Finding a parking space after work, as many who live in Baltimore can attest, can be a frustrating exercise. The search can be long, as can the walk from the car to the front door.
Two days a week, Whit MacCuaig gets home to Upper Fells Point after 9 p.m., having driven from Timonium, where he's taking night classes to earn a master's degree in accounting. He's carrying his laptop, and he's wary about walking alone at night with his computer.
So he double-parks on Gough Street, runs into his house to lock the laptop inside, then runs back to his car to begin the hunt for an available space. He was attacked in October last year, had his house burglarized in April and knows several neighbors who were beaten this summer in a series of well-publicized assaults.
On Sept. 8, he emerged from his house to find a parking agent writing him a ticket. The fine for obstructing and impeding traffic: $252.
On Dec. 10, MacCuaig heads to court to watch the trial of the man police charged with emptying his house of $14,000 worth of televisions, computers and other items. Six days later, MacCuaig goes to court again, this time to fight the ticket he says he got while trying to avoid once more becoming a victim of crime.
"It's [adding] insult to injury," MacCuaig said. "People are getting mugged on my block, and the city is going to ticket me for trying not to get attacked? That's just too much. I told the ticketing officer that I was just trying not to get my stuff stolen. It's been dangerous in the neighborhood."
With parking at a premium, residents guard parking passes with a passion and constantly complain to the city's Transportation Department. A spokeswoman, Adrienne Barnes, said calls about cars blocking streets are among the most common.
"Parking is just a big issue all around the city," Barnes said.
On narrow neighborhood streets, many residents show patience as their neighbors stop at their front doors to let people out or take baby carriers or bags of groceries inside, so long as the drivers exhibit some sense of urgency.
MacCuaig will have to argue his case in court; Barnes would not discuss the merits, and a judge will have to decide whether his story merits enough sympathy to dismiss the citation.
His side of the story is that it was about 9:10 p.m. and that he was parked only a few minutes. His block of Gough Street has parallel parking on one side of the street and angle parking on the other. Despite that configuration, it appears that there is enough room for two cars to squeeze by in the travel lanes.
MacCuaig said he was not blocking all lanes. "In fact, cars were passing by me as I pleaded" with the parking agent.The rules are, once the process is started, the agent can't stop writing.
MacCuaig contends that the agent did not leave the paper version of the ticket behind and said he thought he had talked his way out of it. He said he discovered the citation when he checked online. City records show the ticket was issued Sept. 22. Barnes acknowledged that the agent is required to leave a copy of the ticket on the car windshield.
The real issue for MacCuaig is the message he says his ticket sends to residents. He said three men threw him against a wall in April, but he got away before anything was taken. Then his house was broken into; the suspect has also been charged in two assaults in the neighborhood.
And over the summer, community leaders had an emergency meeting to discuss a string of robberies and beatings by gangs of young men. Police made one arrest. They described the attackers as being in groups of eight to 10 who stole cellular phones and beat several people, some severely.
So it would seem prudent for a resident who comes home after dark and knows that parking could be blocks from home to want to avoid walking with a computer. MacCuaig feels penalized for trying to avoid trouble, and he said he doesn't want to live in a city where he has to break the law to be safe.
"I'm not going to stay," MacCuaig said. "No way. There's no incentive."