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