Visions of orange jump suits, coupled with rusty shackles, were running through my head when I confronted the policeman writing my parking infraction. I was innocent and parked in a perfectly legal spot and told him so, as I pointed at the sign post which clearly read 'Parking'. He agreed, and I was about to ask him what he was doing when he motioned to a fire hydrant, tucked neatly behind someone's fence.
Mouth wide open, I stared in disbelief at the yellow, cylindrical post, stuck in the ground. "But, it's behind a fence on private property and difficult to see," I said, feeling my freedom drain away. He went on to explain that the hydrant takes precedence over the parking sign. Slowly I shook my head, thanked him and sadly retreated to my car.
I thought about my options and decided this was just not right. That fire hydrant was hidden, and something needed to be done. Keep in mind this happened in Toronto's Cabbagetown, where the lots are smaller than postage stamps, shrubs and bushes are planted everywhere, and fire hydrants are made to look like part of the landscape.
I decided to confront the judicial system, and a few days later left the security of North Durham and headed to Toronto to appeal. I waited in line and presented my ticket to the man behind the glass. He spoke not a word, stamped my receipt and yelled "Next!" I looked stunned and was about to speak when he said, "You'll be notified by mail." I walked away, shook my head, and that was that. The months passed, and eventually I received a very official letter telling me I had to appear in front of a magistrate.
Suddenly, reality was staring me in the face. What if I lost? Would I be intimidated by the judge? Would they prey on my nervousness? Can I go to prison for arguing with authority? I could feel panic in my lungs, and wondered if I should engage the services of a lawyer. Eddie Greenspan immediately came to mind, but perhaps a few episodes of Criminal Minds and L.A. Law would give me direction.
I had difficulty sleeping the night before the big day, and dreamed of 'Prison Break’ and 'Midnight Express’. I left early, but had forgotten how many people drive downtown in the morning. Thirty minutes past my appointed time I pulled into a parking lot and quickly ran across the street… to the wrong building.
Dashing two blocks north, I sprinted through a metal detector, raced down the stairs and slipped into a seat in courtroom 'C-1'. The place was empty, except for a judge, a prosecutor, two elderly people who were arguing their case, and a policeman at the back of the room.
I fumbled for the photo which I had taken at the scene of my crime, being careful to avoid eye contact with the officer; who no doubt was there to take me away if things did not go in my favour. It was only a few minutes when the Prosecutor approached me, asked my name and checked me off her list. "You made it just in time," she said, smiling. I returned the smile, but I knew she was trying to throw me off my guard. I would not be fooled by the 'good cop, bad cop’, scenario.
The judge looked at me and spoke. "The officer failed to show, so we have no evidence against you. Case dismissed." I stared at her in disbelief, with exhibit A (my photo) in hand, wanting to speak. She looked at me and said, "Stay away from those fire hydrants."
"But...," Before I was able to say another word the gavel fell and I had no choice but to leave. I was supposed to dance with unequalled happiness, but I felt I had been robbed of my civil right to a trial by my peers. Not to mention the 7 hours of travel time, the $80 in costs and, worst of all, the opportunity to change the fence and foliage around the fire hydrant so others wouldn't experience the same fate. I left the courtroom singing 'The House of the Rising Sun', realizing how close fate brought me to join the likes of Conrad Black and Martha Stewart.