Long Lake, NY -- Highway robbery is well and alive in rural upstate New York. And the target seems to be out-of-state drivers, particularly Canadians.
At least that's the conclusion I've reached after my Ontario-plated car was recently stopped by the New York State Police -- along with a Massachusetts vehicle -- for speeding on Highway 28 in Long Lake, a town of 711 souls smack in the middle of Adirondack State Park. To be clear, my Bay State shadow car and I were both speeding. But so were other vehicles with New York plates both in front and behind us. To have kept to the speed limit -- 55 MPH (or about 90 KPH) -- would have invited the wrath of every other driver.
And there is no question I was guilty. The degree could be debated -- my cruise control, was set at 115 KPH or 71 MPH, in line with the travel rate of others on the road; the officer claimed I was doing 75. But it appears what I was really guilty of was being "from away", as they say in Newfoundland.
My first inkling of this came when the officer said I had the option of challenging the ticket -- as long as I was willing to travel 496 km round trip from Ottawa to attend a court session in Long Lake held only on Thursday evenings at 7 PM!
"How much is the fine?" I inquired.
"Sir, we only do the ticketing. We have nothing to do with the fines charged," he replied.
"But surely you must know? How can anyone make a rational decision about whether or not to incur the time and expense of going to court if they don't know what the consequences are? I have never heard of such a thing."
"Sir, we only do the ticketing", he repeated. And he handed me the ticket. Sure enough, it indicated no amount - just a check-off plea portion to be returned to the Long Lake Town Court. Not wanting to spend the better part of two days traveling to a court that cheerfully says its sessions run "from 7 PM to whenever we finish", I glumly checked off "guilty" and mailed it in the day I got home.
It was the letter I received in return that cemented my suspicion that Canadians are a favorite target of both upstate police and the local courts.
It was a form letter, clearly meant for Canadians.
For starters, I was surprised by the fine - $300. The amount for speeding was $215, plus a "mandatory surcharge" of $85 tacked on by New York State.
The letter went on to read "NO PERSONAL CHECKS, ONLY MONEY ORDERS AND CERTIFIED CHECKS ACCEPTED made out to the Town of Long Lake Court. CANADIANS MUST PAY IN US FUNDS! PLEASE RETURN THIS NOTICE WITH YOUR PAYMENT.
Finally, the letter concluded, "If your money is not received by the due date of this letter, the Department of Motor Vehicles in Albany will be ordered to suspend your driver's license." I looked back to the top of the letter - only to see that the "due date" was only two days away - or the equivalent of two light years, if one is using Canada Post and the United States Postal Service to transport a letter by regular mail.
The letter was signed "Brian C. Farr, Town Justice". A little research revealed that Mr. Farr, in addition to doling out justice on Thursday evenings at 7 PM, is also Superintendent of the Long Lake Highway Department. How convenient.
When I was growing up back in the 1960's and 1970's, those traveling from Atlantic Canada, Quebec or Ontario needed to be wary of speed traps in places like Georgia, Tennessee and northern Florida. The CAA used to even mark them on the maps they gave to members.
It seems for Canadians, upstate New York is the new Georgia. CAA take note.
The irony of all this is that my spouse and I chose the smaller highways and byways of the Adirondacks for the beauty of the countryside over the boring sameness of the Interstate. We had even planned to stop in a place like Long Lake or Tupper Lake for lunch and a look around.
Again, the issue wasn't the ticket - I was speeding; guilty as charged. It was the obvious targeting of a class of driver, those from Canada.
Next time, perhaps I'll try Vermont. Or perhaps flying: The Adirondacks must look equally spectacular from the air. And friendlier.