On Saturday morning I was headed south on US1, between the Wendy’s and West Marine on 37th street, when I was rear-ended by a nurse on her cell phone. She was going about thirty miles an hour, and I was just about completely stopped. I got a wicked case of whiplash and I was all a-tremble with adrenaline. I got outta my car. I looked at the damage (my bumper was hanging off), turned to the woman who was also trembling and shouting that she was sorry, so sorry, and I said “fuck” and then shook my head and turned away and said it again, louder, and then again and again and then I put my forehead on the roof of the car, still all ajitter with adrenaline, but also feeling my stomach twist into knots because the accident meant that we were gonna have to call the cops, and when the cops got there I was gonna have to face the music about the fact that I hadn’t renewed my tag in two years.
How’d it get this bad?
Well, being broke, for one thing.
At one point, in March, I got pulled over while driving home through Pinecrest after work. The cop was about my age. He comes up to the window and goes, “So, uh, your tag.”
I said, “Yeah.”
“What’s going on there?”
And so I said, “Look, I’m poor.” Started spieling about how I work in a tutoring center, I live in Little Havana, I can only get so many hours a week, etcetera.
He nods, walks away, comes back with the ticket.
A few days later I’m paying the ticket at the courthouse, it takes a fucking eternity, and when the dude at the window is finally processing me he says, “Did you renew your tag after getting the ticket?”
I said, “Not yet. I’m spending a good chunk of my paycheck on this ticket, I couldn’t afford to renew the tag.”
He said, “That’s another eighty-dollar fine.” Maybe it was $70, ahdunno.
I said, “Are you joking?”
Aggressive: “I don’t joke, sir”—which, incidentally, is the most inadvertently profound thing a government employee has ever said to me.
I said, “This ticket is literally the only reason I can’t afford to renew the tag. You’re literally charging me money for not having money.”
He asked if I was gonna pay or not.
So I hustled out to an ATM in the hall, withdrew the money, and came back.
“Here.” I’m counting out the 20s in a rage. “Fuckin here’s your…here’s your fee.” Petty as hell.
Anyway. The ticket’s paid, I leave the courthouse.
I’m in a rage.
The rage subsides, various paychecks come and go; still, the tag goes untouched.
And so here we are. Saturday morning. Car accident.
I call my dad after the cops and he happens to be nearby and so he shows up to the scene.
He looks at my tag.
“Alex, what the fuck?”
Cop shows up. He looks at my tag.
“Alexander, what is this!”
He calls for backup.
Backup arrives. Looks at my tag.
“Sir,” he says. “Two years. What’s the story.”
I tell the story three times.
A third cop shows up.
The second officer goes and talks to the third officer through the window. Explains the situation.
They look at me with judgmental grimaces, and shake their heads again.
Finally, the first responding cop goes to his car, he’s writing up tickets, and he calls me to his window through the radio.
I go to his window and crouch.
He says to me, through a thick accent: “Alexander. You gotta renew your tag. It costs $40. You get it late, it costs you more. If you don’t do it, you get a ticket. Now you pay over $300. And I understand, it’s a lot of money for working guys like you, guys like me. Maybe for these millionaires on Brickell, a few hundred dollars is no big deal. Spinach. But look, Alexander: do the math. OK? Do the math. But do my math. OK? Not your math. Your math is San Francisco math. You keep doing that San Francisco math, you’re gonna keep getting into trouble, which is why their economy right now is in the garbage. Do you understand?”
I nodded. “Completely.”
To say that I had no clue what the fuck he was saying is beside the point.
The woman who hit me got the ticket for the accident, I got a ticket for the tag.
Guess I’m just glad it’s over.