Tickets, Incorporated; The Doom That Came Out Of New York

Adam Stone came from New York, joined the Arlington department eight years ago, and eventually found the love of his life-traffic tickets. Really. Last year he issued 4,000 summonses, yet, making him the Arlington champion.

“I just love this job,” he says. “Aren’t you glad?

Anyway, when the Special Operations Section asked whether I’d like to ride, I said yes as a matter of policy, but I thought the afternoon would be dull. Traffic tickets. Who cares?

Wrong.

Stone, a slender dark-haired white cop with a New Yorker’s sense of humor, can tell some stories. What makes the job interesting is the excuses people give. Man, are they lame. For example, the lady in the HOV lane whose baby seat, her excuse for being in the lane, turned out to contain a doll. (“Hey, lady, he’s got your nose,” Stone told her.)

As it turned out, giving tickets for speeding is not hard. Time and again, we parked on a trafficked street in the unmarked Crown Vic and watched the radar readout. Virtually everybody was speeding. Everywhere. In a 30 mph. zone, probably ninety-eight percent were over the limit. Who to ticket?

“That’s the question,” Stone said. “Everybody is over. You have to set some kind of tolerance.”

In four hours, he issued twelve of these little governmental love-letters, none for less than thirteen over. That’s not a speed trap. Many were twenty over.

Anyway, excuses. The commonest, according to Stone, is, “I’m not from around here.” Yeah, said Stone, (to me: he’s polite to the public) like if you’re from Illinois you can’t read a sign. One guy we stopped said he was with the CIA and in a hurry to a meeting. Probably had an urgent assassination to do. A man in a red Beamer said, “I saw you there. I thought you were counting traffic.” I thought evolution was supposed to weed out the feeble-minded. One young lady said she was speeding because she was running out gas. Did she think the gas station was receding? High-tailing it for to the Mexican border? Or don’t the schools teach physics these days?

I know. It was continental drift. South Arlington was heading for the Indian Ocean. With her gas station aboard.

Stone says that people seem to be driving worse every year, and a lot of it is aggressive driving.

“They don’t seem to get mad at me any more than they used to, though. For the most part, they know they’ve done something wrong, and they seem to be mad at themselves.”

More excuses. “I was just going to see my parents. They have Alzheimer’s.” Oh. So she forgot the speed limit. Got it.

By no means everybody dislikes tickets. “There’s a place where I ticket sometimes, near a park where kids play,” Stone said. “It’s kind of nice. The moms wave and give me thumbs up. They think it’s great.”

The point is worth bearing in mind. When I get a ticket, I figure the cop is being completely unreasonable. Thing is, the cop sees what happens to a kid when some jerk figures twenty-over is OK for him because he’s got an important assassination.

The dumbest response came from a guy in a Lincoln. “I live around here. I know you guys are always here.” Difficult, very difficult. If you know the cops are always there, why do you blast by at . . ..?

I figure there must be some shallow spots in the gene pool.

I asked Stone what kinds of people gave him the most attitude. No particular kind, he said. He doesn’t get a lot of static, and it can come from anybody. Generals from the Pentagon sometimes have a hard time understanding that they can’t give orders to cops. See, general, it’s a different uniform, you know, like it says “Arlington” on it. It makes a difference. Sign here.

Let’s see. For the race-and-gender thought police, out of twelve tickets we had four women and two blacks. Stone stopped everybody who was thirteen over or faster, and gave them all tickets. I watched the read-out.

Excuse: “Somebody was tailing me.” Oh yeah. And somebody needed to take his medication. Nobody claimed innocence by virtue of being controlled by Martians, but then I was only on the street for four hours.

Another woman was wearing nine earrings in one ear (I’m serious: I’m surprised she wasn’t leaning to one side) and apologized for the sweet-and-sour sauce on her registration.

They say it takes all kinds. I’m just trying to figure out why.

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