Only two of you ventured a guess about the significance of the photo in my last post. ElephantsChild wondered if perhaps I was attempting to engage my readers in a game of "Where's Waldo?" Chris asked if the photo might contain "a picture of the camera monitoring the road."
Chris, you have a very observant eye. And indeed, the gray metallic item in the center of the photo does looook like one of those road-monitoring cameras, doesn't it? But in actuality what you are looking at is a magic cash machine.
Yes, you heard me correctly. It's a magic cash machine. In fact, in my fair city there are now three of them, generating thousands of dollars a day for the city treasury. You see, the cash machines are equipped with cameras (you got that much right, Chris!) that take pictures of drivers traveling through selected city intersections. If a driver fails to adhere to the strict letter of the law with regards to stopping at a red light, he is photographed and billed to the tune of $100 for his infraction ($25 more, incidentally, than he would pay for a speeding ticket in the same location). In addition, he is directed to an online site where he can view a video of himself that may very well reveal that his only infraction was stopping with his bumper or front wheel slightly over the white line or perhaps pulling over the white line in an effort to gain visibility that would allow him to safely turn right on red.
Some city leaders claim that the magic cash machines have nothing to do with generating funds but are actually an effort to increase safety. Several facts, however, give the lie to that claim. First and foremost is the fact that not one of the cash machines was installed at an intersection in my town that several years ago was named the fourth most dangerous in the entire state of Illinois. It is also worth noting that the magic cash machines were placed at no cost by an outside company (that coincidentally contributed generously to the current mayor's reelection campaign) with the provision that the company would get a percentage of all cash generated. Additionally, the cash machines are administered not by the police department but by an outside firm which sends bills and collects payments on behalf of the city. The bills sent to violators are considered to be administrative fees rather than traffic tickets; thus, no traffic violation shows up on the driver's record.
Ironically, although the magic cash machines have generated prodigious amounts of money in the few short months they have been in operation, their prodigiousness may be short-lived. There is widespread talk among citizens of neighboring towns about altogether avoiding the red light trap that now exists in my city by boycotting the businesses that operate here. And while residents have experienced a highly unpleasant and rude driving awakening over the past several months, they are no doubt fast learning their lesson and appropriately modifying their driving habits.
Finally, the current mayor and city council may next year discover that property owners are weary of the black hole that our city treasury has become and may very well seek leadership that will not only be more fiscally responsible but will return us to the good old days when traffic was monitored by real life police officers instead of a pocket-invading Big Brother.
Until then, consider yourself warned. The magic cash machines are fast cropping up in cities and suburbs around the nation and may soon be making an appearance at an intersection near you.