It’s A Lousy Quarter

A lovely young woman’s coming by my place for dinner tonight and I haven’t got a clean thing to wear. Realizing my date won’t probably won’t appreciate funky smelling clothing, I drive over to the laundromat on the main street of my town. After parking my car, loading up the machines, throwing in soap, and depositing most of the quarters I accumulated in the beer stein I keep on my dresser drawer, I exit the laundry to return some overdue library books and grab a bite to eat.

But when I step outside I notice a DPW worker emptying the meters lining the street. Realizing I haven’t made my donation to the municipality for the privilege of parking, I fish two quarters out of my pocket and feed them into the meter. Now I’m good for two hours.

As I turn towards the library I watch as the DPW worker inserts a key into a meter, pulls out a canister full of quarters, and inserts the canister into a heavy looking locked receptacle on wheels. The man gives the canister a sharp twist and the quarters tumble into the receptacle like metallic rain. I have never seen a parking meter being emptied before. My interest is piqued.

“Pardon me,” I say to the DPW worker. “I’ve never seen how a parking meter works. Mind if I watch you for a minute?”

“Sure,” the man says.

“So all the quarters go from a locked canister into that locked box?”

“Yep,” the DPW guy replies. “That way no one can touch the money until I take it back to the office to be counted.”

“I see.”

“It works like this,” the DPW workers says. “Watch. I insert the key into the meter.”

“Okay.”

“Then I open the door and take the canister out.” The man pulls a canister out and shows me the bottom. “See the holes here? It’s like a lock. When I insert it into the money carrier it lines up with a set of teeth inside, like a key, see? Then I turn the canister and the money falls in. That’s the only way you can get the money out.”

“Very cool. How often do you have to empty the meters?”

“About every two weeks,” the man says.

“This is a busy street,” I reply. “I’d've thought you have to service these meters more often.”

“I should,” The DPW guy says. “But people don’t pay for parking half the time. If they did I’d be emptying them once a week.”

“What percentage of people don’t pay for parking?”

‘I saw twelve cars parked next to expired meters as I was coming up the street just now,” the DPW guy says. “I don’t know exactly what the percentage of deadbeats is, but it’s a lot.”

“How much money does the town make off these meters?” I ask.

The DPW guy tells me the town’s annual haul from its five hundred meters. It’s enough to pay the salaries of two or three teachers.

“That’s not chump change,” I remark.

“It ain’t,” the DPW guy says. “And if people fed the meters like they were supposed to the town would get more money.”

“And in this economy every quarter counts.”

“You better believe it.”

Suddenly a man in a black Lexus pulls into the parking spot in front of us. He looks at the DPW worker, then walks away without putting any money into the meter.

“You see that?” the DPW guy says. “That really burns my onion. The guy sees I’m standing here and he still doesn’t put money in the meter. Who the hell does he think he is?”

“Why don’t you get the traffic enforcement lady over here?” I ask. “Fix him good?”

“Nah,” the DPW guy says. “If I got into that I’d never stop calling her. People do this all the time. Besides, I try not going through life being a ball buster.”

“But its frustrating when people treat you like you’re not there,” I say. “When I worked as a waiter people did that to me all the time.”

“You’re telling me,” the DPW guy says. “One time I had this guy come up, park, and not put anything in the meter. So I say, ‘Hey buddy, you gotta put money in.’ You know what the guy said to me?”

“What?”

“He said, ‘Do you know who I am?’”

“Boy,” I reply. “That sounds familiar.”

“So I say. ‘Beats me, who are you?’ The guy tells me he’s some kind of low level media guy. Does local television and stuff.”

“What an asshole,” I say. “Being on T.V. Doesn’t excuse you from feeding the meter.”

“Well this guy thought it did,” the DPW guy replies. “Then you know what he told me? He said that he used to work a a toll collector when he was younger and that he made $15,000 a year. I said, ‘That wasn’t bad money back then.’ Then this jerk tells me that wasn’t what he got paid. That was he got from pocketing all the quarters he found lying around the pavement when people missed the tossing them into basket!”

“So he was stealing.”

“So I say to the guy, ‘What was your name again?’ He got a scared look on his face and took off.”

“And he still didn’t feed the meter?”

“Nope.”

“Unbelievable.”

“I’ve been working for this town for twenty-five years.” the DPW guy says. “I’ve never taken so much as a dime. And I find plenty of loose quarters inside these machines. Just ain’t right.”

“Virtue’s its own reward I guess.”

“But people are such jerks when it comes to meters,” the DPW guy says. “Once I saw a guy park his car, not feed the meter, then go into that restaurant over there. Right after he went inside, Phyllis, the traffic lady, rolls up on him and starts writing out a ticket.”

“Finally,” I say. “Justice is done.”

“So the guy runs out of the restaurant and yells, ‘Phyllis! Has an hour gone by already?’ He wanted her to spare him the ticket but Phyllis was already writing it out.”

I’ve had the misfortune to get several of Phyllis’s tickets – mostly for failing to move my car on street cleaning days. Whenever I’ve offered to move my car she always says, “Sorry, I’ve already started writing the ticket.” Phyllis is one tough lady so I don’t argue with her. But something tells me she doesn’t live in the town whose citizenry she tickets.

“I can see Phyllis saying that,” I reply.

“So I say, ‘Hey buddy. You just got here and you didn’t feed the meter.’ The guy just acted like I wasn’t there and argued with Phyllis.”

“He argued and lost.”

“You bet he did,” The DPW guy says. “But you know what that guy did later? He went to court and appealed the ticket!”

The psychologist and philosopher Karl Jaspers in his book General Psychopathology, outlined the three criteria that need to be in place for a belief to be considered delusional. 1. Certainty (held with absolute conviction) 2. Incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary) 3. Impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue). This scofflaw, in laymen’s terms, was fucked in the head.

“That guy was just plain crazy,” I say. “And for what? It’s a lousy quarter.”

“And then the guy takes up the court’s time, the meter maid’s time, and my time. He wasted so much of the township’s money fighting the thing it’s criminal.”

“Like the small percentage of people who’re always in the emergency room for bullshit reasons and make it harder for really sick people to get care.”

“Exactly.”

“Makes you wonder how honest that guy is in the rest of his life, huh? And he acted like you weren’t there.”

“God I hate people like that,” the DPW guy says. “And people think this job is a cakewalk too. You try emptying these meters when it’s raining, one hundred degrees, or when frozen snow’s piled so high you risk killing yourself even getting to the things.”

“When I was a waiter people said the same thing. ‘How hard can your job be?’ I always wanted them to walk a mile in my moccasins.”

“People don’t understand.”

“What’s the fine for expired parking?”

“Twenty bucks.”

“That’s not that bad,” I reply. “But you should make people like that guy empty the meters as community service.”

“No,” the DPW guy says, sighing. “Idiots like him would only fuck ‘em up.”


Comments

It’s A Lousy Quarter — 43 Comments

  1. Good post. I don’t understand some folks’ mentality that it’s ok to get away with something. It’s a quarter – pony up and support the system! But then, to treat another human being like they’re not even there; that’s even worse. I always feel lucky when I find a metered spot, so I’m happy to cough up my quarters!

  2. What an excellent post. Thanks for posting that. Just a cool little chat with a couple of decent guys. That was entertaining and worth my time!

  3. Here in Hanover, NH (home of Dartmouth College) the expired meter fee is $10; a lot of people figure that it pays to avoid feeding the meter since they’re rarely ticketed.

  4. Ten to one, the majority of the people who don’t pay are the same people who are always complaining that their taxes are too high.

    Since I live in California, there are usually plenty of parking lots and/or reduced rate or free city lots to park in. However, as James noted, San Francisco is an exception. You can easily pay $30 or more to park in a lot for the day. You can feed the meters (and it can be more than a dollar an hour), but a lot of the meters only allow you to park for 20 minutes at a time, and the regular meters usually limit you to two hours. You can’t keep feeding the meters and stay in the same spot; you have to move your car when the meter runs out.

  5. On the note of people using the ER for “bullshit” reasons – without regular medical insurance many people end up having to use their local ER as the only option for basic medical care. Not the quite same as jerks who just can’t cough up a quarter to pay for their own parking.

  6. Jennifer, I’m not talking about people who are really sick. I’m talking about the hypochondriac psych cases who come in whenever they sneeze. Then, when we tell them to come to the psych unit for an eval, they refuse, only to come back the next day dying from “something.” I see it all the time.

  7. Great post!

    Add people who don’t pick up after their dogs to the list.

    Oh, and the “I’ve already started writing the ticket” thing: used to live in a very BAD part of Indy. Didn’t know it before moving there. We finally got let out of our lease early, my parents drove all the way from TX to load us up, my dad had permission to park on the grass in order to back the trailer as close to the front door as possible, no sooner had we taken a break for breakfast and closed the front door when the truck’s alarm went off. We opened the door- Ticket. From the lovely sheriff’s dept. officer whom I was actually responsible for getting to patrol the area. It was so bad and I complained so much that property management started hiring off-duty officers to crack down on the crime in the area, and even when I walked up to his vehicle (on another block by that time) and explained our situation and how we were just trying to get the hell outta that awful place, all he said was “Sorry, I already entered it all into the computer system.”

  8. Where I live, the city uses ticketing and towing for street cleaning as a major revenue source ($120 minimum for ticket and storage fees).

    Years ago, I had a new car, and parked it on the street, forgetting about street cleaning the next morning. At 8am, my hindbrain woke me up when it heard the beeping of a truck backing up. I realized immediately that I was in trouble, threw on some clothes, grabbed my keys and wallet, and ran out to my car.

    Sure enough, the guy is finishing hooking up the chains to my car. It turns out for street cleaning, the guys with the trucks and the guys with the ticket books aren’t always in the same place, which allows for some… flexibility. I offer to move it, and without losing a beat, the guy with his hands on the controls says “Twenty dollars”. I whipped out my wallet, pulled out a $20, and held it out to him, knowing perfectly well this was a bribe. He smiles, and says “Smart move. As soon as the wheels are off the ground, it’s $40.” He removes the chains, and moves on to the next car.

    Everyone is out to cheat the system.

  9. I have never thought waiting was easy. Never.

    However, certainly shines a light on meter collecting. Who knew?

  10. people never realise that waiting on tables is a hard thing to do
    until they become one
    im a waiter myself – but in Australia
    and over here you’re lucky if you get a tip

  11. In the town I live in the parking fines are on a sliding scale. First tix is $12, 2nd is $24, 3rd is $48 and so on. Seems like a pretty fair system because sometimes you really do just lose track of time. And after 1 year a ticket is forgotten (as long as you pay it).

  12. Finally a post from you! I was beginning to think you got bad news back from the digital doc.

    Please post more often! (yeah, I know it’s easier for me to say yada yada yada — but I enjoy hearing from you.

  13. Another fine and insightful post, Steve.

    If I were feeling sarcastic, I’d also compliment your precise-recall memory of that casual conversation . . . which I assume you didn’t tape. (Merit badge for preparedness if you did!)

    Instead, I’ll just say the reconstructed dialogue makes for a smooth narrative and undoubtedly reflects the essence of your exchanges truthfully.

    So yo get a pass ftom this self-appointed ethics cop (once an editor, always . . .)

  14. Uh, Sten? I’m not saying waiting tables is easy, but in Australia (unlike the US) restaurants are legally bound to pay you at least minimum wage (and all the hospos I know get more). In the US, not so–waitstaff there rely on tips to make any money at all (the Rhode Island minimum wage for wait staff is $2.89/hr, the Australian minimum wage for waitstaff and anyone else is $14.31/hr). Tips in the US are a matter of survival.

  15. while studying/working in Oz many moons ago, got great pay as waiter, often making as much as $45/hr working public holidays like queens bday as if it matters to an american. either way got paid well polishing silver or waiting 10 tbls regardless. that was a nice aspect. however back in US now making $2.13/hr nothing is guaranteed but also there is no salary cap on my potential tips. if someone wants to tip me $1000 (its happened before), all the better it makes up for all the crap we handled past, present, future.

  16. Very simple. The meter enforcement crew need to work harder or be increased in numbers. I saw a very expensive car pull up to a meter in Hoboken mid afternoon and I was stunned that the lady never even approached the meter and an hour later I coincidentally saw her leave. She was rich enough to play the odds. She was gambling that a meter person would not catch her and if they did, the ticket to her husband would look like she was just late getting back to the car. But she was gambling.

  17. Steve, great post and I get your point, but then at the start of it you said:

    “But when I step outside I notice a DPW worker emptying the meters lining the street. Realizing I haven’t made my donation to the municipality for the privilege of parking, I fish two quarters out of my pocket and feed them into the meter. Now I’m good for two hours. ”

    So you also didn’t bother feeding the meter when you first got there. Yes, you did eventually, but if you can forget, so can others. I’d bet not everyone does it to be an arse.

  18. Wow, your comment about it paying a couple of teachers’ salaries really opened my eyes! I’ve always complained long and loud about speed traps and other municipal monetary extraction methods as simply being a ruse for the city, county or state to make money; but when you term it like that, I feel like a jackass for begrudging the methods the city uses to pay for very essential services! Thanks for the post, I love a healthy dose of perspective!

  19. When I was a kid, I LOVED parking at metered spots. Getting to put the money in the meter was a treat. I still kind of like it, especially when they’re digital. It’s like putting the money in a gumball machine, I guess. Just fun.

  20. How about a little karma in a positive way? I know it sounds crazy, but when I walk by a car with an expired meter, if I’ve got a quarter in my pocket, I feed the meter. If it makes one person (who either sees me or doesn’t get a ticket because of me) act a little more kndly that one day, I’ve made my contribution to world peace! Besides, it IS only a quarter and it makes me feel good!

  21. A few years ago there was a rash of parking meters being stolen. Two guys would back a big truck down the side of the curb, knocking over all the meters and then throw them in the back of the truck.

    It struck me at the time that this wasn’t a terribly profitable kind of crime. Hearing about the internal workings of the meters makes me wonder how much work they had to do once they got them home in order to get the money.

  22. It’s very clear that you haven’t had the pleasure of parking in Chicago any time recently. This is a very sore point in the city right now, since it has been privatized.

    While your two quarters get you two hours, want to know what our two quarters get us? 15 minutes. That’s right — you have to carry 16 quarters to get you two hours here. In the past few weeks, they started putting up convenient “pay boxes” so that people can part with their money even more easily, through credit cards instead of pounds of quarters.

    Street parking fees, ticketing, and towing is a MAJOR revenue source here, and in other cities, and I don’t think this is as innocent a governmental move as you seem to (although, you’re only paying 2 quarters, so that may be why). Here, they simultaneously raise subway and bus rates, so that there is no good option to get around anymore, especially when it’s freezing out and you can’t walk or bike. This is all on top of the highest sales tax in the country, and income tax that is incessantly on the rise. Dumping the tea in the Lake or moving away after a couple of years to a place like the town you were in might be the best solutions left in some cities.

  23. Crap, I was just thinking how awesome $0.25 an hour is… here in my city (Vancouver, Canada), some areas are upwards of $3 an hour (granted, we have $1 and $2 coins…).
    at a minimum… $1 an hour. omg.

  24. In Annapolis, they have plenty of “Phyllis’” who monitor the meters. They also roam the streets marking the tires of those who don’t have residential parking passes. On the other hand, the guy who patrols the downtown area on Sunday morning will loudly announce that it is 11:45 AM and the meters begin at 12.

  25. Good lord – there are some parking meters here in Atlanta that give you about 12 minutes for a quarter. You should at least get 30 minutes for each quarter. In addition, the new digital meters don’t give you the pleasure of turning the knob and watching the timer move in a positive direction. That is at least a little fun for your money…..

  26. I thought Australia had a no-tipping custom.
    I recall entering the customs area of the
    Sydney airport and there was a big sign for
    us tippers: “there is no tipping in Australia.”
    I rode the Indian-Pacific train from Sydney to
    Perth and had to browbeat the car attendant
    to take a tip.

    Aussie waiters complaining about the lack of
    tips are a bit disingenuous.

  27. I didn’t find that there was a vehement anti-tipping policy in Australia. At a decent sitdown restaurant, I would usually tip 10%. I would have felt funny not tipping, and hey, isn’t it better that Americans go down under with a reputation of generosity?

  28. Here in Ottawa, a quarter gets you 5 minutes from the meter. And they just changed the bylaw so that you can’t park for free at a meter until after 7:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday (it used to be 5:30p.m. Monday-Friday).

    And some people where you live are actually skipping out on 25 cents an hour?? They are assholes.

  29. Around here (Boston) the city makes more money off of the people who don’t feed the meters than those who do. One parking enforcement officer on a bike can hand out plenty of $25 tickets every hour. You might not get a ticket every time you can’t find a quarter to feed the meter, but you’ll get ticketed at least 1/3 of the time. And it’s a lot cheaper to drop a few quarters into the meter every time you park than to pay a $25 ticket one time in three.

  30. 25 cents an hour to park? That’s a bargain; where I live (Key West, Fla)it’s a dollar an hour and the ticket for an expired meter is $25, and they have a way of finding the scofflaws. Folks should be HAPPY to pay their 50 cents for two hours!

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