Justice at the Parking Meter



1425 2nd ave ny ny 10021

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

12:15: Heading downtown in car for two o’clock appointment with lawyer. Half-listening to Leonard Lopate on WNYC. Callers telling stories of bizarre summonses for unfair parking tickets. Mentally pat self on back for six months ticket-free. Cop calls in. Defensive. Won’t give name. Claims cops have no ticket “quotas” to meet, just “production goals.” Claims he’s “just following orders.” Sounds eerily familiar.

12:20: Decide to stop for sandwich. Turn off radio. Focus on finding parking place. Can’t believe my luck. Get half of double meter behind car right outside Sable’s Deli on Second between 74th and 75th. Best lobster salad in town. Put four quarters in meter. Check distance to hydrant in front of car. Fifteen feet. Go in. Order lobster salad on rye with lettuce, tomato and onion. Happy. Glance out window. See suspicious-looking orange rectangle under windshield wiper. Hope it’s a flyer but doubt it. Now see tiny meter maid and huge meter man standing to left of car. Good mood dissipates. Rush out. Demand to know reason for ticket. Point out distance from meter. Point out time left on meter. Name on woman’s badge, “T. Hernandez,” tells me to “Take it easy.” I don’t. Admits she and ticketing partner (“Charles;” no initial) made mistake. Admits they didn’t see double meter to rear of car. Pleasantly surprised. Ask them to cancel ticket. Hernandez says “No can do;” must wait for supervisor. Says he’s been called. Charles silent. Looks depressed. I ask how long till supervisor arrives. Hernandez says she doesn’t know. Says “soon.” Looks irritated. Implies everything my fault for parking at hard-to-see meter behind car.

12:30: Workers in Sable’s now gathered in door enjoying distraction. Hernandez orders, “Go get your sandwich.” Can’t believe she’s telling me what to do. Can’t believe I’m obeying. Figure I better eat in car so won’t miss arrival of supervisor. Hernandez and Charles now joined by small grinning man in NYPD uniform with title “Peace Officer” on badge (no name). Quickly conclude he’s there to calm outraged citizens like Lopate callers–and now, me. Huddles with Hernandez and Charles. All give me occasional dirty looks. Open sandwich and start to eat. Hernandez, Charles, and peace officer walk over to car. Gape at me through window. No longer hungry. Wrap up sandwich. Wonder how long lobster salad (expensive) will last without refrigeration.

12:45: Getting more upset. Pleasure over acknowledgment of unfair ticket fading. Long-sought appointment with lawyer way downtown at 1:30. Consider telling Hernandez. Sense this a bad move. Sense she could care less. Get out of car. Ask again how long till supervisor. Charles silent. Hernandez says he’s “nearby.” Grudgingly adds “On West Side” when pressed. Won’t say where on West Side. Heart sinks. Return to car. No longer in mood for Lopate. Brood.

1 P.M: Getting even more upset. Call husband on cell phone. Thinks I shouldn’t drive in city anyway. Certain I hear “I told you so” tone in voice, though sympathetic. Hang up. Suddenly remember number on back of ticket to call for meter ticket complaints. Used once before with success. Elated. Push five options till reach human being. Told office only for tickets at broken meters, not hard-to-see ones. Suggests meter maid write note validating mistake so I can leave. Suggests calling local precinct for help. Hangs up. T.H. says “No can do” to writing note. Not surprised. Charles silent. Still depressed. Call local precinct. Told they don’t handle traffic tickets. Hang up. Notice hands are shaking. Call lawyer to say I’ll be late. Return to car. Brood.

1:15: Get out of car. Demand supervisor be called again. Get dirty look from T.H. “You can always leave,” she says. Know that’s what they want. Briefly weigh hours in court versus waiting now; even consider forgetting whole thing. Think about times I deserved tickets and didn’t get them. Doesn’t improve mood. Look at front of ticket for first time. Instead of usual $55, see faint checkmark in box next to $105. (“No standing. Bus Stop.” Wasn’t at bus stop, but decide not to confuse issue by pointing this out.) Dismiss idea of leaving. Call lawyer’s office and cancel appointment. Now fuming. Ask the imperturbable T.H., “How would you feel if it was you?” Told to “Take it easy.” I don’t.

1:25: Fat cop saunters up and joins Charles, T.H. and peace officer for light banter and occasional jokes at what I am sure is my expense. Makes me even angrier. Tell them it’s waste of taxpayers’ money for all four of them to be standing around for over an hour. Tell them they’re costing city money. Tell them they could have written twenty tickets in time they’ve been here. Realize voice rising. No reply, but still-grinning peace officer stops chewing toothpick and stands up straight. Charles silent but alert. T. H. fingers walkie-talkie as though preparing to call up the troops. Wonder if meter maids carry handcuffs. Snickering passersby looking at me out of corners of eyes. Know I look like criminal. Begin to feel like one. Do something I’ve seen only in movies: Buttonhole friendly-looking stranger. Start to blurt out story. Stranger’s smile fades. Gives me nervous glance. Hurries on. Retreat to car. Try to keep from crying. Continue to fume.

1:45: Supervisor drives up in mini-car. In no hurry. Slowly emerges, looking pained at having had to make trip. Gives me contemptuous glance. Huddles with four officers. Looks at me warily. Looks at rear of car and meter. Asks Charles and T.H. if I was this far from meter (a foot) when first parked. Charles and T.H. say yes. I explain other car was parked too close for me to back up more. Writes something in his book. Walks to front of car. Measures distance from hydrant. Still fifteen feet. Can’t believe what I’m seeing.

Realize Supervisor “Nurse” (his real name) trying to pin a midsdemeanor–any misdemeanor–on me. Remind him that T.H and Charles already admitted mistake. No answer. Walks back and looks at meter again. Says it’s empty. Looks at me accusingly. Again, I’m incredulous. Tell him I don’t think person mistakenly ticketed and delayed for an hour and a quarter while awaiting his arrival should have to put money in meter. Suddenly understand life in police state. Suddenly understand “The Trial.”

1:50: Nurse says he must call his chief. Watch in disbelief as he talks into cellphone for over five minutes. Finally hangs up. Reluctantly says it’s OK. Ticket will be dismissed. Charles and T.H. silent. Peace Officer still smiling. Fat officer still standing.

1:55: Get back in car. Start back home. Block away, realize was too upset to write ticket number down. Want it for my records. Circle block. Four officers and Nurse still chatting. Pull up. No parking space. Know they’d love to ticket me, so stay in car but pull up behind Nurse’s mini-car and risk asking T.H. for ticket number. Turns her back. Doesn’t deign to answer. Ask Nurse for ticket number. No answer. Ask Charles for ticket number. He speaks at last. “It has all been resolved,” he says in soft Jamaican accent, but doesn’t give me ticket number. Suddenly realize Charles was probably trainee under T.H. Probably worried about mistake. Maybe will lose new job because of this. Momentarily stricken. Decide not to waste pity. Go home.

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