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The cops just keep getting my picture

WASHINGTON

I recently spent $510 at the market for two lobsters, three flounders and a few crab legs.

No, I am not insane, exactly. I am at war with a speed camera, and I am losing. This camera has popped me three times for tickets of $125 apiece, each in the same spot, which is en route to the marina where I buy my seafood.

Because you have a nimble mind, you have questions. I am happy to address them.

Why don't you slow down?

"25 mph." That is the technical speed limit on the 200 block of M Street SE in Washington, a wide, six-lane thoroughfare that resembles a highway. I am sure there are some places for which a 25 mph speed limit is appropriate — say, in a nursery-school playground — but not here. Trying to travel this road at that speed feels unnatural and frustrating, like trying to type with mittens.

Okay, why don't you choose another route?

For the same reason I still wear an unattractive, 1960s-era hippie mustache. I do not Knuckle Under to the Man.

Have you paid the fines?

Yes.

Then aren't you knuckling under to the Man?

Things have not gone as well as I'd have liked.

After the second ticket, I decided to try to find the camera. It was on that expeditionary mission that I got my third ticket.

Each ticket has arrived in the mail with a grainy photo of my car, and then, helpfully, a second one zooming in on my license tag, which is clear as a bell — so clear, in fact, that if some righteously aggrieved individual had briefly entertained just the teensiest hypothetical notion of turning a "1" into a "4" with a Magic Marker, he would realize the alteration would be obvious and would probably result in incarceration and possible loss of humor column.

Instead, he is left to marvel at how that same space-age Cold War enhanced photo-resolution technology that allowed our spy satellites to read newspaper headlines on the streets of Moscow, and thus enabled us to keep tabs on the comings and goings of members of the Politburo and track the manufacture and dispersal of nuclear warheads on the Kamchatka Peninsula, can now be used to extort money from drivers having the audacity to travel city roads at the speed of — this is literally true — a hippopotamus, running. But he is not bitter. Righteously aggrieved, but not bitter.

The police claim these speed cameras reduce accidents, and that might be true; but in my experience, the only way to stay below the speed limit on this road is to keep your eyes riveted on your speedometer, which I did, and which is when I almost rear-ended a bus.

Another way is to tenaciously tailgate, because the camera pops you only if you are alone in the pie-wedge-shaped radar zone. I won't say if I tried that, too, but can confirm that tailgaters get flipped the bird a lot.

The Web is filled with the grumblings of indignant, embittered, cackling Wile E. Coyotes who keep plotting to defeat these speed cameras with License Plate Cloaking Devices, pixel-dispersing tools, mysterious shading screens and commercial sprays that are said to create a camera-foiling reflective surface. These are things I would never do inasmuch as They Would Be Wrong and because they were found ineffective by Mythbusters in an episode I have watched twice now, looking for loopholes.

© 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

The cops just keep getting my picture 03/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 19, 2011 5:31am]

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