The last time I tried to take a short cut, I got a traffic ticket. I turned down a back road, never quite stopping at stop signs, and not worrying too much what specific speed I drove at, past empty lots filled with fallen trees and piles of dirt. I slowed down and rolled up to the stop sign before turning onto the main road. One second later, a state trooper’s unmarked Ford Taurus had its lights on, u-turned, and was right behind me. I pulled over and cracked my window about three inches, license and registration in hand, so that I might be on my way as soon as possible.

He asked me if I knew why he pulled me over. “Tell me,” I said, realizing I should be careful because I might spit out my window at his face. He explained that I ran a stop sign, which I knew I did. I never stop at stop signs. I would enjoy spitting at stop signs, also, but I didn’t tell him that. Nor did I tell him that if he drove past ten seconds earlier or if I drove by ten seconds earlier, this interaction wouldn’t be happening. Meanwhile, someone might be driving 46 mph just up the road and he could be harassing that person instead of me. I just sat there quietly behind my cracked-open window and waited until I could leave.

When he returned he asked me if I’d been drinking that day. Shocked, I picked up the breathalyzer that is installed in my car – a consolation prize for a DUI from two years ago – and showed him that I am obviously not drinking, as it would be impossible for me to start my car. He added that he was just curious why my window wasn’t rolled down any further. I shrugged. He heard me loud and clear.

He let me go, so I continued driving home. I turned without using my blinker multiple times – once in a busy intersection with other traffic – and ran another stop sign. I also drove faster than the speed limit a few times, just for kicks. I debated fighting the $103.33 ticket, but honestly, I didn’t have the time, nor did I want to take off a day of work and drive to Concord and wish I brought a revolver with one bullet to cure the headache the entire experience would give me.

So I went onto the state’s 1990’s website and clicked on the clip art picture of a dollar sign and filled in the dozens of little forms and waited patiently for an email of my receipt so I could print it out and staple it to the ticket and put it in a binder I keep for my experiences with the government. I really do keep a binder — I call it my State of New Hampshire v. Richard Masta scrapbook — which is rather full since I keep getting in trouble for non-offenses. Discounting my DUI, I’ve been bothered for riding my bike once; then I walked home once; then I drove down a hill once; and here I am turning onto a road — quite safely I might add. It was the state trooper who busted out the dangerous u-turn on one of the busiest roads in the area. I’m building a nice little collection of stories here.

And I thought that was the whole story, but I should know by now that it’s never that simple. Almost two months after my ticket, I drove home and checked my mail. When I saw the letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles – part of the so-called Department of Safety – I knew my night was ruined. I spent the next few hours swearing and pacing. Two melatonins knocked me out and I crashed into my bed like an escaped zoo animal with a tranquilizer in its side. I’m already triggered by those three nasty letters “DMV” after all the traumatic experiences I endured dealing with the state during the DUI charges. But I’m tough from that year of abuse, so I opened the letter and tried to read the nonsense inside.

I’ve heard that it’s easy to make money on Amazon by publishing e-books filled with nonsense – mishmashes of words and jibberish. People will buy anything. I wish the government would quit whatever it is doing now and just try that. The two-sided piece of paper sent to me by the state – in a typewriter font, of all the fonts available for free on the internet – had a mix of normal sentences, all-caps sentences, bold sentences, all-caps bold sentences, and entire lines in a white font surrounded by black backgrounds. It is as the correspondence is deliberately designed to create fear and confusion in whomever is reading it. And to make things more chaotic, halfway down the page, it demands you read the back of the page – so I flipped the page over and skipped over an entire boxed-in section irrelevant to what the front of the page was about. The bottom half was the relevant part, and very easily could have been on the front of the page instead of the part that told me to flip the page over. But that boxed-in section was another intense warning about how I might get shot if I don’t do exactly as I’m told, and it was super-duper important that the state poked me in the chest like a grumpy dad before I moved along.

The first thing I read was that my license was SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY. Then in a tiny box in the corner, a little arrow pointed to the date it goes into effect: November 19th. My crime? Something called DEFAULT COURT SUMMONS. Having no idea what that meant, I continued to scan the page for any relevant information. I had no honest idea what I did wrong this time, but once I googled “default court summons,” I concluded that it had something to do with an unpaid traffic ticket.

There were only two clues on the entire form that I found related to the stop sign ticket: one was a long number under my name and driver’s license number that shared a few digits with the docket number of my traffic ticket. The second clue was the amount the state claimed I owed it: $153.33. That is the price of my stop sign ticket plus a $50 administrative fee. The administrative fee was explained on the form. The form also claimed I’d have to pay all sorts of other fees, including a reinstatement fee and another administrative fee for reinstating my license, when I eventually got around to it. It didn’t clearly explain what the rest of the money I owed was.

According to the form, my only options were to plead GUILTY, NOT GUILTY, or NO LO CONTENDERE, which is how you say GUILTY in spanish. I realized after reading the entire form numerous times that I couldn’t actually confirm exactly what I would be pleading GUILTY or NOT GUILTY to. Would it be to the original stop sign ticket? Or would it be to the charge that I haven’t paid the ticket? Or was it honestly for something else?

This time I was livid. I was fiery. I was ready to walk into a court room and set it ablaze. And have fun doing it. And say really mean things that really stung and made the judge wish he could throw his gavel at my face. I’d refuse to pay any fines and instead motion that if I were to pay anything, it should be to a charity. One Free State activist, Shire Dude, successfully did this a few months ago – and I’m pretty sure this will be the new precedent when fighting tickets in New Hampshire among activists. Shire Dude even asked the judge if he knew where the fines went once paid – and the judge answered, “I don’t know.”

When I received the ticket for running the stop sign, I wasn’t in the proper emotional state to fight a ticket confidently – though this time around I was ready. Another Free State activist Rob Mathias wrote about his experiences fighting tickets and made an important observation: we should be skilled at defending ourselves in courts. If we’re to critique the state, we best be prepared to say these things to its face. And document everything — even if you have to print a press badge so a friend can record your hearing.

I even decided that I’d be completely comfortable driving without a license if the state decided to schedule my trial after my supposed license suspension. This sounds unreasonable to do to someone, but its a common practice. After my DUI, I was allowed to drive for thirty days from the date of the arrest; my trial and all of the mandatory classes and counseling and hearings came after — and it was up to me to get there on my own. Yet another Free State activist, Christopher David, has been leading the charge lately in Portsmouth, defending the right for Uber drivers to operate in a town that has chosen to side with the taxi cartels, even with the threat of a $500 first offense ticket.

In New Hampshire the tides are slowly turning, and it’s being shown that resisting the state can pay off, if done in an intelligent, well-thought out manner. My courage is increasing. And this was going to be my chance to take a stand.

But first I decided to see if I can avoid the entire battle and try the most insane idea possible: I would call the DMV and try speaking to a human being. You see, usually when someone calls the DMV, it’s ten times worse than standing in line at the actual building. The wait time on the phone is usually just as long, but when you get a person, they sound like they’re talking to you through a tin can – from outer space, even if they are only a few miles away on Hazen Drive in Concord. So color me impressed when I called and was quickly connected with a “customer service representative” – he even had an American accent – who sounded reasonably clear.

I asked him to explain to me what my letter from the state was trying so hard to communicate to me, because I was stumped. “Oh yeah, a default court summons is basically just an unpaid parking ticket,” he said matter-of-fact. He told me he could see that my ticket was still “unpaid,” even though he could also see the receipt for my payment. “What the heck,” he muttered to himself as he prowled around my file. “That is strange.” I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so I kept quiet. He told me my payment hadn’t transferred through the system, so he was going to put me on hold and talk to his supervisor.

“Of course it didn’t,” I wanted to say to him. “Your website was made on Geocities by a high schooler.” I didn’t say that because I didn’t want to insult Geocities – or high schoolers, for that matter – by comparing them to a bureaucrat who makes $50,000 a year and can’t even make a proper website or, hell, print a legible piece of correspondence. I wanted to say lots of things, but I constantly reminded myself that this is just a guy who deals with people like me all day long and I wasn’t going to get anywhere by being mean to him – just like it wouldn’t matter if I was mean to a cop or a judge or any other government employee. Just move the interaction along until it can be resolved as quickly as possible.

Nor do I like to use what I call “libertarian speak” with government employees – or anyone for that matter. “Yes,” I could have told him, “could you please explain to me why the state is threatening me with violence by throwing me in a cage at gun point because I choose not to pay its ransom note?” That would get me real far. Asking “Am I being detained?” over and over will only be maddening for the man holding a weapon.

Anyway, my “customer service representative” returned and told me that my issue was resolved and that my charge would be cleared and that I’d receive some correspondence soon clarifying that the charge was dropped. “Would you like the long story that explains what happened or would you just like the short story, that you’re all set?” was how he put it. I opted for the longer explanation. He didn’t seem to mind telling me, actually.

Here’s what happened: when I promptly paid my ticket on the 1990’s website with all the clip art, I failed to fill one form – and it was one of the two forms that were most important. The two major identifiers that the state’s online system uses to sort tickets are the docket number on the actual ticket and the name of the police department. I had failed to fill in the form that identified the police department. I explicitly remember doing this because the state trooper had written NHSP on the ticket, but all the form offered were NHSP Troops A, B, C, D, or E. I didn’t know, so I didn’t fill it in.

So they fixed that little error, whistled a happy little tune, and told me to have a nice day. “Thanks,” I said, relieved, but also dazed. “Have a nice day.” I hung up. More emotions tossed and turned inside of me. A tempest in a cranium.

First of all, it’s 2015. Your website should f*&%ing work. If a form is important, there should be an asterisk next to it, so that the person filling the forms knows it is important. And don’t allow the person to continue until all the information is filled in. And lastly, the state troopers are supposed to be the least dumb of the cops in the state. If he doesn’t know how to write his own department down, then I really question his ability to do the rest of his job, which involves driving really fast and carrying a loaded weapon and making value judgements that change people’s lives. Then again, I’m aware that cops aren’t hired for their high IQs.

If anything, their website should still be able to shuffle all of the loose ends and problems into some sort of folder so that someone can make sure the time-sensitive information is resolved. The fellow on the phone told me the transaction was just sitting out there in no man’s land. “That’s so silly of us,” he might as well have said. “Oops!”

Like I mentioned, I don’t like to use libertarian speak, but it’s true. I was threatened with violence and ransomed for the silliest of clerical errors, and all I got at the end of it was Porky Pig going “Th-th-that’s all, folks!” I’m supposed to applaud and patiently wait for the next episode to begin. It’s really horrifying, actually.

It upsets me to think that so many people will accept this abuse — they’ll just please GUILTY, pay any fines demanded of them, and shrug off the pain, as I did before. It isn’t easy to survive the morass that is the state’s unnavigable, unaccountable bureaucracy. But with some intellectual self-defense, it can be done.

It is absolutely critical when dealing with the state that you cross every “t” and dot every “i.” Because somebody has to. You can’t trust the state to do it. Your life may depend on it.

Of course, after experiencing all of this, I want to shout from the editorial pages of all the local papers. I want to flyer the hell out of my town with a call to action against the tyrannical, incompetent DMV. I want to run for the House and propose legislation to abolish the Department of Safety. I think it’d be a popular measure to get rid of that horrible thing called the DMV, at least among the twenty or so Free Staters in the House. I’d write the exposé and it’d be a best seller and I’d be on Tom Woods and write wonkish essays for Reason: AGAINST THE DMV.

But I remember this bit of wisdom from Ludwig von Mises’s Memoirs:

From time to time I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and point policy in the right direction. I have always looked for evidence of a change in ideology. But I never actually deceived myself; my theories explain, but cannot slow the decline of a great civilization. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.

Of course, I feel that the only solution most people and their elected representatives would come around to supporting would be to throw more money at the problem. More funds for the DMV to build more stupid websites. And more training for the police so they can be better at writing tickets incorrectly.

The only way to end the state will be to let it end itself, which will happen soon enough. I came out of this experience learning a lot about myself, which is the only true path to liberty. I can control my emotions amongst the state’s goons. I can communicate to others what to expect when they get into these situations themselves.

Don’t let your emotions control you. Don’t look at the badge or the gun; look at the spelling errors. That’s true self-defense against the state. It’s the only kind you can afford.