It has been about 4 years since I’d seen them. It’s not like I missed them, either. In fact, I’ve been avoiding contact as best I could, even contemplating ducking into narrow alleys to avoid having to face them. This time, however, I was spotted, and they were bearing down on me. I ducked to the right, and I waited for the inevitable: the dreaded red and blue.

In most of my activities, I tend to think of myself as a law-abiding citizen. I hold no loud parties, have never taken drugs, and am raising no illicit chickens within city limits. I even try to adhere to the posted speed limit, though I will admit to straying on occasion. However, on this beautiful evening when I was pulled over by one of the Borough’s finest, I was stuck in rush hour traffic, so I knew speed was not an issue. Had he seen me pick up my mobile phone? I did do that, but, even though my car is now equipped with Bluetooth, I did it for the right reason: to refuse a call while driving. (Except that there wasn’t actually a call—just a false alarm. But I didn’t tell him that.) I crept over to the side of the street to wait for what was coming to me. Sadly, that point on that side of that street also happened to be exactly where my friends live. (I didn’t dare look into their home & wave for fear of leaving a bad impression on their children.) I calmly asked Mika to excuse my reach as I opened the glove box for my folder containing my registration and insurance cards. I handed all the documents over to the officer as he explained that he pulled me over for lapsed state inspection and emissions.

“State inspection? Are you kidding me!?!” is what I yelled at myself internally (again, those children). I could not believe that I had let it run out, especially since I had just gone through the lengthy process of rewriting my auto policy just 2 weeks prior. You would think it would have occurred to me at some point in that process to check the stickers on the windshield. Instead, I find myself stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic of people I recognize, parked in front of a high-school and college friends’ home, with not one, but now two squad cars flashing their lights behind me. (The County Sheriff happened to be passing by and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. My tax dollars at work.)

The whole process of written warning and background checks only took about 5 minutes, but they seemed excruciatingly long. I knew I had done nothing wrong (well, almost nothing), but I still felt like a criminal, society’s collective eyes giving my vehicle the up & down and deeming me worthy of arrest. After this short eternity, I was back underway and now had five days to pass inspection.

I wish I didn’t have to participate in state inspections. I maintain all my vehicles myself and feel certain that I know the state of their repair/disrepair rather well. I know that Nigel (the Land Rover) needs a new front diff in a bad way, but the tires and brakes are brand new, so it is still safe to drive. I even updated his lighting relays to prevent the inevitable Lucas Brownout. Babe the Blue Ox (my Aprilia) is due for front brake pads by the end of the season. Thor (the Husaberg supermotard) is in pieces, but I do know it is soon due for a new rear tire. The BMW needs nothing. New brakes, good tires, new wiper blades, it being a rust-free southern Maryland chassis, etc. all add up to it being in top physical condition. It runs like a top and is completely safe to drive, which begs the question: why do I really need to be included in the state inspection system?

A friend of mine owns several motorcycles. He is rather meticulous in their upkeep and knows them inside and out. Some might call him fanatical in his devotion. (Those same people might also call him other names while kept waiting as he insists on repacking a silencer prior to a Sunday ride because “It just sounds a little too canny.”) It is because of this intimate knowledge and zealousness that he refuses to have his fleet inspected. “Why do I need to pay someone thirty dollars to tell me that is needs nothing for the next year? Multiply that by 3 bikes, and I can pay for a new tire to replace a sketchy one that others would try to get passed in yet another state inspection.” He’s got a point, especially since he errs on the side of safety.

In Pennsylvania we have both state inspection and emissions inspection. Not much irks me more than having to pay for a mechanic (who is under my car while doing the state inspection) to turn his head to glance to see if I have a catalytic converter installed. That’ll be $34 for that service. It doesn’t even have to be functioning, just present (Like so many high school students today.) It’s wrong. It’s highway robbery, in a very literal sense.

I do feel rather strongly that we still need an annual state safety inspection. Far too many people on the road are so oblivious to the warning signs of wear and tear that their vehicles are trying to shout at them. Squealing brakes, thumping tires, dim headlights, and bouncing rear suspension all cry out for attention, but still they drive on. I wish people would take the time to listen, take the time to investigate, and take the time to care for their cars. And I wish that those of us that do would be able to have a special exemption sticker to put in our windshields—a badge of honor.

I’ve developed a system in my mind of how this might work. A board of respected members of area car clubs would make up the jury. (Mopar clubs would be excluded, since their members would be too busy fixing their own cars to be available for the jury duty.) Each applicant for the exemption would have to give a written history of cars owned and problems solved by the applicant over their lives. An oral examination and thorough cross-examination would follow. (“Mr. Johnson, you stated in your application that you enjoyed owning numerous Saabs over the years. As the jury is well aware, this is nothing but a bold-faced lie!!”) Once granted the exemption, the applicant is still subject to the passing inspection of his or her peers (other exemptees) wherever the car is present. If the exemptee is thought to be bringing dishonor to the system, by shirking their duty of upkeep, the exemptee in question would be brought forth into the Court of Recall to plead the case. The system only works on honor, but the honor is on two levels: 1) the honor of the exemptee to the system, and 2) the honor of becoming one of the few & proud group of society. We would forever be shamed by our fellow exemptees if we are found to be lax in our principles. Old, stoic men with grey beards will give out knowing looks and steely glares of shame. A public de-badging would be a disgraceful event–even more humiliating than being stopped directly in front of your friends’ home.

The De-Badging

Jansen Herr lives in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with his loving Norwegian Elkhound, Mika. When not writing, he occupies his time attempting to save old European rolling stock from the jaws of the crusher, as well as from himself. If not ruining fine machinery, he is likely found in the saddle of an obscure motorcycle. He also attempts to play bass, cook, and is usually successful staring at walls.

Jansen Herr