St. Paul was called out on the road to Damascus. He was a prolific and vicious persecutor before he received his epiphany, his catharsis – his abrupt realization he was betting on the wrong horse. The poor guy was simply doing what he was good at doing. But he was a smart guy – sometime between the Divine Smack and the moment he hit the dust under his noble steed, Saul’s paradigms done shifted and the rest is history.
While I am certainly not a St. Paul by any remote or twisted stretch of the imagination, I was still struck by a cathartic moment of my own. I was standing on the side of a strip of crumbling pavement in a pathetic little suburb of Des Moines taking some pictures of little more than bitter irony.
Des Moines itself is probably home to the largest trailer court between Denver and Chicago, and if it isn’t – it should be. This little suburb in the metro is not known for anything more than a Walmart and a tenacious anti-speeding program. The street of which I speak is a four-lane thoroughfare bisecting a tiny little community with an artificially low 25 mph speed limit. “Radar Heights” as it has come to be known over the years – is famous for it’s apparently heavy-handed; manipulative use of speed traps.
Their over-enforcement of traffic laws presumably led to an increased level of technology designed to catch bad guys by creating even more bad guys to catch through the use of tricky speed limit and some well-placed cameras. They slithered from ridiculous to asinine on the enforcement scale in a little hamlet where the median age of it’s citizens is probably just about approaching 87. One sees more white knuckles at “10 and 2” with a wrinkled nose and cat-eyed glasses just barely peering over a steering wheel while riding their brakes down a hill in this town than not. These same good people would not dream of ever driving at least 25 mph unless it’s on the interstate. They’ll be ok with the speed monitoring, everyone else gets sucker-punched by a nosy camera and a creepy system.
Many locals in this area of the heartland – a fertile land of corn, meth, blind faith, carjackings, unlicensed cats, and craft shows – know all too well about Radar Heights. Most people in the know don’t risk going there. Many don’t want to support the speed traps, so they avoid them and go somewhere else to spend their money. It was that way back when all the good guys could really use was a radar, and it’s even more true now with the cameras and the kangaroo court system that protects everyone except the accused. The empty storefronts along University Avenue stand as a sarcastic salute to the decreased sales tax revenue and increased fines spun with golden cameras hidden by bends in the road and collected by an evil little town every single day.
The good guys claim the enforcement is for safety and we are too frequently reminded that driving is a privilege, not a right. I remember I was stopped once there because the officer saw an empty child seat in the backseat and wanted to make sure my child was not wandering around in the back of my car. I repeatedly assured him my child was at home with his mother and I thanked him for his concern. Still had to show my license and registration though. When he handed them back, he reminded me that driving is a privilege, not a right.
A privilege, not a right.
There’s always something to hide behind: “safety”, “the privilege of driving”, a well-placed shrub and a radar, a traffic camera and a fixed system that ignores being able to face one’s accuser.
Since that day the policeman was worried about my carseat and more specifically since 9-11, we now have drones. We have speed cameras. We have a recession that is burying city and county governments in bills, pensions, and waste without adequate revenue coming in to keep everyone and everything fat and happy. We have lawyers and wordsmiths who can craft laws calling speed camera violations “civil violations” rather than citations that can be fought in traffic court. When citizens don’t pay, the system is set against them with levies and other little tricks to keep the coffers plump, all while maintaining the system is in place to keep everyone safe. We have legislatures that ignore these issues and not nearly enough politicians that have a clue.
And so it goes . . . Just recently the county out here announced an escalation in the technology: speed cameras that work in moving cruisers. It’s all so headspinning. Disgusting, but not surprising – why park your little creepy robot or attach it to a box on a pole? Just take it out for a drive and make some money for the local government and the traffic camera-pimping businesses they work with daily. The ante keeps going up. More toys, more criminals, more money, more toys, more criminals, . . .
So anyway, I am standing near a curb in Radar Heights watching the 25 mph traffic crawl by me and the contraption that caught my eye. A disgusting little symbol of what has gone wrong since 9-11 and probably even before. A little tiny car full of technology which appeared to be parked illegally between the street and the sidewalk. It was sitting there whirring and snapping pictures and collecting data on citizens as they simply drove down the street.
It was monitoring.
Monitoring and making money.
I shook my head and that’s when it seemed right to me. I was pimp-slapped by Big Brother on the road to Des Moines and I suddenly understood. This machine and the authorities that put it into place – really care about me and the citizens of this community, as well as for any poor, unenlightened slobs like me that happen to drive by. They care about you and me. It’s not the money it’s about safety. I did not understand before. Tears welled up in my eyes.
I understand now. I get it.
A hundred years ago, automobiles replaced horses. Unlike the typical horse, the cars soon needed license plates to confirm whether the owner paid taxes to pay for the much needed paving of roads. The plates also identified the owners and the privilege of traveling was born. No one cared when you were driving a horse, because they didn’t have license plates or licensed drivers.
The license plate is a tether. It used to confirm taxes were paid, now it confirms who to send the citation to based on the observations of a machine and a rubber-stamp from an unbridled bureaucrat in front of a terminal somewhere. It’s everyone’s fair share. Everyone is equal, some are more equal than others, but it works!
The speed cameras are just about popping up faster than cases of chlamydia in a college dorm and they are working. The system is working. The money is rolling in. The people either pay now or pay later when they realize the system is stacked and their fine will be confiscated if not paid willingly.
Our streets are so much safer with traffic cameras that no one can produce numbers to prove it. Insurance rates are dropping so fast no one can keep up. My thought on the side of the road – my catharsis? Simple. Just combine the notion of identifying signs like license plates with people instead of cars to make the world even safer.
We have experienced all kinds of violence: shootings, kidnappings, bombings, and other horrible events that have only rarely happened up to now. We need to make a safer world where no one is hurt and everyone is safe all the time. Yes, we can of course confiscate all the bombs and guns and duct tape, but what we need to do is assign a number to everyone in the country, code it like a scanner or a QR code, and have the good guys monitor us all day with their cameras and their civil infractions.
We should have everyone of course pay for their code annually and understand they will be fined (significantly) for not wearing their code on their front and back at all times just like license plates on our vehicles. Not a law – this “administrative policy” (civil violations) could be further justified once the citizenry understand that wearing their codes makes the good guys’ jobs easier, the world safer, and of course they will be fined ruthlessly if observed by a camera or a good guy trying to keep everyone safe. It’s all part of changing behavior for the benefit of all.
Most importantly, everyone will finally comprehend that commuting, walking, interacting, and living in our society is a privilege and not a right.
We’ll all be so much happier and safer with our QR codes and our monitors. You’ll see.
No more bombings. No more shootings. No more traffic crashes.
The good guys will know where everyone is and what they are doing. If you aren’t doing anything wrong then there is nothing to worry about or be afraid of because our world will be safe and we’ll all hold hands as we sing.
It’s what we have been slowly sliding into for a hundred years now.
It’s all about safety and unlike freedom – safety is a right not a privilege.
Pass me some of that Victory Gin, Winston.
I love Big Brother and I always have.