Think Thanks


Think Thanks

Sometime two years ago, my city’s officials decided it was time to regulate parking on street-cleaning days. The new regulations are part of a water quality project meant to remove pollutants from storm water that drains into the ocean. There were several articles in the local paper and a flier left at every door.

The project created alternate cleaning schedules for east/north and west/south sides of the streets – or was it east/south and west/north? Left and right? I have no idea, and there are no signs posted to clarify.

I’ve tried to observe the new pattern, but it still seems as if both sides of my street are being cleaned on the same day. I park in my driveway 99% of the time, so I don’t really have to worry about it.

Now that the warning period has passed, ticketing has begun in earnest. And people are mad, mad, mad. They have a hundred reasons why this is all wrong: $43 is excessive; they didn’t know; there are no signs; they didn’t get the flier or a letter or a phone call or a visit from the mayor himself. It’s mean, it’s greedy, it’s not fair.

Every time someone says, “It’s not fair,” I see the face of my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Francis, a giant man with black hair, voicing the most disturbing information I’d ever heard: “Life is not fair.”

At 9 or 10 years old, I knew about law and consequences. I’d been introduced to the Golden Rule, and I had observed that despite the “Do unto others …” credo, people still cheated, lied, stole, teased, hit, kicked and tricked others.

I was sometimes on the receiving end of these injustices. I was probably on the giving end, too, but selective memory has washed away those sins.

I knew bad things happened, but I didn’t know that life was inherently unfair. I thought that, at the very worst life was meant to be fair and occasionally fell short.

I should have understood. It’s not as if I hadn’t experienced loss or disappointment or injury, but I was stubborn, and devoted to the idea that there were rules to keep and safety in those rules.

So Mr. Francis, though I loved/hated him, delivered a heavy blow. There were tears – noisy, snuffly, public tears – mine, not his. If I had really believed him, I would have saved myself a lot of trouble. Instead, I attributed his theory to old age, cynicism, and the frustration of being a teacher, and tried to forget about it.

Three decades later, I don’t have any illusions about life being fair, not when it comes to parking tickets or anything else that occurs unexpectedly, undeservedly, inconveniently or inconceivably.

I don’t like the idea of tickets being issued on residential streets – for street-cleaning, permits or otherwise. This is my home, and it feels homier if I don’t have to worry about getting tickets on my own street. If I were to get one of those tickets, I’d be aggravated, but I definitely wouldn’t say anything about fairness.

Parking tickets aren’t personal, despite what the disgruntled locals around here have to say.

After a few letters to the editor, appeals to city council members, accusations of gouging residents for the sake of city coffers, and requests for a decrease in fees, the city reiterated its position: issuing tickets for parking violations on street-sweeping days is not a money-making venture, and as the cost of writing and processing a parking ticket is about $45 (more than the fine itself), the fee would not be reduced.

Further, it was the residents themselves who protested the installation of signs outlining the schedule and penalties. The city respected homeowners’ wishes to keep the streets uncluttered, but forgoing signage leaves a big gap in the normal delivery of information that results in more tickets.

From June 2015 to June 2016, 13,050 tickets were issued and $568,142 in fines collected. The city reports that the money will most likely be used to … expand the street-sweeping program.

There’s an expression I hear often these days, sometimes coming from the voice forever blabbering in my own head: “first-world problems.” It’s kind of a shame-invoking statement about people of privilege complaining about things that a truly destitute individual would welcome.

It’s not nice to invalidate others’ feelings, however peripheral and untragic they may be, so I wouldn’t use this phrase on anybody but myself, although it comes to mind when I hear about people making a huge fuss about parking tickets. I prefer a slightly nicer cliché: “Count your blessings.”

Gratitude is a habit, not an instinct. Every year during the holiday season, I have a moment where I look around and wonder how I ended up with 50 presents under my tree; a kitchen full of food; and a safe and comfortable home, and I feel deeply embarrassed of the way I take this abundance for granted.

As the Christmas season plays out, I know there will be days when the stress of buying gifts, decorating, hosting relatives, and all the other preparations feel overwhelming. But I know things like clean streets, good health care, celebrations with family, and 14-pound honey-baked hams are all blessings, even though they require effort and sacrifice.

I’m going to resist the urge to complain, whine, imagine myself overworked, or attribute any of my challenges to conspiracy, misfortune or masochism, and instead think about how fortunate I am that so many of my problems are the first-world kind.


Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick
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