Coach's Corner

My son has been out on the streets -- driving, that is -- for over a year now. There's a good chance you've met (as you exchanged insurance information). A better chance is that you cursed him, his radio blasting, as he hurried blithely along on his busy teenage way.

You may be pleased to know he has not escaped notice of the proper authorities. In the course of 16 months, the boy has accumulated an impressive, romantic array of traffic citations: from indignantly explaining to an officer the finer points of the Texas Rolling Stop (which he strongly feels is needlessly illegal), to elucidating to a sheriff's deputy exactly how it was the big boulder leapt off the road and ran into my truck.

In this brief period, he's acquired a disconcerting familiarity with the minutiae of our Municipal Court system. For example, last week we had to appear at a 6pm hearing of juvenile traffic court. He's supposed to pick me up at 5:30pm. It seems important -- to me anyway -- to be early. He pulls up at 5:55pm. "Chill, dad," he says, calm as a Cayman breeze. "The judge is always late." Municipal Court is located in police headquarters; I'm concerned with parking. "Don't worry, dad," the juvenile offender shouts over the din of the tape player. "I know where I'm going." And indeed, he does. He pulls into a lot beneath I-35, strolls nonchalantly through police headquarters, moves smartly to the elevator, and punches the proper floor, all as if he were a 20-year veteran of the force.

In the elevator is a man and his son, a fellow reprobate. The father is a large, well-dressed fellow, sporting a red, vein-lined, bulbous nose. Someone tried to make the son look respectable. This was accomplished with typical teenage impudence. Heavily starched jeans, a gaudy plaid shirt, love beads, and combat boots. His filthy blond hair is slicked back with axle grease. He's wearing ditty-bop shades. Dangling insolently from his mouth, a toothpick. Before we reach the second floor, the father has, without comment, ripped the shades from his son's face (revealing disturbingly vacuous eyes) and the toothpick from his sullen mouth.

We spill out into a seedy hallway. On the wall is a bulletin board covered with multiple 8x10 computerized lists of something obviously important since all traffic stops here. Everyone mills around these lists. I'm confused. It will take some time to orient myself. No matter -- before I could get my glasses out, I notice my son knowingly moving his finger down one of the many lists. "Cool, dad," he says. "We're right here. Courtroom #2."

The courtroom was not constructed in the Greco-Roman style I associate with judicial chambers. If any architectural influence is at work, it's neo-classic, South Austin Dollar Movie style. There are eight double rows of run-down theatre seats. Every third or fourth seat has a handwritten note taped to the back warning all visitors "Danger. Seat broken." Sure enough, the judge is late. The bailiff, a dead ringer for Charles Barkley gone to seed, is in place in front of the packed courtroom. Adam goes on and on about some imagined grievance concerning the bailiff, but it's difficult to concentrate on his story, so fascinated am I by the fantastically democratic mixture of juvy-traffic flotsam. It's like a WWII John Wayne movie. Each and every minority and body type is carefully represented. Black-white-brown-yellow. Fat kids, tall kids, frat kids, small kids, underage kids, ugly kids, dumb kids, smart-ass kids (guess who?), and kids too stoned to talk at all. Sullen kids, shy kids, boys, girls... traffic desperados one and all.

The bailiff says, "All rise." The judge (surprisingly sexy in her black robe) informs us we're here to answer for Class C misdemeanors: the lowest criminal offense in Texas. She carefully explains everyone's rights. One by one, we're called to stand before the bar. The courtroom has excellent acoustics, so it's impossible not to listen in to each conversation before the judge. One mother is outraged -- she wants a trial -- because her son, who apparently was driving someone else's automobile, without a license or insurance, had permission of the owner. Mom feels it's the owner's fault. The cute judge disagrees. She suggests this personal matter might best be addressed in church. Next case.

Justice is dispensed with quiet efficiency. A $50 dollar fine here, a short, judicious lecture there. Finally, case #3628132 -- that's us -- is called. A two-pronged strategy was planned. First, logic, the very cornerstone of the judicial process. Second, is to fall -- quickly and submissively -- upon the mercy of the court. As it turns out, neither is necessary. The judge is confused (as am I, lost in a complex fantasy concerning the zipper on her black robe) by the paperwork. Adam's last name and middle initial, R. Colton, I recall, are incorrect. License numbers are unclear. In a Solomonesque decision, assuming he'd done something wrong, though it wasn't clear exactly what, he's fined $10 dollars and told to pay down the hallway. We can't miss the spot, the judge says, it's right next to -- I'm not kidding -- the ATM machine in the hallway.

Soon, we're back on the street. His Honda out of gas but his traffic slate, for the time being anyway, is wiped clean.

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