Friday, February 26, 2010

Parking Tickets: A Way of Life

I got a parking ticket a couple days ago, which means I had to plan a trip to my local Parking Violations Bureau. (Also known as the DMV for people like me who can’t tell the difference.)

Unfortunately, trips to the Bureau are no rare occurrence. I live in Los Angeles, where parking tickets are just a way of life. Although in this case, frankly, I deserved it. I had the audacity to park an inch into the red zone.

For those of you who think that the red zone would be a great name for an energy drink, you’d be right. But they’re also parts of the sidewalk that are painted red, to indicate that your friendly neighborhood parking enforcement agent will give you a ticket if you’re there for more than a two seconds. (The first second, of course, is your grace period.) I’ve heard reports of motorists who pull over to the red zone just to look up a number on their cell phone, and when they look up again, they have a ticket sitting on their windshield.

So these agents, despite their impressive levels of stealth, can be a bit overzealous. But it doesn’t help that red zones seem to be placed randomly on the sidewalk. There’s space for a couple cars to park, and then, for seemingly no reason at all, BAM. Red zone. Then a couple more feet of freedom—enough space to park a golf cart, if you really squeeze--then another red zone, and then a yellow zone (Yellow for fire hydrant. Red was taken.) (You still can’t park there.)

The zones are typically accompanied by signs that tell you where you can park, how long you can be there, and where to drop off your first born as collateral if you plan to be more than 15 minutes.

So why was I not careful, you say? Why did I not just read the sign, you ask? Those are foolish questions, and frankly I’m surprised you even asked them. Because it’s blatantly obvious that the signs were written by newly hatched sea creatures who have no understanding of the English language, much less what constitutes a permit-only parking area.

For example, if you cannot park on the street from 6-9 on Monday, I would expect the sign to read something along the lines of “No parking from 6-9 on Monday.” But bear in mind, that’s just ONE of the signs that are posted. Take a look at this typical Los Angeles parking sign:

For those of us who have yet to obtain their doctorate in traffic sciences, this can be extremely hard to decipher. No parking from 9-12—except the 12 is crossed out. Does it still count? Also, no parking from 8am to 6pm UNLESS it’s Saturday or Sunday or UNLESS you have a district number 18 permit. Does that mean that on Saturday or Sunday you CAN park from 8-6, or that you CAN’T park from 8-6, even on Saturday and Sunday? The top sign also limits parking for vehicles of a certain size. I hope you brought your tape measure.

No matter what you do, you’re breaking the law. And it’s enough to make any average, law-abiding citizen suddenly feel like a rebel. And we all know where that leads. First you’re parking illegally, and then you’re making illegal right turns. After that, shoplifting. Then hey, what’s a little arson?

Illegal parking is a gateway crime, and these signs are enablers.

But those of you paying attention will remember that I didn’t do any of this. All I did was park an inch in the red zone. Although in my defense, I had no malicious intent.

I simply wanted to run into my local Starbucks and to get my coffee fix for the day. I go at off-hours, and so there’s usually no line. But today there was an elderly woman who couldn’t seem to figure out what the difference was between a hazelnut coffee and a coffee with hazelnut. (Not that I blame her; I don’t understand half of what I order at Starbucks, myself. I just throw out buzzwords and see what sticks. “Half foam soy latte grande with cheese and extra whip and fries on the side.”)

So there she was, trying to decide if maybe she just wanted a tea instead, while I could feel myself getting more and more sluggish from caffeine withdrawal by the moment. She finally finished her order, and I was able to mumble mine (“chocolate latte caramel yogurt soy swirl banana bread.”) I got something caffeinated in a cup, though, and so all in all it was successful order.

And then I got the ticket. I’d been “red zoned.” It brought the grand total of my drink up to $60. Granted, it's not the most you’d ever spend on a single drink at Starbucks, but is still more than I was looking to pay.

My plan was to fight the ticket. After all, it was only an inch. I wasn’t harming anything. If you looked at it from the right angle, you couldn’t even tell I was in it at all. I would fight it, of course, and I would win.

Tune in next time to see how big of an idiot I was. Bring your tape measure.