The Best Unexpected Gift

I have always strongly believed that things, good or bad, happen for a reason. It has been proven many times in my life that even the biggest tragedy, somehow, brings some valuable lesson in the end. It was a usual Wednesday morning routine in September when I was driving to one of our store locations in Salinas. I was following the flow traffic using a very familiar back road. There were a few cars in front of me and a couple of cars behind me as the San Miguel Canyon Road road gently took us bending and curving on our way. I have been on this road a thousand times, so I was mainly focused on the podcast that I was listening to. From the opposite direction, I saw a Highway Patrol car. As I took one of the curves I could not see either the car in front of me nor the car in back until I was aware of the police car behind me. The officer did not have his lights on and so waved for me to pull to the side of the road, then he proceeded to drive past me. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. As I drove on, I saw the officer had pulled the white car over that was in front of me and was waving his hand out of his patrol car signalling for me to pull over too! He gave both of us speeding citations.

Coming home that day, I searched the internet to learn everything I could about police radar, how many kinds and how they work. I even searched what kind of radar California or our local highway patrol use to catch us. This research led me to my decision to fight the citation. A few days before my court appearance, I printed out a Google map and carefully pinpointed the direction and location of my car , the white car, and the officer’s car. I even printed out the article about how radar works to help me argue my case.

It was December 13th, 2017 when Kirk and I arrived at the County Monterey Superior Court in Marina. We arrived just in time to hear the court officer open the courtroom, give instructions to the first groups and told us where to sit if we needed a translator or not. She was pleasant with a pretty smile, easy manner and asked each one of us our names before she allowed us in the room. There was a 10am group with four cases, and then I would be the first one in the 10:45 group.
The judge entered the room after a pre-recording of the law to let us know our rights, both in English and Spanish. He did not ask us to stand up as we normally see on TV or in my experience in the past. He gave us some more of “our right” lessons and then called the first case.

The defendant was a young man, who had two traffic violations, both for driving without a license. The first fine was around $300, which he paid $230 and the second one was $600, which he paid more than $500 of it. After reading out the case, the judge asked, “Do you have a job?” The man replied, ”No, I don’t, right now, because I work in the farm and the season is over.” The whole conversation was translated by a lady who was patient and precise.
Judge, “Will you be able to get other kind of work until the next season?”
Man, “I am trying to get something, anything.”
Judge, “What about your wife?”
Man, “I just sent my wife and three kids back to Mexico because we cannot afford to live here.”
Judge, “Why are you staying here?”
Man, “I want to clear up all of my legal problems here. Beside these two citations, I got another citation last month.”
Judge, “What is that citation for?”
Man,”Driving without a license.”
Judge, “When is the court date for that case?”
Man, “January 19, 2018.”
Judge, “Since you tried to pay the two citations to almost full, I will suspend the fine. This rule will stop all collections. You will no longer owe any money on the two old cases. Please don’t forget to go to court in January. You need to go to DMV to get a driver’s license. I cannot guarantee that you will get one, but now, with no citations due on record, and if you have some paperwork that the DMV requires, you may be able to get one. Without a driver’s license, this will keep happening and it costs you so much money that you could be used to help your children instead. Do you have any questions?
Man, “No.”
Judge, “I hope you can see your children soon.”
Man, “Thank you.”

Sitting on the back bench, Kirk and I were full of emotion and tears filled our eyes. Kirk whispered in my ear, “The damn cycle will never end, oh God, poor guy.”

The next case was a lady who was facing hardship and could not pay her fine on time. The Judge extended it to March of next year and said, “If for any reason you cannot pay by March, make sure you contact the court, don’t let a day go by or that will create more trouble and fines. The lady said “Yes, thank you.” She turned around walking past us, with a smile of appreciation and relief on her face.

When he called my name to approach the podium, I was ready to explain my case, but the officer was not present, therefore my case was dismissed.

I wished I could’ve recorded what happened in that courtroom with this special man for judge. His voice was warm and it was easy to understand his words. His down to earth mannerism and genuine concern was just so incredibly touching. I did not expect that the cold courtroom could be a place of warm humanity. I did not expect a judge in a black robe, listening to thousands of cases of people violating the law on a daily basis could still maintain compassion and respect to the defendants standing in front of him.
There was no camera or reporter in the courtroom of Judge Christopher R. Martin. A clerk, a deputy, a translator and a dozen of citizens were the only witnesses to this display of heartfelt empathy to other human beings. When dealing with a person who could not read, the judge patiently sent the translator and the person outside to make sure the translator read and translated everything to him. The judge explained and re-emphasized to make sure the person’s rights were protected with no rush, no harsh words, no fanfare lecturing, just simply enforcing the law with human dignity. I imagined that up from that high bench, the judge kindly reaching his hand down to try to stop the cycle that keeps people circling in poverty. Kirk and I both believe that because of who he is, his deputy, his clerk and his translator all carry the same easy, patient, relatable and caring attitude as he.

Kirk and I walked out of the courtroom, happy with my case dismissed, but most of all, we both felt a huge rush of relief. We have been living for almost a year with debilitating, divisive politics, an ugly, fearful tone, nasty words, mean policies and lack of basic decency from our country’s highest office. There are hateful comments, name calling, absurd tweets, bullying speech and threatening messages being loudly sent from our nation’s capital. We have felt sad, disappointed and fearful for the future of our nation. But today, the fear was somewhat lessened, Judge Martin reminded us that we are strong and smart people and our love even stronger and smarter than any bullying army. We will protect each other in our little communities and most of all, protect those who cannot protect themselves. We will vote, march, speak, protest for all of us, and for those who cannot vote, march or speak themselves. I want to take Judge Martin’s example into my daily life, judge and treat people with empathy and caring. In the end, it is our everyday, little interactions with all the people we come in contact with that will keep our dignity and hope alive.

I wasn’t aware that America was not great or that we had to make America great again. I just know that the America who welcomed me more than three decades ago with generous love and hope for my new life is still alive. That America is as strong and resilient as ever through the common, decent people like Judge Martin.
My bad day with a traffic ticket took me to a great day in the courtroom. That is how life turns out sometimes if we keep ourselves present for the presents. We deeply appreciate Judge Martin and his courtroom as it gave Kirk and I the most unexpected, valuable Christmas gift, the gift of kindness and caring to the most vulnerable around us. A beautiful reminder during these dark times that our job as humans is not to snuff out other’s light but to gently fan the flame of light and hope in each of us.
And that is why life is good, love is abundant and our country worth fighting for.
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