I last left off writing about an outrageous misapplication of public transit law. But I didn’t get mad; I got even. Well. I did get mad. But I didn’t stay mad. And I did get even, the way any true revolutionary does–by using the legally established channels to politely seek a more favorable outcome.
This involved traveling to the Transit Adjudication Bureau by subway (a delicious irony) to plead my case before a “hearing officer,” a term for a public functionary which has just the right amount of Orwellian ring to it. As I took the elevator up to the Transit Adjudication Bureau offices, I saw a notice posted on the elevator wall that read “the use of profanity or physical violence against public employees will result in criminal prosecution.” Which is very comforting to know–that the place you’re about to enter necessitated a sign like this to be posted. And they weren’t kidding either. Before you can enter the waiting room, you have to go through a metal detector and then talk to people at two separate windows before you’re even allowed to wait for someone to listen to your case.
The reason for this immediately became clear–if you’re coming in hot with a lot of ire about how the system has done you wrong and you’re gonna let the system have it, you have to keep that ire kindled for about 50 minutes before you can actually unleash it on Uncle Sam’s surrogate. I say it became immediately clear because after I walked in, a guy came in behind me who tried to tell every employee he came in contact with that “the back door of the bus was open and everyone was getting in and the machine was broken, and nobody else got fined, and how are you going to charge $100 for not knowing that you can’t go in the back door of a bus?” He was a passionate man. So passionate that I thought even if he had a decent case, he wasn’t going to win it by delivering it like it was the Sacco and Vanzetti trial.
A true and honest 60 minutes into my visit, I was finally called by hearing officer. He was a short, stooped genial old man, wearing possibly the widest tie I’ve ever seen. He was not the physically imposing robed figure carrying a cudgel that I’d imagined a hearing officer to be. And if I had misjudged the officer, I had even more misjudged the office. Because it was legitimately an office–smaller than some offices of middle managers at companies I know aren’t doing well financially. The office was completely painted off-white with a perfunctory file cabinet, desk, and computer. Wide Tie dialed a number on the desk phone–oh there was also a phone–which it turned out was what they used to record court proceedings.
And with that, and a request to “please speak very loudly,” the State of New York asked me to defend myself.
Which I did and it took about five minutes and they made a copy of my Metrocard and sent me back into the waiting room.
Where I sat for another hour.
And during that hour, I got to enjoy the fellowship of my co-defendants. These included two older men, one of whom was helping the other remember what his social security number was. Not the actual number, but the concept of a social security number. It took a couple of minutes. It also included a baby who was apparently very displeased that he had been ticketed for jumping the turnstile; he made this apparent by crying at full volume for twenty minutes. I think he had a good case, though, because I don’t think he was capable of jumping. And finally, I got to hear more from Sacco and Vanzetti who it turned out had tried to argue his case with the hearing officer in the lobby before they even got to the office. He did not win. His last defense after losing his case was “if they charge you $100 for getting in the back of the bus, do they charge you $200 for getting in the front of it?!”
Finally after what seemed like an hour, and actually was an hour, my name was called for the rendering of my verdict. And to my surprise, Wide Tie didn’t even give it! I guess because they’re worried about the whole profanity and physical violence thing. It was one of the window people who actually told me that I’d been set free from the bonds of tyranny and handed me a piece of paper wherein Wide Tie basically said, “this guy seems alright and the turnstile seems like it was garbage and he came all the way down here, so I say he’s good to go. Why not, right?”
And with the harsh rebuke of the Law silenced, I went to celebrate my victory at Starbucks, just like Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony.