Municipal Traffic Court: A Civic Variation of ‘The Price Is Right’

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Municipal Traffic Court image with Price Is Right logo superimposed
Image Credit: Ammodramus, Price Is Right logo Fremantle Media. Both images were acquired from public domain

I had to report to my local municipal traffic court for a citation for expired plates. That’s a saga in itself, but as I sat there, it occurred to me that the experience was like being in the audience of an episode of The Price Is Right. Because life is fun.

I showed up at the studio (a.k.a. courthouse) early, stood in line (just like the studio audience at The Price Is Right would) and made my way inside the courtroom. There was ample seating, with all seats facing the stage. I mean, the stage was set up to look just like those courtrooms from all those television shows, but since this game is called Municipal Traffic Court, it makes sense that this is how the stage would look.

I sat amongst strangers, filled out the simple form that was handed to me, then tried to engage in small talk with my fellow contestants. I made sure the ringer on my phone was off, since I had no intention of being held in contempt of court and being charged a fine (I mean, I wouldn’t want to be disrupting the recording of the show), then waited patiently for my name to be called.

Unlike on The Price is Right, everyone’s name is guaranteed to be called. The real question is when. In Municipal Traffic Court you get to go up to the lectern and enter a plea. Meanwhile, you watch as the others compete and make their bids, but in this game, as an audience member, be sure not to try to help the current contestant by calling out bids. That really isn’t encouraged. People also didn’t exactly cheer on the contestants as they proceeded to the stage either, but could you imagine how the energy in the room would change if people did?

Just like Bob Barker before and Drew Carey now, the Municipal Traffic Court judge welcomes the contestant (although in this game we were called Defendants, I suppose to make the game feel more authentic) and asks a few standard questions. While the host of The Price is Right typically asks questions about where the contestant is from, and the contestant jumps up and down and points out the crowd of fellow contestants in the studio audience wearing identical t-shirts, this game is more civilized, with fewer matching outfits (in this particular episode, I saw none).

Each contestant enters a plea, may or may not tell a little story related to when they earned their ticket to this show, and then their turn ends with the judge naming a money prize total. And then your turn is done. Of course, in this particular Municipal Traffic Court version of the game, you want the “prize” to be as low as possible since you then have to go back into the hallway, wait for your name to be called, and pay the prize money to the court. But really, other than the direction that the money is flowing, it’s really all the same.

In the end, whether you win or lose, plan to pay court fees. But really, you can just think of it as the price of admission.