Back in the ’80s, we here in Montreal suffered more than our share of bus strikes. Some of my fellow denizens will remember traffic snarls; others exercised their leg muscles and walked; still others will recall riding their bicycles to work… downtown… during a downpour… and arriving at work looking as if they’d swum there. Which in a way they had!
As for me? I drove my car, and luckily didn’t live too far away – maybe 5 km or so. On the day that sparked my judicial adventure, I found it very difficult to find a “legal” spot. By “legal,” I mean one permitted by the plethora of “No Parking” signs around the building that housed my workplace. It was a residential area, and it seemed everyone was home, since cars clogged up the blocks all around.
Finally, after circling around the block many times in ever-widening arcs, I was about to cry in frustration! I was already running late; I thought I’d take a chance and park in a spot that was available, yes, but also illegal, as it had a sign near it saying something like this:
It was pretty garbled. And mind you it didn’t even have the “Reserved” part attached to it.
Now I must tell you: normally I wouldn’t park in an illegal spot, notwithstanding my frustration. But I felt that it would be okay, since I had just read an article in the Montreal Gazette the previous day that distinctly quoted our police chief’s words, to the effect that police officers would be LENIENT (emphasis mine!) with parking tickets, since the bus strike meant so many more vehicles on the streets.
So I spent the day at work, confident about my parking spot. It wasn’t even until I headed to my car at the end of the day – and spotted the dreaded folded paper tucked under my windshield wiper – that I even remembered there’d been any potential problem.
Arggghhhh! My usual reaction to all things bad emanated from my mouth.
So I decided in my furious state that I would contest the ticket.
This was, mind you, in direct contradiction to my family’s warning of “Pay the $2!” That was based on the time, long ago, when my brother contested a $2 ticket, and lost; in the end he had to pay about twenty times that amount.
No, even though the amount I’d have to pay if I lost would be much larger than my brother’s penalty had been, I was sure I’d win my case!
Normally I would get very nervous when faced with authority – and there aren’t many places professing as much authority as our Montreal Courthouse, I can tell you that! It’s a very old stone building with an air of invincible JUSTICE – which I hoped, when it was my turn, would bend in my favour.
A few months later, my court date came up. I had had the presence of mind to search for that Gazette article containing the police chief’s words about the police being “lenient” during the strike. (By now the strike was but a memory, but still… he’d said it, and it was on the record!) I brought it to court in a large manila envelope. Somehow just holding it gave me a feeling of strength!
I showed my ticket to the information person and found the proper room. I was sure any passerby could’ve heard my booming heartbeat by now, but I forced myself to enter. I stood there a moment or two, getting my bearings. It looked a lot like any courtroom you might see on TV. I took a seat in a row about half-way up and waited. I could hear the judge, lawyer and witness conferring, but only very faintly.
Finally my name was called! Up I strode to the witness box, envelope in hand. I was asked if I preferred the proceedings to be in English or in French. “English,” I intoned. My hands were sweaty as they clutched the envelope while I stood there, swaying slightly. No chair.
The proceeding began by the city’s lawyer, a tiny, white-haired gnome-like man, rimless glasses perched on the end of his nose, reciting the salient facts of the case to the judge. The judge looked equally old but somewhat less gnome-like. If I wasn’t biased (now), I’d say he looked…smarter. I was so nervous I didn’t even care what they were saying. I couldn’t wait til I offered my salient facts!
And then the judge turned to me and said something to the effect of, “And what do you have to say for yourself?”
I took a fortifying breath and said, “Well, this happened during the bus strike…” I slipped out the photocopied newspaper article. “The police chief said that officers would be LENIENT…” – I purposely emphasized that lovely word. I finished with a rehearsed flourish: “Would you like to see the article?” And I stretched my arm out, offering it to the wonderful, fabulous sensible judge.
To my surprise, he just waved it away, and with a scowl, turned back to the lawyer. “Well?” he said to him. (I was so glad the scary scowl wasn’t directed at me.)
The lawyer seemed totally taken off guard. (Yesss!) “But… but…” he blustered, “But what about the ticket?! The ticket!”
The amazing judge just shook his head, banged his lovely gavel, and yelled, “Case dismissed!”
Wow!!! And I didn’t have to pay a cent!!! I fairly skipped out into the hall, out of the building, and down the street toward the parking lot. Suddenly I heard from behind me, “Miss! Oh, Miss!”
I turned around. It was a well-dressed man I had noticed in the courtroom, hovering nearby, watching the proceedings. “Miss,” he was grinning, as he caught up with me, “that’s a fantastic article you found there! I’m a lawyer, and I know someone else who could benefit from it. Would you mind if I… borrowed it?”
“Oh my goodness,” I exclaimed. “No problem, you can have it! I don’t need it anymore!” I handed him the envelope containing the article.
My own grin lasted for a very long time… in fact, it’s still there even as I write this post.