Traffic ticket in historic Whitesburg Whitesville, Georgia

UPDATE: Well, my memory must be going with age. As pointed out in the comments, it was Whitesburg, not Whitesville!

Somehow things happen to me that don’t seem to happen to others, and a friend recently suggested I start documenting some of my past and future stories on my weblog. This is the first installment, about a traffic ticket I once received, in historic Whitesville Whitesburg, deep south Georgia.

I worked my way through Georgia Tech as a coop student, initially spending alternate quarters at the Georgia Power Company’s power generation plant, Plant Yates, in lovely Newnan, Georgia. It was an interesting experience, some of which I’ll be documenting in future stories. (Like the time me and the other coop got stuck at the top of the 800 ft tall smoke stack.) Just to set the mood, on my first day at Plant Yates, I was told by the lead engineer that “coop” is the sound horse crap makes when it hits the ground. Welcome to your new job.

But today’s story deals with a speeding ticket that I recieved, when returning to my dorm room at West Georgia University, where I stayed while working at Plant Yates.

It was around two in the morning, and I was returning home in my 1982 diesel Volkswagen Rabbit along the highway towards Carrollton (the home of West Georgia University). The highway speed limit was something like 50 mph, and that’s about what I was doing. What I didn’t realize, though, was that once you enter the city limits of tiny little Whitesville Whitesburg — and you need to understand, you could, back then, enter and exit Whitesville Whitesburg in about 15 seconds — the speed limit drops to 30 mph.

Just as I exited Whitesville Whitesburg (in fact, I didn’t even realized I’d passed a town), I saw a police car pull out of the forest on the outskirts of town, and fire up the lights and sirens, in hot pursuit of my little Rabbit. I pulled over, and a somewhat overweight Officer Buford (or something like that like) came moseying up alongside the driver’s window, hand on his gun. He looks in, chompin’ on a wad of chewing tobacco, and we have the following conversation:

Officer: Boy, I don’t know about Gwinnett county (spit) but down here in Whitesville Whitesburg we have traffic laws. You know how fast you just drove through town? 70 MILES-AN-HOUR!

Me: Sir, that’s kinda hard to believe, since my diesel Rabbit only has 42 horsepower. I actually don’t think I’ve ever exceeded 65 mph in this car.

Officer: Don’t go gittin’ smart with me, BOY! (Hand tightens up on the gun. Spit.) You wanna come look at the screen of my radar?

Me: No, no.. that’s ok, sir.

So Officer Buford proceeds to write me out a $50 speeding ticket, and sends me on my way.

Now, 50 bucks was quite a lot for a struggling coop student. I got to thinking on the way back home, that (a) he was perpendicular to the road on a secluded forest path when he scanned me, (b) I may have been going above 30 mph, but my diesel Rabbit really wasn’t capable of going 70, and (c) this just wasn’t right! Talking to a friend who said he knew something about police radars, I was later told that often the radar’s calibration speed is 70 mph — meaning, if he was right, that Office Buford could make his radar read 70 mph anytime he wants.

So, I decided to fight the ticket in court.

Well, turns out court in Whitesville Whitesburg only happens every now and then, when the traveling Judge makes his rounds, and so my date was scheduled for a month into the future, when I’d already be back in Atlanta at school.

I carefully prepared my case, with charts, diagrams, analysis and references, explaining how radar doesn’t work on a perpendicular vector, how Buford’s calibration frequency needs to be checked to see if it was a coincidental 70 mph, how my little car doesn’t go 70 mph, and, for good measure, how it was my first offense. With that all ready, I was convinced I’d win.

So, on a Thursday afternoon, I confidently headed back down to Whitesville Whitesburg. As at the time, there was no courthouse in Whitesville Whitesburg, court was held in the basement of a Miss Dorothy’s lovely colonial house. Miss Dorothy even had chocolate cookies ready for the occassion. All us accused sat in little metal folding chairs, and the Honorable Judge behind a fake wood-grain folding table.

Court began, and there were about 27 other cases to be heard, — half of which were DUI’s and the other half, wife beatings. Somehow, mine was the last case to be heard, and the Judge woke up when I was the first person to plead, “Not Guilty.”

So after painstakingly walking through my presentation and analysis, the judge, with furrowed brow, looks at me over the top if his spectacles and thoughtfully says, “Mister Henderson, I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean to be traveling 70 mph. (long pause) But, Officer Buford here says you were traveling 70 mph, and I do believe him. Now, son, since this is your first offense, I’m gonna go easy on you. Plaintiff to pay a fee of $50. [gavel slams down on table] See you all next month.”

Surviving in Andalucia

If you want to survive living in Andalucia, in southern Spain, you’re going to need, in addition to a huge amount of patience, the following:

  • A darn good battery backup for your computers. Every time a cloud passes overhead, our electricity for some reason shuts off — temporarily, for periods of about 10 to 30 seconds. And don’t get one of the ones with an alarm. I generally know perfectly well when the power is out, and don’t need my UPS honking at me in the middle of the night for these short outages.
  • A whole lot of bottled water. This morning as I stood under the shower and turned on the water, I was doused with a new brownish variety of H2O. Seems the local water treatment plant had an accident, and large quantities of magnesium are being deposited into our water supply. We’ve been told the water can be used for “hygienic” purposes, but should not be consumed for prolonged periods. Yeah.
  • A good lawyer. Looks like we’ll be having our first get together with our brand new neighbors in court, as they’ve decided they don’t like the remodeling we did to our apartment four years ago. What a way to start a relationship.

I find it surprising that we have such spectacularly poor infrastructure here, given that just down the road you’ve got the White House replica of King Fahn from Saudi Arabia, where, until he passed on, he would come to visit every other year and spend a million Euros a day during the Summer months. Can’t imagine him putting up with brown water, and flaky electricity. (Then again, maybe he had his own water and electricity systems…)

Anyway, good food, good wine, (mostly) friendly people, and 340 days of sunshine a year go a long way to making up for such inconveniences, but still.

Cultural Differences?

My friend Neal, who lives in the United States, broke his finger recently, and was telling me about his treatment. I was kinda shocked at the contrast with respect to my own treatment, living in Spain, when I recently broke my toe.

Neal went to his HMO doctor, who inspected the swollen hand, and immediately recommended him to a “Hand Specialist.” Next day, the Hand Specialist took some x-rays and had Neal scheduled for surgery the very following day. Neal left surgery with a finger full of allen screws to allow for little weekly adjustments to make sure, when all healed up, that his finger is just like new. Neal has weekly follow-ups with x-rays to make sure everything’s on track. And Neal got some pain medicine.

On the other hand…

After breaking my little toe, I went to the local clinic’s emergency room, and waited, and waited, and waited, until I finally got to see the resident student doctor. Without hardly acknowledging my presence, he sends me off for x-rays. Thirty minutes later, I’m back in the office, the doc’s still busy studying something obviously much more important than me on his desk. He looks up at the x-rays, “Yep, it’s broken. In two places. Guess that must hurt.”

Me: “Yeah, doc, so, uh, what do I do? What’s the protocol? Will I ever walk again? Why is my entire foot purple? First time for me here, you know.” Doc: “Buddy tape it to the adjacent toe, and come back if it still hurts in two months.” Me: “Er, uh… Buddy what? Ok, so let’s talk about what that means. How do I manage with a broken toe? Will this affect my diet? Should I place any weight on it? Can I wear shoes? Can I type? Can I…” Doc: “That’ll be all. Sheryl will be in a few minutes to buddy tape it before you leave.” Me: “Uh, hold on.. What about….”

(Doctor leaves the room… Sheryl enters without a word, and starts taping…)

Me: “Hi, Sheryl, first time customer here! 🙂 … 🙁 So… uh, what’s the taping strategy? What kind of angle you going for there? Is that special tape? How long between changes? Biodegrable? Washable?…”

(Sheryl finishes and walks out without a word. Must be going to fetch me the broken-toe literature or something.)

(10 minutes pass. Matt opens the door, looks down the hall. Begins to understand nobody’s coming back…)

So there you go. What a difference. While Neal gets a brand new straight finger, I get a little toe that will forever lean to the right from months of being buddy taped. And I didn’t even get pain meds.

Ok, readers, on the agenda tomorrow: my next trip to this same clinic, where I had to undergo “an analysis”.

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