Those dumb parking meters can see me coming a mile (1.6 kilometers) away. And what’s worse is the intrepid meter man (or in a Beatles song “Meter Maid” named “Lovely Rita”) can see me leaving from a kilometre (.6 miles) away.
And as soon as I’m out of its sight, my meter mysteriously disregards whatever change I have slotted into the stupid machine and flips the red “Expired” flag — like flipping me the bird — just in time for said meter man or maid to arrive with that ticket book that always seems to have a special page bookmarked for Yours Truly.
I don’t really like parking meters. And they certainly don’t like me.
But at least we don’t have that voodoo parking system like they do in, say, Calgary, or Vancouver. Where you pull up to a post that has a long number on it and you have to input that number into a robot one-armed bandit type machine a block away. You also have to stick your credit card in there, along with your social insurance number, height, weight, political affiliation, favourite band, favourite book and the date of birth of your first born child (if applicable) so that you can pay a ridiculous fee nearing triple digits just to park downtown somewhere.
And heaven knows where all that information goes — important information such as your credit card number and the name of your favourite band. Can anyone say: “Identity theft?”
It all started in (where else?) the United States. According to the History Channel, the very first parking meter was installed in July 16, 1935 — which just happens to be my birthday. Not the 1935 part mind you, but some days certainly feel like it. No, July 16 was the auspicious day that a newspaperman (of all things) named Carl C. Magee was asked by the Oklahoma City council to come up with a solution to deal with the problem of too many of “them big ol’ automobile machines on them streets, y’all. …”
So good ol’ Carl came up with something he called the “Park-O-Meter” and the first one was installed smack downtown in Oklahoma City, and the pricey fee of a nickel an hour. By all accounts, the response was, shall we say, mixed. City business owners liked the Park-O-Meters because it “encouraged a quick turnover of cars;” car drivers, however, immediately lynched Carl from the nearest streetlight.
Just kidding about that last part, but my guess is that ol’ Carl wasn’t the most popular Okie in town.
Our own fair town has a pretty good system, though. When it works.
You can drive down to City Hall, park along the lovely City Hall Park, go in and purchase a parking card, and when you come out there will be a parking ticket on you vehicle.
You simply then remove that ticket from under your windshield wiper and place it under the windshield wiper of the vehicle next to you. After all, some people pay parking tickets without even looking at the car licence number on the ticket, right?
Still kidding of course, but the point is: now when you park you can insert your parking card instead of coins that you never seem to have. (And I don’t know about you, but it really irks me when I do finally find a loonie or a toonie and put it in a parking meter and up pops a little wee number like eight minutes!)
Thing is, with a parking card, it loads whatever time you have purchased on the card — say one hour — but when you come back from your 12-minute shopping spree downtown, you can reinsert your card and it will charge you only for the 12 minutes. This is much better than realizing that you put a handful of loonies into the mean meter machine and racked up a nice two hours of parking, only to use a fraction (12 over 120 = 1/10th) of the purchased parking time.
But often when it’s really cold, or really hot, or the parking meter is in a bad mood when you insert your parking card suddenly the meter spews out a bunch of symbols and numbers where your allotted parking time should be. It looks something like this: %E&#&@S$>-, which means of course that the parking meter is swearing at you, instead the other way around like usually happens.
And speaking of swearing, let me tell you a quick story. I went to Edmonchuk last week, had lunch with a business friend who had to lend me a pocket full of loonies for the parking meter. I didn’t have any change on account of my car doesn’t have an ashtray (which is a good thing) but that’s where I used to keep my parking change, so I didn’t have any parking change. After our business lunch involving five minutes of business, I decide to treat myself to something from the music store on Whyte Avenue, on account of I’d been working so hard. Fifty dollars, I think to myself. I can spend $50. Maybe a couple pairs of drumsticks or a really cheap guitar (haha).
So I pull up to the store, and nothing has changed, I still have no change. So I run into a nearby bank lobby with a debit machine, which gives me only twenties, so I have to run back into a store and ask for change or buy something, and when I scurry past my car I notice … wait for it … a piece of yellow paper on my windshield.
FIFTY DOLLARS! The ticket was FIFTY DOLLARS and I’d been gone six minutes! And there is no reduced amount if you pay within a certain amount of days. Not in the “big city” — oh no. Now that’s a mean meter machine.
I was so miffed that I immediately got in my car and drove all the way home. And I didn’t even set foot in the music store. But I certainly spent my FIFTY DOLLARS anyway.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.