The Amateur Parker

The Mysterious City Parking Official

April, 2011

By Melissa Bean Sterzick

I made a statement in my last column that I feel badly about now. I wrote that everybody thinks the people who run cities are idiots until there is an emergency Ė and then we think they are superheroes.
I do hope the many municipal parking officials out there liked the superhero part, because thatís absolutely true, and it often happens that city employees do prove themselves heroic in times of crisis, but I can see where the idiot part could be upsetting, or offensive.
The reason that many civilians like myself have a negative opinion of city officials and employees, including those who handle parking issues, is because we usually have no idea what to expect from them. And we donít quite know what they are up against in the complicated arena of city politics, finance, incomprehensible policies and highly charged egos, although we suspect itís a big mess.
The street I live on is lined with three-story magnolias, with comparable root systems. One of the regular conversations I have had with my neighbors during the past few years was how shortsighted ďthe cityĒ had to be to plant a variety of tree that would, without variation, destroy the sidewalks, curbs, driveways, plumbing and streets all around them.
We no longer have that conversation because the city ripped out half the trees on our block and repaired all the streets, curbs and sidewalks, but not the driveways or the plumbing, and now we miss the trees but canít say so.
It was easy to gripe when we had a beautiful shady neighborhood framed by flowering magnolias, despite the jagged sidewalks and bumpy curbs. Now that weíve traded one for the other, we arenít sure it was what we really wanted.
Itís not exactly the cityís fault that we are uninformed and whiny. Many of us are happy to gripe about city policies and practices; however, we do not follow up by participating in city meetings or discussions. People avoid city council meetings because these gatherings are deadly dull and held in dingy buildings with rickety chairs, faulty sound equipment and no ventilation.
I know this because I used to be in the newspaper business and spent a lot of time at various city council meetings. But generalized apathy is mostly to blame for our nonparticipation. In our minds, weíve paid our taxes and thatís the end of it. No other effort or sacrifice is required.
Whether a city publishes its decisions and activities and notifies residents when a plan has been formed and will be executed, or goes about its business without comment, most of us are totally unaware of our local government and its machinations. We just donít pay attention. In our ignorance, we are convinced that city officials donít address the issues that are important to us, but instead use all their time and our taxes giving themselves raises.
A city could take out a front-page advertisement in the local newspaper and of the 10 people who still take the paper, only five will notice and two will remember. And I can say that because, once again, I used to be in the newspaper business, and I am saddened by but still honest about the reality of declining newspaper readership.
A city can post fliers, make radio announcements and mail FAQ sheets, but most residents will be oblivious. If they knocked on our doors like Mormon missionaries, we might listen, but we might just say ďI already have a Bible!Ē and slam the door.
The things regular citizens do notice are immediate and personal. Every parking meter has a tiny little sign with tiny little print telling us when we can park and how much it will cost us. Many of us attempt to decipher that coded language and behave accordingly.
We donít want that little white envelope to appear on our windshields.
The parking ticket is immediate and personal, and usually the threat of it is enough to guarantee good behavior. Send me a notice that in three months, the city will be resurfacing my street, and I will forget all about it.
Leave a note on my door that tomorrow my street will be inaccessible and I will need to park on a nearby street, and I will obediently move my car. Immediate and personal.
During the last 10 years, our beachside meters have been changed out once already, and lately, the entire promenade along the shore has been ripped up, along with the new-ish meters, and is being replaced.
I have wondered what think tank came up with the idea to replace the meters and then do it again so soon, and I am betting it all comes down to an unpredictable rotation of funds. Itís all a big unknown anyway.
The city might have told everyone about its plan to upgrade the roadside and meters, but if they did, I either wasnít listening or forgot. And I guess that makes me the idiot.
What I think is that we are all idiots sometimes, whether we admit it or not. And we are all heroes sometimes, whether we realize it or not.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is an Amateur Parker and PTís proofreader. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.