Thursday, June 19, 2008

Madison $100, Dusty 0

I think it's safe to say I really enjoy living in Madison a good two out of every three days. Other times it's just allright, and in winter it can be downright miserable.

And then there are days like today, when I'm a hair's breadth from torching city hall and sabotaging the Tenney Park locks so all 9,740 acres of Lake Mendota blow through earth and concrete to wipe the isthmus clean off the map. Any day I run afoul of Madison's parking enforcement division is generally one of these days.

I think I should preface the rest of this piece by saying even in my darkest hour, I would never do anything to deliberately cause harm to a fellow human being in a situation where someone's life was not threatened, and I certainly consider acts of domestic terrorism and mass destruction reprehensible faux pas at best and out-and-out despicable at worst.

That much said, it will take every fiber of my willpower to keep me from sparkler bombing the next parking enforcement jeep I see on the street. Judge me if you will, but if you had a hundred dollar parking ticket hanging on your bulletin board, I doubt you'd feel any different.

Admittedly, I did park in the handicapped stall that's located right IN FRONT of the Madison Municipal Building - parking enforcement headquarters. In hindsight, it's likely I couldn't have picked a worse place to park in a handicapped spot in the entire city, but I wasn't exactly aware I was doing it.

I've been riding the motorcycle to work all week, which up to this point, had saved me maybe 10 or 15 bucks in gas. That's a moot point now, but another glorious thing about being on a bike is that, if someone isn't using the entirety of a parallel parking spot, you can pull into the unused portion and park there.

So when I arrived at the Dane County Board of Supervisors meeting this evening, I was thrilled to spy an open sliver of a spot directly across the street from the City-County building the meeting was at. There was a gray van parked there, but I pulled in behind it. I didn't notice the handicapped tags on the van. I didn't notice the handicapped parking sign. God only knows if there was a little old lady in a wheelchair getting out of the van, I wouldn't have noticed because I had a goddamn meeting to get to.

Now I'm not generally the type of jerk who parks in handicapped stalls. That's something I generally check for when I am parking a vehicle. But when I'm parking in a stall that is already occupied by a vehicle, I guess I generally assume the spot is fair game.

Ignorance of the law is no defense against it, I get that. Not seeing the sign is a mistake anyone can make, albeit a one-hundred dollar mistake in the City-of-the-Perpetually-Offended. And if I had in some way inconvenienced someone who had a deserved right to that spot, I would take a deep breath, clutch my manhood in one hand and my wallet in the other and pay the fine without complaining.

But WHO in HELL was I inconveniencing by using up the remaining three feet of that parallel parking spot? When I emerged from that horrid meeting three and a half hours later, the same gray van was parked in front of me, so it's not like any passing disabled motorist even got the impression the spot was claimed. And what other use was there for the remaining space I took up? After all, I find it highly unlikely a paraplegic motorcyclist was going to come along and park there.

And for that matter, a HUNDRED DOLLARS?!? ONE HUNDRED FUCKING DOLLARS?!? There are families that spend less than that on groceries in a given week. What gives the City of Madison the right to charge a HUNDRED dollars for any parking offense? Say, for instance, some poor working schlub making minimum wage can't afford to rent an apartment with a parking space, so he makes his way down to the municipal building to shell out 21 bucks for the "privilege" of parking in the street with a residential parking pass...

...And I swear to God, this has got to be the only city in the FREE WORLD where one has to PAY to park on the SIDE OF THE STREET...

Anyways, Johnny Parkingpass isn't used to driving around downtown because it costs a DOLLAR-TWENTY-FIVE an HOUR to park at a meter, so he tries to avoid it. He pulls up in front of the municipal building into the ONLY FREE SPOT on the block and doesn't see the sign because he can't afford glasses.

Pressure sensors under his 1988 Chevy Celebrity trigger an elaborate camera system that scans his vehicle for a handicapped tag. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the municipal building, lights flash and a klaxon sounds. A man with a raspy voice in a dark, smoky room checks his bank of television screens, then activates the headset mic that wraps around the contour of his head -- "We've got one."

How does the city afford all the gadgetry? BECAUSE WE HAVE THE HIGHEST PARKING FINES PER CAPITA IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE! (please note, this is an unresearched claim, but it's probably true)

A garage door rattles up, flooding the municipal garage with blinding light, and the jeep's tires smoke as it speeds out into the day. One quick corner and she's there, the meter maid from hell. She's armed with an AK-47 and a hand computer, the latter of which she brandishes with a calloused, quick, cool hand. In a moment it's over, and there's nothing to betray her visit but the lingering smell of burnt rubber and an envelope that reads "City Treasurer."

When he comes out, Johnny Parkingpass is at a loss. He's got a hundred bucks in his wallet -- his last hundred bucks, and he needs it to buy his sick daughter's medicine. His cheeks flush with shame, and he weighs his options. He'd kill himself, but he's afraid of heights and he can't afford a gun. Poor Johnny Parkingpass.

God I hate this city so much right now.


Michael said...

I ride a motorbike in this town, too. Once, on a busy Thursday night, I was pulling my bike backwards into a partially-unoccupied spot on Doty St., when a city cop pulled up, rolled down her window, and smiled.

"You know that's not legal, right?"
"What? Are you serious? I've been parking like this for years!"

Anyway, she swore up and down that what I was doing wasn't legal, and I had no choice but to believe her (though she did note that she wouldn't be giving me a ticket, but if a parking enforcement agent came around they would).

So, what's the deal?

Oh, also, something you maybe didn't consider in your present situation is that the person using that handicapped spot might have needed that rear clearance to put a chair in their van or otherwise access the back doors. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Not sure why either of you think because you're on a motor bike that you should get to park for free. Someone's already paying for the spot and you think somehow that means the rest of the space is yours?

I don't object to the idea that you can park there if you're not blocking the car that's paying for the spot, but I also don't think you have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to arguing about a ticket or saying that you can't believe it's not legal. Why would it be legal, especially given the premise of the original post that Madison is out to bilk parkers in every way possible?

Again, park there if you want. Feel "free" to park behind me when I've paid for a spot, but don't cry to me if you get a ticket.

All that being said, I do feel for the author in that I believe him when he says he didn't realize it was a handicapped spot and $100 is steep. Playing tag with the parking enforcement was a standard game for me when I lived downtown, so I know what it feels like to lose the game.

Anonymous said...

It is NOT legal to park a motorcycle, or any other vehicle, in a spot already occupied by a vehicle. Your may have been doing it for years, but it ain't legal.

Why have you never gotten a ticket? Because, unless the parking enforcement guy sees you park, s/he has no way of knowing which vehicle got there first, so which is legally parked, and which is not.

Motorcycles can park on the street, but they have to follow the same rules as everyone else. One spot, one vehicle, regardless of size.

As the driver of a very small car, I feel your pain. I think an SUV or Hummer should apy more to park, because they take up more space. Sorry, it doesn't work that way.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of the motorcycle end of this debate, the parking inforcement in Madison is insane, no objection there. Two winters ago I could not park in my driveway because it was too narrow to plow, and we had too much snow to shovel. So I parked on the street, and got plowed in. I shoveled and worked with three friends, for three hours to try to get the car out, but even with kitty litter it would not budge...

So, alas I could not move it for the city snow emergency. So instead of understanding that it was a snow emergency and seeing that not only was my car parked ON two feet of snow but was also surrounded by about three feet on each side, I got a ticket. For $45 if I recall.

Talk about punishing someone for something they cannot help.