A funny thing happened on the way home from the dentist
You probably didn’t know that a “California stop” is not a stop at all.
Nor, for that matter, is a “rolling stop.”
Both expressions are used interchangeably to describe a driver’s failure to observe a stop sign that usually is placed at an intersection. Ignore it at your peril, since failure to come to a complete stop constitutes a moving violation, resulting in points against your record, with a monetary fine piled on top.
That’s the transgression that brought you to a county courthouse a week or so ago.
You’d been nabbed at a four-way stop sign in Millville where, the trooper said, neighbors had complained about the rising number of reckless drivers tearing through their community.
“Where were you coming from?” the trooper asked.
“The dentist,” you replied.
“You know, you didn’t come to a complete stop back there.”
“I’m really sorry,” you say, gratuitously making things worse. “Just another senior moment, I guess.”
After the trooper had collected the history of your quite exemplary driving record, he suggested that you ask the court for something called “probation before judgment” as a way of clearing the points from your history.
You were a half-hour early for your 9:30 appearance at the courthouse. Your heart sank a bit as you saw the parking lot already close to full. So much for your hope of getting a one-on-one before a kindly judge in his wood-paneled chambers.
Your fears were confirmed as you entered the building and passed through a metal detector to join the milling, confused throng in the waiting room. Everyone – armed troopers and “civilian” office personnel – was exceedingly polite.
You were one of about 40 “defendants” who would be permitted to discuss your case with a police representative before appearing before the judge. It seems that all of us, essentially, were offered the same advice: plead guilty and accept the judge’s ruling.
You were assigned an affable, youngish detective who, between some lighthearted banter about the weather and the advantages of living in tax-friendly Delaware, made the case for “PBJ,” probation before judgment, as the smart way of restoring your record to zero points.
It’s likely that this room full of defendants, after similar conversations, arrived at the same conclusion, since we were all herded into the courtroom (not a book-lined judge’s chamber), where the presiding official, a smiling, black-robed gentleman, promised to make the proceedings go quickly.
First, though, he begged our indulgence to dispose of some pending court business. On cue, the bailiff escorted a handcuffed and leg-ironed lady of uncertain age into the courtroom. She wore an expression of confusion and dismay.
The judge referred to her as Alma, and she’d been charged with drunk and disorderly conduct. Now, she was being temporarily housed at the state correctional facility.
The judge patiently read the charges and Alma’s legal options. He asked if there was anyone who could be contacted to look after her. Just her cousin, she said. The judge and his administrative staff then went to work, seeking to locate the cousin and get the poor lady sprung from confinement. When the search proved to be a lengthy one, the judge returned to the matter of making our punishment fit the crime of California stopping or speeding or whatever the charge sheet indicated.
As our names were called, we approached the lectern and recited the same mantra: guilty as charged, thus guaranteeing (we hoped) a lighter fine or a reduction or elimination of points.
There was a final stop at the cashier’s window, where you ponied up the hundred bucks that your “senior moment” had cost you.
The air outside the courthouse seemed especially fresh and fragrant. Spring wasn’t just in the air: it had arrived, in all its leafy, flowering glory, albeit a few days early.
You had to wonder about handcuffed and manacled Alma, hoping that the court had been able to reach her cousin and that she, too, would be freed from her fetters to enjoy what remained of this fine day.
Dick Rossé is a 36-year veteran of Mutual and NBC News and is currently a member of the Delaware Speakers’ Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com.