Couple weeks ago an envelope with both my surname and street name misspelled arrives from some organization known ominously as 91 Express Lanes Violation Processing Center. Right from the onramp I’m figuring the contents have something to do with the toll lanes that provide little relief for the seemingly always gridlocked 91 Freeway in Orange County. Tearing the letter open I wondered what the hell they wanted with me since I hadn’t been on that particular freeway in more than four months ó†and never have I accessed the toll lanes. Never!
Oh yes you have, you scofflaw you, stated the cold “Notice of Delinquent Toll Evasion Violation,” which took automoton-like delight in informing me that at 1:12:25 p.m. on 11/11/2004 a 2004 Ford Explorer (CA Lic: 5EDV891) registered in my mispelled name was detected traveling in the No. 3 westbound 91 Express Lane with neither a transponder reading nor a valid FasTrak(tm) transponder account. Without so much as an “allegedly” I was cooly instructed to resolve the matter of my obvious guilt by submitting the $1.75 toll along with a $20 penalty.
Trouble was I don’t own a 2004 Explorer and I swear to ya judge: I wasn’t there!
Thinking back to November it dawned on me that on the date and specific time in question I was with my girlfriend Susan wandering around the remarkable Trona Pinnacles hundreds of miles away from the 91 Freeway and on our way to a destination of Death Valley for the long Veterans Day weekend. Trouble was, it also dawned on me that I just so happened to be going there in a rented 2004 Ford Explorer (CA Lic: 5EDV891).
Chalk this one up near the top of the list of Things That Make Ya Go Hmmmm.
Flipping the notice over I discovered I had an outlet. I could “submit a written explanation of reasons contesting the violation” and request an Administrative Investigation. For a moment I considered just giving in and sending the $21.75, but then the part of me that hates being under the unyielding thumb of The Man made me get to work and build a case ó and I did. I stated that my route on November 11, 2004, took me to Death Valley tup the 5 to the 14 to the 178 to the 190, nowhere near the Nine-One. I stated that I could produce proof via a gas card receipt that I filled up the Chevron in Mojave, Calif., at 10:26 a.m. I stated that I had date- and time-stamped digital photo files placing me at the Trona Pinnacles during a window of nearly one hour that included the time of the alleged violation. I also stated that I could show proof that Susan and I checked in to the Furnace Creek Inn, at 4:45 p.m. In closing my defense, I got a little high and mighty:
I trust I have shown that any one or all three of the above-listed items logistically exonerate me from the charge made, and I can only hope that you will recognize that I wouldnít go to all this trouble if it werenít true. Therefore I request you move to retract and dismiss your accusation of me as a 91 Express Lane toll violator.
Indeed, some might consider it easier and more cost effective if I just paid the $21.75 you demand, but as a law-abiding citizen instead Iíll stand on my principles and on my innocence. Should the results of your administrative investigation still illegitimately hold me responsible, I am more than ready and prepared to contest that decision and waste as much of my resources as necessary to prove you are in the wrong.
Righteous indignation, anyone? I got plenty.
Sealing it all up I mailed it the next day, fully expecting some bureaurcratic sub-basement netherling to rubberstamp REQUEST DENIED thereby necessitating that I indeed go through the time and trouble to gather up the necessary documentation to proceed to the next hoop I’d be forced to jump through: an Administrative Review Hearing. No doubt that would require me killing a day driving down to their HQ in Anaheim. I started regretting not just surrendering to The Man and his order to pay, but I buckled down my nerve and prepared to travel whatever damn distance they might make me go.
Then in yesterday’s mail came another envelope (surname and street still incorrectly spelled) from the ominous 91 Express lanes Violation Processing Center. I held my breath as I opened it and read their answer:
After careful review of the information you provided and the vehicle and license plate information, we have dismissed this Notice of Toll Evasion Violation. No further action is required. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience to you.
Hallelujah, baby. Sometimes it pays to fight back.