DC’s speed-trap fascism
Dear God, how good it felt. At long last, after months and even years of abuse at the hands of Washington, D.C.’s speed-trap Nazis, I fought back. Mere feet from one of D.C.’s finest, I let him have it. I said — no, screamed — the two magic words, and right in his face.
But let me back up and explain what brought me to that desperate place. Washington, D.C., my birthplace and hometown, is run by an incompetent and corrupt government. The schools don’t work, the politicians are illiterate, taxes are high, and the plan for snow removal is called “spring.” Being liberals, the politicians’ response to this is to bilk money out of drivers.
While the D.C. government is a joke, the city itself is one of the country’s coolest and most beautiful places, from the U Street jazz clubs to the National Mall, from the quiet beauty of Rock Creek Park to the lovely brick streets of Georgetown.
It also, at one time, was a great place to drive. Oh, there have always been traffic nightmares. But get up at dawn or take a drive on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and moving through D.C. can be a soulful, refreshing experience.
That is, until the speed-trap Nazis took over.
It started a few years ago, and the nefarious genius behind the plan is hard to dispute. D.C. is a city of wide boulevards and long, wide open roads, yet on most of these roads the speed limit is either 25 or 35 mph. There’s one stretch, Canal Road, that is long and lean and runs for several miles, with almost no traffic lights, parallel to the Potomac River. If it was in Germany, the speed limit would be 80. In D.C., it’s 35. You actually have to struggle to not “speed” on Canal Road. It’s like trying not to pee after a six-pack of Pabst. Rhode Island Avenue, Missouri Avenue, Bladensburg Road — D.C. is filled with big, long streets that demand some speed.
It was only a matter of time before the tax-and-spend D.C. government would see this as a cash cow. Big, beautiful, wide open roads, a ridiculously low speed limit — setting up speed traps in the nation’s capital is like a license to print money, which can then be burned on bureaucracies, which in turn create more speed cameras, which raise money for more worthless government jobs and failed schools. Oh, and let’s raise the fines from $40 to $125. In just the last few years, Washington has gone from having a handful of speed cameras to having 93, and with plans to double that number. As The Washington Examiner has reported, the D.C. government took in $2 million in fines in December 2012 alone — up 2,000 percent from last year. In 2012 the cameras made $27 million for the city. Roughly half of that was from me.
This pathetic scam has killed one of the pleasures of living in Washington, which is driving through the city on a quiet morning or afternoon. Which brings me to my confrontation with the D.C. police. It was a lovely Saturday, and I wanted to take a drive, run a couple errands, stop at church and talk to God for a few minutes. The first cop car I passed was on MacArthur Boulevard, not far from Georgetown University, where I was going to take some pictures. Then I went over to Florida Avenue on my way to the National Shrine. Another cop car on Florida Avenue, followed by one of those stationary speed-trap boxes. Then North Capitol Street, with two of those overhead cameras at intersections. On to Michigan Avenue, where one of those three-pole setups was waiting. Then, after leaving the National Shrine and driving to the Whole Foods store near American University, I came across four speed traps. One was a cop in a car. The second was a speed box on Missouri Avenue. The third was overhead at an intersection. And the fourth was on Military Road, near Rock Creek Park. You can probably add a couple more I might have missed at various intersections.
That’s at least 10 speed traps in one afternoon drive, and through a small city — a town, really — that is only a few miles from end to end. Ten. And they’re planning on doubling that number? Cameras, literally, every other block?
It was when I was coming up to the final speed trap that I lost it. When I was growing up, driving around the city was a sensual, spiritual, and rhythmic experience. Cruising down Independence Avenue or up Georgia Avenue, you’d get into a grove, like smoking a cigar or making love to a beautiful woman (indeed, D.C.’s ticket fascism is like having a girlfriend with a great rack and the D.C. city council telling me I can’t touch her). And as with those experiences, liberals are trying to take our fun away. Sportscaster Brent Musburger can’t call a hot girl hot. Mayor Bloomberg arrests you if you light up, or drink a Big Gulp. And Obama wants to outlaw guns because it’s all about the children. The children, the children, the children. No one can belch because of the f*cking children.
So, I lost it. I came over a hill on Military Road, and there, on the side of the road, an unmarked car. A cop was inside, tapping away at his computer, racking up those fines, a huge jelly donut in his mouth (OK, I made that last part up). I rolled down my window and slowed down. I just didn’t care anymore. As if barking into the face of the devil himself, I pulled up alongside him and let him have it: “F*CK YOU!!!”
He actually jumped, startled. He was a big dude, and grabbed the wheel, glaring at me as I sped off and deliberating for a second whether to bust me. One beat. Two beats. Three.
Nothing. I was home free — until the next speed trap, which I hit about two blocks later.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.