President Bush's Opening Day visit to Baltimore proved costly to some neighbors of the new Camden Yards stadium when their cars were towed from his motorcade route.
Eight Ridgely's Delight residents apparently thought their cars were immune from tickets and tow trucks because they had the new "Area 5" parking permits required for parking there on game days at Oriole Park.
Instead, they found the rules changed on short notice in the 500 and 600 blocks of Washington Boulevard. The Police Department posted no-parking signs there during the weekend at the request of the U.S. Secret Service, which provides security for the president.
"When the Secret Service creates a route, they indicate to local authorities that they do not want vehicles on a street for security reasons," said Agent Arlene K. Jenkins, a city police spokeswoman. She wouldn't say when the department learned it would have to clear the street.
The change left the unlucky eight facing parking fines and towing fees totaling as much as $138.
"It was like a 'Twilight Zone' episode," said Gerald Gottesman, a Ridgely's Delight resident and law student at the University of Maryland's stadium-neighborhood campus. He was referring to his realization -- while walking to a friend's house to watch the ballgame on TV -- that all the cars were gone, including the Buick Skylark he had parked there Friday night.
"I had to wait two days to find out where the car was," he said. "And now they expect me to pay a ticket!"
The city says it gave residents the requisite 24 hours' notice that parking would not be allowed on the street between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday. Crews did not begin towing until shortly before noon.
The signs were posted on trees and light poles on the street on Saturday and early Sunday morning, Agent Jenkins said.
Several residents insisted that the signs had not been posted until Sunday afternoon, but that was a moot point for people who were towed. Some were out of town, while others parked their cars on Friday or Saturday and did not return to them until Monday.
Mr. Bush's helicopter landed at Carroll Park, and the motorcade took Washington Boulevard all the way to the stadium. But parking was prohibited only in the two blocks in Ridgely's Delight, said James Kapplin, a Public Works Department spokesman.
The sight of the tow trucks set some Washington Boulevard residents into a panic when they realized that their neighbors' cars were about to be impounded.
Cheryl Merriam said she told a parking enforcement officer that her neighbor was out of town and that he would not be able to move his car.
"We tried to explain to these people that he's out of town, he doesn't know anything about this," Ms. Merriam said. The officer suggested she call the mayor's office and protest.
Ms. Merriam's neighbor was still out of town yesterday, and the $10 daily storage fee is adding up.
Bill Reuter realized that his neighbor, who was out of town specifically to avoid the Opening Day hoopla, was going to be towed.
"I didn't know what to do and couldn't find the keys," Mr. Reuter said. "So I found a gypsy tow truck operator getting gas at the end of the street, and he towed him to another part of the neighborhood for 40 bucks."
He hopes his neighbor is appreciative enough to pay him back.
Six cars were towed to the city's impound lot on the Fallsway, which is the city's policy for day games. Two of the cars were then relocated to Covington Street next to Federal Hill Park, which is normally done only for night games, but one of the tow truck operators took them there by mistake.
The owners of the two cars that were relocated will have to pay only the $32 ticket. "That was a nice error for those two folks," Mr. Kapplin said.
The rest will have to pay the full$138, which includes $51 for towing, $25 for first-day storage, $30 for administrative costs and the $32 ticket.
Samuel E. Elbers said he expects eventually to get his money back after he goes to court, but in the meantime he is out $138.
"It's just one of those things where you wish there was some recourse," said Mr. Elbers, a pharmacist who lives on nearby Portland Street. "But once you're in that impoundment lot, there's no way you're getting out of there unless you have 138 bucks."
Mr. Elbers walked to work on Monday and did not check on his car until returning home that night after watching the college championship basketball game at a local pub.
"Since I don't drive to work, I don't go out to see if the rules have changed on a daily basis," he said. "I think they knew about this Bush thing for a few weeks beforehand, so I don't know why they were posting it 24 hours in advance."