The initial idea was straightforward: let’s do a road-trip to the south to celebrate New Year’s Eve on a dime. There was no specific plan: we go as far as we can, meet our friends, celebrate with cowgirls and cowboys, get cool hats, and come back in one piece. That did not quite happen… we celebrated in New York, I scored the most ridiculous ticket, was summoned to the court, and ended up with a serious bill on my credit card. Adventure, but, at least, I learned something. Curious? Here’s how it’s done.
It was 4pm, December 31, 2014. Peter and #Law came down from Toronto to Boston. Everything was up in the air and we still had several options for celebrating NYE. Due to time constraints and the fun factor, we decided to head to New York. Luckily, I was in touch with Lara and Dorota, two cool girls who were CouchSurfing at my place several months ago. We were invited to celebrate with their friends and to watch the fireworks from the Brooklyn bridge.
The NYE night was pretty good but very cold. We needed an adequate amount of rocket fuel to warm up. Hundreds (thousands?) of people congregated at the Brooklyn bridge to see the show. Perhaps, the Times Square was a much better place to see the fireworks, but none of us was willing to wait there 8 hours. Nonetheless, we made quite a few new friends. Mostly girls of Brazilian background. Although I like Brazil, this time it was totally accidental. (Yeah, I know, it’s always accidental. :-))
January 1, 2015. Early morning, we got our shit together, got shitty McDonald’s breakfast, and were ready to take off at 8am. 9 states, 3600km, 4 days. The main goal was to drive to Nashville, Tennessee for genuine cowboy hats. Nashville is the capital of country music, cowboys, cowgirls, and generally a cool city with friendly people and southern culture.
God bless American highways. They are wide, scenic, and span all over the country. The weather was perfect and the ride was very nice all day long. Almost. Nice until 9:25pm. We were somewhere around the border of Virginia and Tennessee. I was happily driving downhill while all of the sudden blue and red lights of a cop car appeared on my rear-view mirror.
Piotruś: papa should close his eyes.
#Law: zzzzzzzzz. [sleeping]
I pulled the car over and was waiting for the cop.
cop: sir, do you know why I pulled you over?
me: I guess, I was going a little bit too fast?
cop: you were flying 97mph [=156km/h] on a highway with the speed limit of 70mph [=112km/h]. Your license and registration, please.
The cop disappeared for several minutes and came back with a big yellow ticket.
cop: sir, you are charged with reckless driving.
me: I understand I was speeding. What’s the ticket? Can I pay here?
cop: no, it was not speeding, but reckless driving. You cannot pay. You need to appear at the court. Your court date is Feb 9.
me: I cannot go to the court. I’ll be in Brazil.
cop: call the court or get the lawyer then.
cop: I’ll let you go now, but drive slowly.
me: thank you. Good night.
It took me a while to figure out what really happened. Initially, I thought it was just a regular speeding ticket. Unfortunately, in Virginia if you go over 80mph [=129km/h], it qualifies as reckless driving which is a serious moving traffic violation. In Virginia, It is a misdemeanor, which is a criminal act. I couldn’t believe that simple speeding on an empty highway can be a criminal act! I was going a bit fast, true, but by no means recklessly. The law in Virginia is absolutely ridiculous in that matter. (In Massachusetts, I would just pay a fine for speeding and would be good to go.)
We were continuing the road-trip. By the end of the day we arrived in Knoxville, Tennessee. All the ugly thoughts were floating in my head. I was searching the Internet to learn about reckless driving in Virginia, looking for lawyers, and thinking about all that bullshit. Anyway, in the morning I was too hungry to think. We went to the famous Waffle House. If you can find WH, you know you’re in the south. The personnel greeted us with a lot of enthusiasm and respect. The breakfast was delectable as for $5.
Soon we were on our way to Nashville. Some 2h drive across the state. In the meantime, I called some lawyers to discuss my ticket. They were very willing to help and their fees were starting at $850 and finishing around $2500. Encouraging, eh? It gets even more interesting. I learned that, in theory, reckless driving in Virginia may result in a $2500 fine, license suspension, and 12 months of jail. Unbelievable. One of the lawyers sent me his book about reckless driving. The second chapter was titled: “How to survive in jail?”. Fucking ridiculous. Sadly, that’s their tactic to scare people and to make money. I knew I was in trouble, but even then I wouldn’t fall for that bullshit.
We made it to Nashville. I was looking for a romantic way of finding accommodation. For fun, I set a funky profile picture on Tinder and set the description to: “Not looking for a hookup, rather for a place to cuddle overnight”. I got several offers. They weren’t as interesting as I would hope, if you know what I mean. Maybe they had beautiful hearts, though. #Law saved us by finding a nice place on Airbnb.
In Nashville we met up with Tom and Natalka, our friends who were driving from Canada. We got proper southern lunch and went to hunt for the cowboy attire. Downtown Nashville was full of stores with cowboy boots, hats, vests, belts, etc. Tom was looking for cool cowboy boots. Piotruś and myself were looking for cowboy hats. The prices were really good so we couldn’t miss the opportunity. Piotruś ended up getting a brown leather hat, whereas mine was fashionably black.
I was thinking about how to get out of the ticket. Turns out that there is a trick. In Virginia, if you show that your speedometer is inaccurate, the judge can rule in your favor. What? How do you do that? The process is called speedometer calibration. Normally it would be a very expensive and laborious process. In Virginia, however, it can be done by hand.
We found a calibration service in some obscure village in Virginia. It works as follows. You drive and someone from the calibration service sits on the passenger seat and measures your speed by a hand radar gun. When you hit 20, 30, 40mph, etc., you notify them, and they write down their reading from the radar. Simple, eh? Somehow, most speedometers can be shown to be faulty in Virginia. (I couldn’t find similar services in other states.) The whole process took about half an hour. I got a calibration certificate that counts in the court.
Fast forward to Feb 9. I hired a lawyer to handle my case. I had neither the will nor the possibility of showing up in the court in person. The judge acknowledged my clean driving record, the calibration certificate, and, in the end, reduced the charges from reckless driving to regular speeding 90mph [=145km/h] in a 70mph zone. Could have been worse. The cost, however, totaled $50 for the calibration certificate, $20 for the certified driving record, $850 for the lawyer, and $550 fine.
What I learned is the following. The whole thing is fishy, to say the least. Many people drive through Virginia and don’t spend much money there. So, the state decided to make money by penalizing out-of-state drivers. The laws are tough and the penalties are severe. The lawyers try to scare drivers by presenting them the worst-case scenario. Consequently, drivers waste their money on hiring lawyers. Although the lawyers position themselves as drivers’ defenders, they are they ones who benefit the most from this scheme. Uncool. I also learned that before you drive to another state, check the local laws and penalties. Finally, avoid driving through Virginia :-)
Adding up all the costs (+ food + gas + accommodation + hats), you can see how I made a $2k monkey business in America. That was a costly lesson, but, at least, I learned something.