Like the $31 fine for parking in a loading zone, even though the sign was unreadable and you thought it was a legal spot, which is why you paid $2 at the kiosk for the voucher and left it on the dashboard and, furthermore, the space was in front of a (closed) day-care center.
Or the $36 fine issued by a Philadelphia Parking Authority stalker who watched you search in vain for change, then, the second you sprinted across the street to pick up a key, swooped in. Two minutes later, when you ran back out, he ignored your desperate screams to please stop writing the ticket.
Yes, there are bigger problems. The health-insurance crisis. Gun violence. Political upheaval in Mali. Rick Santorum's gutter balls. Madonna's faked sales figures.
This is what a well-adjusted adult should be thinking when she arrives five minutes early for her 1:45 p.m. hearing, waits 15 minutes in line to register, and is told there is a two-hour wait.
Fellow sufferers groan. "I have a job. I can't spend the whole afternoon here!"
The response? "I'm sorry. Want to reschedule? You can come back in three months."
You wait, believing that once you explain your extenuating circumstances, any hearing officer with a heart would give you break.
Connors sighs. "Let me tell you about heart. For many years in this fine, fine organization, things were done with heart. And it was illegal."
He was brought in two years ago to straighten out the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication (herewith referred to as BAAd) because his predecessors had yielded to temptation.
Joseph F. Hoffman Jr. went to prison for taking bribes from a taxicab magnate to fix $47,000 in tickets.
Clorise Wynn resigned after she was caught dismissing $50,000 worth of tickets for Marathon Grill in exchange for free food, and granting dispensation to friends and family.
Wynn, at least, spread the good will. When lines backed up, a staffer would enter the waiting room and ask, "How many of you have only one ticket?" Those with raised hands had their tickets forgiven.
The lucky never complained. But uneven justice is the devil's work, Connors says. Mayor Nutter hired him, he says, "not for my good looks or my dancing ability, but because we had a mess." He accepted the job on the condition of no favors.
Every day, about 150 PPA officers issue an average of 4,200 tickets, reports Linda Miller, the authority's deputy executive director.
That doesn't include the armies of ticket-writing police from universities, CRX, Homeland Security, SEPTA, prisons, and public schools.
Sometimes they make mistakes. But, unlike other American justice systems, BAAd operates on the premise of guilty until proved innocent.
So even when you provide evidence - say, a photo you took on the gloomy night in question showing the unreadable sign way overhead that supposedly indicates this is a freakishly episodic loading zone. And even when the hearing officer looks at said photo and says, "I can't read that sign," then advises, "You should go back and take a picture of it during the day."
Even then, the verdict is going to be, to put it in the finest terms of jurisprudence: tough noogies.
"Next time, bring a stepstool and a flashlight," Connors jokes. And keep a couple of quarters in the car in case you're being stalked by Lovely Rita.
Connors doesn't mean to be insensitive. It's just that he's heard it all. (Every hearing is recorded.)
"I had to pee."
"I was picking up medicine for my cancer-stricken aunt."
And the ever popular:
"After all the money I spend in this city!!!"
So much of urban life requires acceptance of factors beyond your control. Broken elevators. Wage tax. Ginkgo berries mashed into your sneakers.
No one sane takes precious time and energy to fight tickets without good reason. These are matters of principle. Petty principles, but principles nonetheless. Life is unfair, but parking tickets should be the exception.
BAAd handles 17,000 hearings a month. And 100 percent of the contestants, Connors guarantees, are sincere in the belief they were wronged.
Another guarantee? Every single one resents having to pay an extra $10 to park while squandering two hours waiting for a hearing. And, after finally getting the chance to vent, being scolded like a little brat, "So you thought you could just go about your business and not put money in the meter?"
And after clemency has been denied and they are forced to sign the penance documents, they definitely don't want to be sent next door to wait an additional 30 minutes to pay the fines.
On days like this, perspective is elusive. It feels like disrespect. Ignites nuclear fury.
Connors says he can do little about the occasional staffing glitch. BAAd has nine hearing officers - whose qualifications are a high school degree and an even temper. When one gets sick, another has jury duty, and a third has a child emergency, their colleagues can't keep up. Especially on Fridays when people who have had their cars towed or booted show up en masse for walk-in hearings and try to get their wheels back for the weekend.
"We do the very best we can with the resources we have," he says. "It isn't disrespect. It really isn't."
What it is bad timing and bad luck.
Exactly what got you those tickets in the first place.
Contact Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.