Probably what should have happened to me last night.
It wasn’t by choice the paper relocated to Ferndale. The move was prompted by an emergency when our building was sold, and, as we were still awaiting a buyer to scoop us up, long-term leases were out of the question. So now we’re installed up at Hilton and Woodward Heights, in the august company of businesses such as Plasti-Fab and Eradico, and instead of strolling over to Fishbone’s for lunch, we trudge over to the Subway for a sandwich. It’s different.
It may provoke laughter, but the mean streets of Ferndale do offer some mild perils for the city dweller. I used to take a straight shot to work downtown from my home in the Greater Hamtramck Metropolitan Area, but now I have to tool my way out here. The police are more vigilant, and I’ve already received a ticket, something that happened once in 10 years working downtown. If anything, I’ve become a more careful driver, especially after skidding on ice and getting into a low-speed crash on the freeway last week.
That’s why I’ve been avoiding the freeway, and going home instead on Woodward Avenue, where the buses at least seem to grind down the snow and ice enough to make passage a bit safer. And I’m driving slow and steady, letting cars pass me by and taking it easy in the name of safety.
So imagine my surprise when I was pulled over last night by two Highland Park police. The cops, it turned out, wanted to scold me a bit because I hadn’t put the new sticker on my tag. So, naturally, I started talking my ass off. Putting on a new sticker means removing the snow, getting a screwdriver and removing the plate, washing the salt off, drying it, affixing the new sticker, taking it back outside, screwing the plate back on, and with a birthday in December, it’s a pain in the ass.
“My birthday is in December,” the cop tells me. “I use a license plate cover, and it stays clean.”
OK, so this wasn’t going well. I changed tactics, “Well, you know, I’m not trying to make excuses or give you a line. I have the sticker and it should be on there.”
“Does your passenger window work?” he asked.
“Yes, it does.”
“Roll down your window there, my partner wants to talk to you.”
Undoing my seatbelt, I leaned over and rolled down the window while the flashlight beam danced around me.
The other cop stuck his head in. “Did you slash your sticker to avoid theft?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I said. In Detroit, it’s not uncommon to cut your sticker once it’s on diagonally both ways, so that would-be sticker thieves can’t peel it all off in one easy movement. Now they both knew I was somebody who at least had lived in the city for a while and knew its pitfalls. The city address on my driver’s license may have helped convince them I was just another working stiff, although it probably didn’t help that it was expired.
"Expired driver's license? No current sticker on your license plate? Jackman, what the fuck is wrong with you?"
Now, bear in mind, I had both windows open, and I was pulled over right on top of the bridge over the Davison, totally exposed to the icy 3-degree winds now blowing through my car. As I talked, I could see a heavy coating of ice forming on the inside of my windshield. This might take more than dialing up the defrost at some point.
I managed to show the cop my registration, proving that it was at least current.
“Where’s the sticker?” he asked.
“On my to-do pile at home,” I said.
“Keep it in the car,” he said before waving me on and letting me go.
Pretty cool of them to let a fellow go, even if they left the interior of my car ice-cold. I drove away feeling a bit of relief, at least until I tried giving my windshield a bit of fluid and saw it freeze right onto the glass. I pulled over again and attacked it with a scraper, then grabbed a rag and scraped the frost off the inside so I could see again. Everything was fine until I was stopped by a slow freight train on Holbrook, which crawled along at five miles per hour — and then stopped.
I think that clinched it. I had kind of a little meltdown in my car. What the fuck? Highland Park police are pulling me over for expired plates? Wasn’t there some little old lady being stabbed to death somewhere in Highland Park right then? How the hell did Highland Park even afford a traffic patrol? Had all the criminals been locked away and all the crimes solved? A city poorer than Detroit has traffic cops who wait to swing out and call me out for having last year’s sticker? What kind of happy horseshit was that?
Not that I was mad at the cops. They were cool as hell to me, and could have given me the business. These guys get my heartfelt thanks for showing a sloppy procrastinator a much-needed bit of mercy. But what about the system that puts them out there when they could be rushing off to crime scenes or chasing dope men down alleys? What about the system that forces police to be revenuers, essentially? It pissed me off.
"We need to get in our scout cars and generate revenue so we can pay for new scout cars to generate more revenue so ..."
But what are you gonna do? Plus, I hear this sort of thing is much worse in other parts of metro Detroit. All these tiny little communities, such as Ferndale, Oak Park, Hamtramck and Highland Park, have to find some way to raise money in an age when cities are shafted by Lansing and faced with rising costs and anti-tax zealots. Until we come up with some regional way to share resources, and maybe have a metropolitan police force, we’ll have to keep traffic patrols on the roads to raise money to pay for 100-odd police departments to duplicate their duties across the metropolitan region.
But at least those taxes will stay nice and low, huh?