Wednesday, December 21

Illegal Traffic Stops in St. Johns County

I don't really want to help any criminals out of trouble, but I also don't want to see the rights of my fellow citizens trampled by overzealous police officers. I was recently the victim of an illegal traffic stop in St. Johns County, and I'm hoping that by writing about my experiences, you'll be prepared for a similar trampling of your own rights.

I'm sure there are some law and order folks out there who feel that any police officer can pull any driver over at any time. I'm not one of those people. Police officers need probable cause to pull you over in Florida/ free America. If they observe you running a red light or speeding or if your lights are out at night, that counts. Maybe if you're driving erratically or if your vehicle matches that of a suspect. Even if there's a planned DUI roadblock (though I have yet to see one in Florida), I can see it. We also have a loud music ban that creates probable cause to the chagrin of many teens. Windows that are too dark will lead to some debatable stops, and I was once pulled over for not having a license plate light (which is a legal stop but pretty borderline). However, in St. Johns County along Highway 1 coming out of St. Augustine, I was pulled over just because.

Technically, the officer started with the explanation that my lights looked kind of bright when he pulled me over. He didn't ask for a license and registration, and I hadn't gotten them ready because I wasn't planning on having to prove anything. I told him I had auto brights, which are legal. I did not have my fog lights on. He asked me to show him the difference between normal and brights. He also said dealerships can adjust the brightness. My vehicle has 150,000 miles, 75% at night, and exactly one traffic stop for excessively bright lights, so I'm thinking nope. The officer never mentioned speed (I wasn't speeding) or erratic driving (there wasn't any), so the sole reason for a nerve-wracking traffic stop was possibly slightly bright standard lights. No illegal lighting, lack of lighting, too dark tint, obscured license, etc. Nothing. 

At the end of our conversation, the officer said he was just pulling over people looking for DUIs. The problem is that he detained me, ran my tag, wasted my time, and forced me to allow him to see inside my vehicle and talk to me, all without probable cause, making it a violation of my rights.  

If St. Johns County wants to set up mandatory DUI checkpoints, then follow the rules for doing so, and go right ahead. The problem with illegal stops is that people develop a distrust for police. I don't think I was being profiled, but was this officer going to stop a Maserati, also for no reason? I bet cops avoid pulling people over for no reason if the vehicle exudes a sense that the owner might know the right people, whereas my vehicles are more average. However, all of us should have the same expectation that we will not be harassed by law enforcement if there is no probable cause.

Lastly, had I been under the influence or transporting illegal drugs, an illegal stop of my vehicle makes prosecuting the real infractions more complicated than if I'd been pulled over for a legitimate reason. I assume most lawyers would be able to get the case thrown out if the initial stop was illegal. Therefore, St. Johns County Sheriff's should put an end to illegal traffic stops.

Driving Games Jacksonville Style

My daughter was telling me about a driving game she played with someone who was originally from Missouri (where driving games are probably still a thing) called My Cows. Basically, you claim cow herds. And there's some mechanism by which you can lose your herds, I guess if someone else sees a cemetery. That's a cool game in Missouri or Wisconsin (and some parts of Florida), but driving entertainment in Jacksonville is much more refined, and we don't have enough cows, so I've come up with some local games.

My Abandoned Building
It's like the cows game, but you claim abandoned buildings in Jacksonville. However, if you see new construction, you can blast your opponent's cache of abandoned buildings.

What I'm Thinking in the Rain
This was my original Jax driving game. You just come up with the thoughts of the pedestrians you see when there's a torrential downpour.

The Fashion Police Have Issued a Warrant for...
Jacksonville isn't exactly Los Angeles, which is apparent when you see people (including me) walking around. An extra-large purple workout suit? Leather pants on a hot day? Plaid shorts with a striped shirt? I've seen them all, and you will too if you look. Pretend you're one of the mean girls and have fun. Just remember to keep your windows up or your voice down.

Pitbull Name Game
Killer, Daisy, Cupcake, or Scooby. It doesn't really matter. Pitbulls are everywhere in Jacksonville, so I made this game up just for that breed. However, if you're in Ponte Vedra, just change it to Doodle Name Game. Also, once you decide on a name, you have to sing the song. Killer, Killer, bo-billler, banana-fanna fo-filler, me-my-mo miller, Killer. Something like that.

Homeless Dream Ride
Identify a homeless person and then pair that person to a vehicle currently on the road with you. Then give a reason for the choice as a dream ride. Like the BMW will remind him of when he was a banker in New York.

Pickup Truck Bingo
You'll need some bingo cards for this, but the it's very easy to get a lot of variety. White F-150, Black Ram, Blue Silverado, etc. You can also have more general slots, like Japanese or Heavy Duty. You want El Camino, go ahead.

Hauling at the Moon
For this game, you identify the item that's being hauled by a Jacksonvillian that is most likely to fall out or off of a vehicle. Pickups, trailers, open trunks, roof racks, bike racks, handheld roof surfboards, etc.

Cheers!
I might have been drinking when I came up with this game, and I don't exactly remember what it was about. Maybe drunk drivers. Sure, why not. Let's just say it's what you yell when you see a vehicle that should get pulled over for probable cause (no headlights, erratic driving).

Pin the Pin on the Address
Get out your phones for this one. Someone picks an address in Jacksonville and then everyone else drops a pin closest to where they think the address might be (without looking it up). Closest wins. This game works because Jacksonville is stupid-big with stupidly-named roads.

Bus Stop Confessions
When it's your turn, choose a person at the bus stop and imagine what their deepest secret might be. Nothing obvious, like, "I enjoy yelling at people on the street." More like, "When I was a vice-president at AOL, I enjoyed getting snail mail," or, "I'm wearing Christmas pajamas under this outfit."

I'm Firm For The Law
Pick a word like Gavel or Lawyer. Yell it when you see a law firm billboard or bus seat ad, or hear a law firm ad on the radio. First to say the word gets the points and the winner with the most points gets to say, "I am the law!" at the end.


Pound Sand, Chumps

When I read the words our mayor tweeted to a local lawyer, I wasn't sure what it meant. Sure, the mayor was upset because the lawyer was questioning why a large GOP donor (and special friend of Curry and Desantis) had an access card to enter police stations, but I'm not sure how bringing light to the situation warrants saying a guy has no moral compass and should pound sand. Also, what does pounding sand mean?

I looked it up, and apparently when you tell someone to pound sand, you're saying they don't have enough sense to do anything worthwhile. Because pounding sand is a worthless endeavor. I guess it's a beach thing, like saying, "Former JEA CEO (who I barely know and whose plan to make a lot of people I don't really know rich was illegal and unrelated to me), go pound sand." Or, "Former Sheriff who moved out of town and barely showed up to work (and who I barely even know), pound sand. Or, "Former good friend who I didn't know was under investigation for sex crimes (which resulted in me accidentally defending him), go pound sand." 

I'm sure all the investigators who looked into the JEA sale or Sheriff Mike Williams's retirement plans also had no moral compass. The problem is that the defacto moral compass in Jacksonville for politicians and public servants seems to point straight at themselves. Maybe their buddies, too. I was hoping the guy who was buddies with Curry and Desantis maybe sent something incriminating in the mail before he offed himself in the post office parking lot. Or I guess we could go down the conspiracy road and say he was planning on mailing something incriminating but something happened to him before he got out of the car and the letter got misplaced. Or he was planning on mailing a confession revealing his own misdeeds along with those of dozens of those he financed in politics, but the line was so long that he just gave up.

The thing is that these self-righteous politicians and fat cats don't tend to give up. They deny everything or scapegoat one guy, and the machine keeps on steamrolling the rest of us who don't have moral compasses pointing directly at ourselves. And so we get cynical and frustrated, or at least wonder to ourselves how we too can build a business that helps soldiers relocate and have millions of dollars leftover to donate to politicians, along with time to serve on the college board of governors, hang out at the police station more often than the county sheriff, and participate in some kind of illicit sex crime that was apparently news to everyone. Maybe money can't buy happiness, but it sure seems to buy a lot of friends. 

Anyhow, I guess I want to tell all those of you with a very obscured view of a moral compass who disagree with me to pound sand, chumps. To those who question and investigate (all four or five of you in Jacksonville), thank you for at least adding a level of difficulty to the local corruption.

Thursday, December 15

Haretna for Gyros Review

My family likes us some gyros, sometimes. In the case of Haretnas, however, we won't be returning. We got a Restaurant.com deal to try the restaurant, and the fact we didn't pay full price is the only our experience would be rated as almost acceptable. Like 2/5 stars. At full price, 1/5. Really.

When I walked in with my daughter at around 8pm, I asked if the place was still open. A pair of blue-hairs were seated in one booth having long ago finished eating, while a disheveled man sat in another booth with no food. The main employee was doing paperwork. There might have been a cook in the back. But this is a large restaurant inside, and it seemed bleakly empty. The main who told us to sit wherever also claimed the restaurant was open, so we went with that. 

It's reasonable to assume some of the food on the menu is fine, but we just like gyros, so that's what we order. I'm always a bit worried when a place lists the gyro meat as being either beef or beef/lamb mix. This place claimed to use beef and lamb. We ordered the platter that came with fries, except our server said there were no fries. That's because they shut the fryer down because they were basically closed, which he should have told us from the get-go.

$12 for a gyro platter isn't outlandish, but the offer was for us to now get a side salad instead of fries, which was kind of a disappointment because both of us were hungry. But it got worse when we actually got the food: the salad was just the same lettuce that was already sprinkled on the gyro, so just more of something that may or may not belong on a gyro. But worst of all, the amount of meat on the pita was about half of what I generally expect on a gyro. You could literally fold this pita up like a burrito, with half of the food inside consisting of lettuce and Tzatziki. Maybe onions, too. It doesn't matter, because it just wasn't very good. The meat, the pita, the sauce. None of it. It was about as good as the Trader Joe's prepackaged gyro meat with a sauce submitted to an online forum by some old lady from North Dakota. But mostly it was a big doughy pita without much on it. 

My daughter didn't touch her salad, partially because there was salad as part of the gyro, and partially because we were going out to eat. We eat salad nearly every night at home, so it's just not special to offer your high school kid two puny salads as part of a restaurant experience.

At some point, the server/owner/accountant/janitor told us they were short staffed. Fine, then say you're closed when someone asks. Or just close down and invest in a food truck. I know, I sound bitter, but if you're going to stiff a customer on a "platter," offer something better and make the gyros better than usual instead of serving what seemed like warmed up leftovers from another restaurant.

What sucked is that I was visibly disappointed, as was my kid, but our guy just went back to working on folding napkins or counting receipts. I had to track him down just to pay. At least the coupon brought the price down so that I based my tip (for nothing) based on a lower price. I always leave a tip, but this was very close to me leaving without. In fact, if I was in charge of this restaurant, a customer would have gotten the meals and an apology for free. Maybe a dessert. Anything to acknowledge how sucky you felt about it all. Oh well, at least I have the internet so I can vent and you can put this restaurant in the "don't bother" category, at least for gyros.

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