Narrowly Escaping Jail

I had you with the title, didn’t I? At least I hope so. I’ve been on a mission for good blog post titles.

So I’m happy to report that the traffic cop saga continues. I thought I had seen it all, but the latest iteration was different yet again. I was driving along with my friend, already a bit late for a coffee date, and we were starting to be frustrated with traffic. It had slowed to a complete crawl. Probably a broken robot, we thought. My friend was already furiously typing into her Garmin to check alternate routes, but it seemed like the one we were on was still our best bet.

Until we hit the roadblock. You’d think I would have seen this coming, as often as I’ve been stopped in Johannesburg, but as always it came as a complete surprise. A friendly lady-cop waved me along to park at the end of a long line of other cars, and then we sat there waiting with plenty of time to think and get nervous.

And nervous I was. Remember how I always tell you that I welcome my traffic cop encounters because they make such good writing material? Well, I lied. I still hate them. I think it might be my German upbringing. I buckle in the face of authority. Even the authority of a South African traffic cop. I briefly considered what would happen if I just drove on. Not all cars get stopped at these sweeps, you see, and her waving wasn’t really very coherent. And do they take down your number right when they’re waving you over? And even if they did, could you just drive on and innocently claim you thought they were waving you through?

But by then it was too late because she was coming back. I rolled down my window and handed her my Kansas license. She seemed very happy with that, for a change, and stalked off again, to “check if there are any outstanding traffic fines.”

Uh oh!

Did she say traffic fines? Now I was really nervous. I’ve told you that I’ve had plenty of those, and I’ve even told you how to pay them. Or rather, how NOT to pay them.

It was the NOT paying them I was thinking of now. I could very clearly picture the two traffic tickets sitting on my desk at home, because just this very morning, in a half-hearted attempt to stay true to my New Year’s resolution of doing one unloved to do per day, I had picked them up, looked at them, and put them back. Surely something more lovable than paying traffic fines can be found, was my thinking. I was also thinking of the reader who suggested that Joburg traffic fines don’t actually have to be paid unless they are delivered via registered mail, which they never are. So in the back of my mind I was going on a dare to test that theory. Though in another part of my mind I was silently cursing that reader.

The lady eventually returned, and wouldn’t you know it, she was carrying a sheet of paper with my two outstanding traffic fines neatly printed on them. I had a feeling of doom. I was really in deep, deep trouble. I’ve heard rumors that they are now allowed to detain you when you haven’t paid your fines, until such time that you do, a concept that honestly makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe this is their counter attack against the if-it-hasn’t-been-delivered-by-registered-mail-I’m-not-paying-it scheme.

“Did you know these traffic fines are outstanding for this vehicle?” she asked.

“No, I never got these,” I said, trying not to blush. I’m a terrible liar.

I was prepared for a long debate on this point, but once again, this traffic cop surprised me by veering in a totally different direction. In fact, if there is one theory of mine regarding South African traffic cops that is starting to be confirmed by more and more data points, it is that you only ever get harassed for no good reason at all. If there is a good reason, they let you go.

So it was in this case. The friendly cop asked politely whose car it was, and when I informed her that it was my husband’s, she handed me the sheet and said: “Please give this to your husband and tell him he must pay these fines. And tell him that your driving is very good.”

Relief washed over me as we drove away, if not a tiny sense of pride at being praised for my driving (I told you I was a sucker in the face of authority).

Yet something nagged at me. I glanced over at my friend, and there I saw it written plainly in her face too:

Another opportunity of finally blogging about South African jails had run through our hands.

Epilogue: I did hand the sheet to Noisette. Which he then handed back to me because at our house I’m the one in charge of paying bills and other tiresome tasks. Now it’s back in my inbox where I suppose it can stay until such time I get pulled over again? Or, in an evil twist to the plot that just occurred to me, did they now record somewhere that I was personally  handed the traffic fines by a cop, so that  next time I get pulled over they actually CAN detain me for ignoring such a direct order?

I guess there is only one way to find out. What do you think?

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