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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rat's Maze, A Sonnet

Sometimes and occasionally, backtracking analysis is useful. Nay, demanded. Nay, mandated. Nay, just optional, but still pretty astonishingly somewhat. This can transpire in the most unassuming circumstances, without warning or fanfare. We go to the prism of the automobile windshield, where a streaming video plays out in front of you as you dictate the plot and regard the cast.

Scene I
Two seemingly innocuous words on the roadside, apparently stated merely for informational purposes, but face value is precisely the only thing they want you to take them at. When entering a freeway construction zone, the deep orange warning sign intones about road work ahead, and then the clincher, “Fines Double.” I’m half-expecting Alex Trebek to come out from behind the sign and read off a question. Or an answer — that we need to question. And all on the side of the road to greet me with their applause.

They figure if Wrigley’s could be successful promoting doubling your freshness with Doublemint gum, let’s give it a whirl. Double your pressure with Double-pay Speeding. Has a nice ka-ching! to it.

A few things are at work here, as the psychological implications are vast and furious. First of all, the wording is nothing less than an intimidation technique. Because you are now trespassing into the hallowed confines of the kingdom of construction, you will now be subject to its higher laws, ye unworthy peasants behind the wheel. Bow to the construction gods. When they say to slow, you slow. And when they say to stop, you stop. It may even go back and forth. Stop. OK, slow. OK, stop again. Tsk, tsk, you didn’t say mother may I. Go to the end of the line. Now the flagger has a reasoned vendetta against you. Wake up, plebeian scum, you were just nodding off for a moment.

The sign… the sign. With two carefully chosen words said ever so briefly, “Fines Double” is code for “We’re doubly serious about this.” Ergo, they’re essentially saying, “No, we really mean it this time.” When the stakes are doubled, after all, you know they’re not messing around in the wrist-slapping blissfulness you’re generally accustomed to. This is gambling territory not meant for the faint of heart. We’re talking level orange signs now.

Scene II
So then why don’t they just charge you more without advertising it, and be done with it? No, they want to hang it over you, because they want to place a little fear into you, which also replaces the need to strictly enforce these laws. If one barks loud enough, he need not have sharp teeth.

Note as well the intentional vagueness of the sign. They could without much effort tell you with greater precision how much the fines are, but that wouldn’t sound nearly as daunting. The mysterious effect engenders fear. “Wow, double might mean a million dollars… I might have to take out a loan for that and mortgage my left ventricle. I may want to rethink this strategy.” Such thoughts start spinning in your mind. By this point, they have gained control of your delicate psyche, taking advantage of your need to focus on the road and not your scruples.

You see, they need something to make you callow. In fact, when you think about it and get right down to it, the underlying message is ostensibly that you’ll be getting a really, really bad deal on your speeding ticket. And just your luck this one probably doesn’t have a rebate. The emphasis which the optimist will immediately deduce is that those highway people will have much better rates on their non-construction speeding tickets. So remember, if you must speed, be sure to speed in a non-construction zone. They appreciate your cooperation in this matter. And please take a number.

All in all, it amounts to out-and-out spam signage. Consequently, the sign should be duly processed in your junk sign-mail folder where it belongs. It’s just a matter of time before they put three exclamation points after it and offer the dire warnings ungrammatically: “Fines, yes they doubly!!! We need for your attentions to not speeded or we transferring of your funds to offshore bank accounts.” I always wondered how those spammers got all that extra money. It’s all coming clearer now.

Scene III
Back to the specifics. If they merely said “Fines $250,” people might not feel too threatened by that. But when a nondescript comparison is made, that’s when they’re speaking strictly the consumer’s language. “Compare to Montana’s ticket value of just $175.” Montana may be nice to you, but we’re heartless wretches who are going to milk you for every single ounce of cash we can get out of you, until you’re relegated to coming back here in a homemade go-cart that you have to pedal just to go downhill over a frozen coat of molasses… or maybe it’s even on fire. You see, once the driving consumer knows he’s getting a bad deal, it makes him reconsider his leadfooted ways.

If the traffic intelligentsia were savvier or just more forthcoming marketers, in those now-mundane non-construction zones it would be “50% off all fines. Speed at your leisure.” People would be clamoring to drive there. I want a good deal when I speed, don’t you?

Not too far off, we’ll no doubt have patrolmen offering different speeding plans for our driving convenience. “Sir, you were going 20 miles over the speed limit there. We’ve got a special today where we can give you your next three tickets at 15% off, as long as you speed within the next 12 months.” It’s win-win all around. They make a profit, and you get to feel like you saved money.

It’s not all that outlandish to surmise that in the future we could even have different patrol cars competing for the driver’s business, all lined up on the freeway, with their rates displayed on the side of their vehicle. “Best ticketing rates in the tri-state area.” “Guaranteed ticketing satisfaction or your money back.” “Name brand tickets at discounted prices.” And you thought you were the speed merchant.

Scene IV
Marketers concur that having the fines in a destruction zone increase by 200% is disproportionate, and it simply shows a knee-jerk reaction. Somebody pushed the highway people too far, and now they’ve blown a collective gasket. They’re grounding everybody who dares come onto their roads while they’re trying to pave them. It’s like when you were a kid and the teacher at school lost her patience with one of the students, and so she punished the entire class. I’m guessing somewhere somebody must’ve played flinch with a flagger, and it triggered an explosive construction reaction that has yet to die down. Have you ever seen a flagger that was at peace with himself and/or herself? Not gonna happen. They’re ready to burst at any moment. Messing with a flagger is to mess with one’s fate. Do you ever wonder why there has to be warning signs saying “Flagger Ahead,” so you can protect yourself against them? Now you know why.

Flaggers give you only two lousy choices — Stop, and Slow. So when they finally let you go, it’s with the caveat that “only if you don’t go fast.” I suppose we can’t be trusted if they just said “Go.” They’re no fun at all.

For the sake of those who arrived late, realize that they’re lowering the speed limit by 10 mph while simultaneously increasing the fine. So you’re going along at about 65 mph at the normal speed limit, and you’re being Joe or Jane Good Citizen for the most part (we’ll disregard the stash in your glove box in a display of unexpected altruism). But then if you maintain that once-normal speed into the dreaded zone of mysterious construction wizardry and contortionism, all of a sudden you’re twice the road criminal someone who was previously going 10 mph faster than you were was, and you should be utterly ashamed for your dereliction of duty. Huh? What? Excuse moi? How does that make any vestige of sense? You have entered the Twilight Construction Zone, where it makes perfect sense.

Why don’t they just go all the way and fine people double on holidays too? Hotels raise their rates during the busy seasons, right? Oh, but you know what? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, so we couldn’t do that.

I saw a new 2011 model Ferrari, fire engine red (unless you’re thinking of a yellow fire engine), and all the accoutrements that go into a fine automobile. But the clincher was the words on the side mirror, saying “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, especially in a construction zone.” It’s pervasive. Soon, they’ll put a construction zone in your driveway, and make you beholden to the flaggers. “We’re patching up some cracks in the pavement here. May take three or four months. Sorry — roadwork rules the road.”

The whole psychology of risk is in play in this scenario. By making the risk factor twice as much, the powers that fee have caused the mathematical driver to calculate the old benefit against the new drawback. Where before it was a pretty reasonable tradeoff — go real fast and pay us some money — now it had become twofold. They’re in essence saying to the driving public, “Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well… do ya?”

I almost got a ticket one time, back in 1997, and I was pulled over, naturally, in a construction zone on the highway near The Dalles, Oregon, which is probably the headquarters for all of road construction. It would just figure. And only an egotistical town would give itself an article in its name. I wonder if they have a The Home Depot there. Probably the headquarters for that too…

So, back to The Dreaded Dalles, they were purportedly fixing a 7-mile stretch on highway 84, and I’d never driven by there before. I was cited for a ticket even though I pleaded insanity, but after later challenging it on grounds that I must’ve been blocked by a semi trailer from seeing the reduced speed sign, the ticket was graciously waived, which kept my string of ticketlessness firmly intact. The scales of justice had gloriously balanced.

But the ominous story continues. Seven unassuming years later, after the statute of limitations had surely run out from my last near-ticket, I happen to be driving by The PayPal Dalles again, and lo and behold on the very same stretch of highway, there was what? I’ll let you guess. C’mon give it a try. Ah, bashful eh? Can you say ‘construction zone’, boys and girls? They were still trying to catch me in it! It hadn’t even moved. Confirming my earlier suspicions, that miserable stretch of highway had all the trappings of a no-good sting operation. Draw your own conclusions if you must. Or more accurately, it was doubling — as a speed trap. Sorry, not taking the cheese again.


Woody said...

O jate wjem tjat ja[[ems!

Jeff Crandall said...

Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind.

Once again, a great ride! Thanks RS!

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