he steers the conversation back to his case, fitful. I pause. I'm usually an optimistic fighter, but this is government. And he's broken their rules. And he must pay.

"You can't beat City Hall," I say slowly, as sympathetically as I can.
"Well, I think I can. I'm going to threaten to write a letter to the Houston Chronicle exposing this city. I will, too. I'll write letters to every newspaper around here if they make me pay this."

I feel sorry for his desperation, but I understand his rage. Maybe if he were driving a pricier car, I think.

The courtoom fills up with various people and the policeman. The chef and I are the only litigants. It seems other offenders drive through here from out-of-state to gamble in Kinder, and they merely mail in their payments.

I'm relieved that the chef's name comes before mine alphabetically. His case will be heard first, and I can stall. But no. A woman calls roll and then gazes fixedly at me. In her eyes, I catch a flash of humor and curiosity: she's been tipped off. But I also glimpse blood. Uh oh, I'm going to be her sport.
"Mrs. Chan, you were apprehended for going 70 in a 55 speed limit. "What do you want to do?"

I'm stunned. I get a ticket in Houston nearly once every year. They ask how you will plead and then recite you your options. What does she mean, what do I want to do? And who is this hard woman, anyway? Where is the kind, elderly man in robes I had expected and was hoping to elicit sympathy from?

"I prefer to go to jail."

The woman doesn't twitch a muscle. Her eyes stare fixed, her mouth hard. "That's not an option," she says. "You can pay your fine in one sum or in monthly payments. What do you want to do? " The same flint face, the same hard mouth.

"I prefer to go to jail."
"We don't have a jail, so that's not an option."
"Then I would like to go to the county jail."
"That's not an option. We are not set up for that. We are a mayor's court. We have no judge's jurisdiction."
"What are my options, then?"
"You can pay your fine in one sum or in monthly payments. It's your choice.

I didn't see much choice in that.

"What do you want to do?"
"Can't I do community service? or take Defensive Driving? or receive deferred ajudication?"
"No ma'm. This is a mayor's court (suddenly it hit me that she's the mayor) and we don't have that ability. So what do you want to do? The ball is in your court."

What do you want to do. It's your choice. The ball is in your court. These phrases ring empty with no choice but to pay.

"I prefer to go to jail."
Steely face. "That is not an option."

I'm losing my calm coolness. "You mean if I go to jail, the fine won't be rescinded?"

"No ma'm. We'll report your violation to the State of Texas, and they'll revoke your liscence until you pay the fine."

Like a cornered wild animal, I attack. "I'm going to call my lawyer," I say, grabbing my cell phone. I don't have a lawyer, but I figure that'll scare them into backing down. On the other hand, they may just decide that I'm rich and can well afford the fine and offer me no mercy. "My son's lawyer, I mean."

Walking proud and straight, I leave the room with a flourish. At the hall's end, away from court, I drop my shoulders and panic. Who can I call? I find a corner to huddle in, and I dial my (unnamed relative) who has had extensive run-ins with the law. Maybe he's still at his lawyer's.

No answer.

Meanwhile, a commotion begins in the courtroom. A woman's strained, high-pitched voice blusters, "We don't have to charge what the other cities charge. Fees are not mandated by the State of Louisiana, and we can set our own fees. It makes no difference what rates other cities set."

Ol' hard-mouthed Steely Face is cracking.


Go here for Part III

Back to Part I

(Gosh, I can only write so much. Sorry.)

posted by Susie Hovendick Chan


  • At 6/30/2006 03:18:00 PM, Blogger Jim said…

    At Sun Mar 19, 11:04:08 AM CST, Ralph's Homespun Headlines said...
    Now would be a good time to remember you have a cooler full of food and fresh squeezed juice that is starting to get warm. Tell her you'll pay ten cents on the dollars. I did that once - it didn't work but that was another state.

    At Sun Mar 19, 04:00:49 PM CST, Cliff Morrow said...
    Let's get on with this girl, the suspense is killing me.
    I'm hoping Jim will be gone for a while, this is pretty good stuff.

    At Sun Mar 19, 05:45:52 PM CST, Seeker said...
    "Who do I call?"

    .... your daddy, of course!

    At Sun Mar 19, 08:06:49 PM CST, Rachel said...
    Interesting story.......

    At Mon Mar 20, 07:03:05 AM CST, Susie Hovendick Chan said...
    Ya'll have a nice little group here. I know Dad enjoys ya'll. He's outgoing and talkative, and he likes the community of people and network of friends he has formed here.

    Boy, remembering details of stories is work! Even coming up with something interesting is work when one leads such dull life as mine!

    I have a brother who gets himself into real tizzies. I'll get his stories and pass them on.

    At Mon Mar 20, 01:42:24 PM CST, Anonymous said...
    Hey too late to be erasing posts - I already read part 3 and noticed it ALL!!


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