I was speeding; sure, I won’t deny that. It was 8:20 or so on Super Bowl Sunday, and I was returning my rental car at Detroit’s airport before jumping on a 10:00 flight to Minneapolis for a story. Detroit, like most big cities, has spawned an airport inside a morass of frontage roads — to return a rental, you follow the signs, turn to what seems like an abandoned stretch of lots, and you’re there.
So, I turned onto Lucas, passing by the Hertz drop-off, intending to get gas at the end of the street before circling back and dropping it off. I notice, surreally, a cop car blazing into my rear view mirror.
“Can you… actually get pulled over on the street where you’re dropping the car off?” I wonder.
Indeed, you can. A surly officer asks why I think I was pulled over.
“I was in a hurry, so maybe I missed a turn signal on the way in,” I speculate.
According to him, no: I did not give the right of way when turning onto the final frontage road. I cut someone off — him, I assume — and was going 41 in a 35 mph zone.
(Here I will pause for an instructional video on how uniquely strange it is to drive in Michigan.)
“Do you have $100 in cash to post bond?” asks the cop.
My mind… I was going to say “races,” but it actually turns pretty slowly. “No,” I say, knowing I have around $85 in cash, “but I can pay a ticket.”
Friendly enough, right? Wrong. The cop returns to his car with my license, and with knowledge of my story — trying to return the car for my 10 a.m. flight so I can get to Minneapolis for work. In literally 90 minutes I will be out of his state, a problem for the motorists of the Twin Cities, not him.
He returns 10 minutes later, as I check my watch, and hands me a ticket — but no license.
“I’m holding onto your license as bond,” he says.
“Oh,” I say. “I didn’t realize that was what you meant by bond. Can I go to the ATM over there” — I point to the gas station, maybe 20 yards away — “and get the cash.”
The cop summons up that attitude that only an armed and un-criticizable agent of the state can summon. He already gave me a chance. He only charged me for speeding. I should cut my losses.
“But I can’t get on my plane without my license,” I say.
“You can use the ticket and say what happened,” he says.
This part of the story engenders less sympathy — suffice to say that instead of using the TSA pre-check status I pay for, I must show the ticket at a regular TSA line, empty my wallet to find that there’s no other card with my birth date, note the disbelief of the agent at the idea that the ticket would be enough ID, and get every single item patted down and searched before getting a chance to sprint to my plane. I make it by 5 minutes. Could be worse.
I can’t rent a car anymore, but I can borrow one from a friend. I can’t get back to the airport right before my flight on Monday — I will have to subject myself to another long pat-down. Okay. In future, I’ll travel with my passport.
But here is the long tail of the problem — getting my license back means trusting the Wayne County traffic court to send it back. I’m not saying its employees are dishonest. On Monday, they seem perfectly polite, if confused. I’m saying an infamously cash-poor urban county is not exactly staffed up to process a ticket quickly or mail a license back. Also, I’ve moved since I got the license, and that’s the sort of thing you’d like to explain to a bureaucrat before they mail your ID to an address.
When I call, three times, I talk to three confused people who refer me to a website that doesn’t recognize my ticket number. My follow-up questions are directed the voicemail of “Maya,” or maybe “Maia,” with no indication of what she does.
Here is the larger context: I am shredded. I’ve worked every day of January and had half a day off in February. I’m lucky, insofar that once I’m not going through airports, I don’t need my ID to drive to work; I take public transportation. But I tend to pack my days with assignments, and now I’ve got to navigate around the motherfucking Wayne County traffic courts.
I guess I’m saying that I don’t understand the policy. You want to get dangerous drivers off the road? Okay. I am… probably more aware of the text messages being sent to me than I should while driving.
But Jesus Christ — why bludgeon someone who’s trying to drop off a rental car? Why, for speeding not on a road choked with motorists, but a road that exists so people can get out of your state and to a plane? Why throw someone into, as far as you know, days or weeks of difficulty that will impede his ability to get a job done?