Playing the high-stakes city parking game

October 19, 2008|By kevin cowherd | kevin cowherd,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

There are a million parking-ticket stories in this city and this is another one, because parking here has always been the emotional equivalent of death by paper-cuts.

The visitors' bureau people are always shouting: "Come to our great city! Stay at our hotels! Eat in our restaurants! Enjoy our nightlife!"

Sure. Just don't try to find a parking space.

And even if you do find a parking space, get ready for something strange to happen.

Look, I parked at a meter years ago and when I returned two hours later, a man was kissing the meter next to mine. OK, I say kissing. But what he was really doing was spitting into the coin slot to try to dislodge a quarter that was stuck.

Oh, I could tell you parking stories. We'd be here all day.

But this new story begins on a weekday afternoon in Fells Point, which is like the home office for strange parking stories.

This time, I luck out and find a parking spot on Thames Street, directly across from the Daily Grind, where I'm supposed to interview a woman for an article.

Now I walk over to the parking machine, where you scan your bank card and the machine gives you a receipt and you put the receipt on your dashboard, so the meter people don't have a cow.

Naturally, this being Fells Point, the machine isn't working. It won't read my card. And now I'm running late for this interview.

At this point, I get this brilliant idea: forget the machine.

I'll just go interview this woman and we'll sit at one of the tables outside the Daily Grind.

That way I can keep an eye on my car. And if anyone tries to give me a ticket, I can run across the street, explain the machine is broken and let my innocent Irish good looks do the rest.

Sure, that's a great plan. And for 45 minutes or so, it works like a charm. We sit outside. The sun is shining. The interview is going well.

Naturally, this being Baltimore, it can't last.

And, of course, it doesn't.

Because, suddenly, a big fish truck backs up right in front of where we're sitting. And these two guys jump out and start unloading fish and taking them into a nearby bar.

I don't know if you've ever sat downwind from a fish truck. But it's not the greatest experience in the world. You would never eat fish again if you went through this.

But what concerns me even more than the over-powering stench is that the fish truck is now blocking my view of my car.

And these parking enforcement people, they're sneaky. They're just the sort of people who would wait for a fish truck to block your view so they could slap a ticket on your car. It's like a big game to them.

On the other hand, I'm in the middle of the interview here. I can't just leave this poor woman to gag on fish fumes while I run across the street to check on my car.

Anyway, about 15 minutes later, I wrap up the interview and go back to the car.

And, of course, you know where this is going.

There, flapping in the breeze against the windshield, is a parking ticket.

The fine is 23 bucks. Welcome to Fells Point. Have a nice day.

OK, even though my capacity for self-pity knows no bounds, I didn't whine about this ticket.

After all, it was my own fault. Even though I was running late, I should have moved the car and looked for another parking space, which would have only taken another two hours in Fells Point.

Or I should have found a parking machine that worked - and good luck with that one, too.

But here is my very favorite part about this parking ticket story.

A week later, I decide to pay the ticket before I forget about it and the Man comes looking for me or it goes on my driving record.

"Pay online and avoid the hassles!" it says, or something like that, on the back of the ticket. And that sure sounds good to me.

So I sit down at the computer and call up the Baltimore City Web site. I click on the online payments button, then on the parking fines button.

Then I punch in my tag number and the citation number with my fat little fingers. And here's what happens next: nothing.

"No record(s) found," it says.

So I punch in the info again. Again, the same message flashes.

And then I see it. There at the bottom of the page is this message: "If you received a hand-written citation, it may take up to three weeks from the date of your citation to appear in the city's database."

Oh, this is beautiful.

They want the ticket paid in two weeks. But it might not be in the database for three weeks.

So good luck paying it online, sport. Mail it in or pay it in person.

This is why I love this town.

The emotional paper cuts never seem to stop.

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