A few weeks ago I made a quick stop into my local deli for a small can of tomato sauce, which wound up costing me $105.49. The 49 cents was my actual purchase. The $105, thanks to New York’s Mayor Mike (which rhymes with hike) Bloomberg, was a parking citation.
You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the city’s serious fiscal crisis. Faced with a projected budget gap of $3.8 billion for 2004, Mike had to take drastic measures. He closed the gap through service cuts and funds from Albany. The projected gap for 2005 was set at $5.4 billion, which the mayor expects to shrink to $752 million, pending state aid, etc. Theories and allegations abound, as is to be expected in this, the greatest city in the world (I suppose), concerning the causes and cures of our woeful financial situation.
But I digress. Among Bloomberg’s cost-cutting/revenue-generating measures is a hike in the fines for parking violations. In a city of 8 million people, there are lots and lots of vehicles moving around (or standing still). Here in Manhattan, where business must go on as usual (read: U.P.S. and FedEx trucks have to pull curbside to deliver), the quality of mercy is strained (pace, Bard). Those traffic “officers” can at times be as plentiful as the ubiquitous New York City pigeon. And it’s getting worse by the day, in every borough. Mike B. is really big on agencies’ enforcement of quotas. (If he could collect on the all the years’ worth of unpaid tickets, we just might enjoy a budget surplus.)
The majority of people do not intentionally, with reckless disregard, violate traffic or parking rules. In my own case, I had parked, facing west, at a bus stop outside the deli. I know the bus schedule (this is home turf, remember), and no bus could be sighted in the far distance. So I ran in, got the tomato sauce, waited a minute or so at the checkout, then returned to my car and drove home. I didn’t know I had been ticketed. As it turns out, an eyewitness, who recognized me from the parish, reported that the traffic officer had been traveling eastbound. Upon spotting that sitting duck across the street, he couldn’t wait to come in for the kill. The only way he could succeed in his mission, however—realizing (rightly) the driver was likely to return momentarily—was to commit a violation of his own. A moving violation. Specifically, he stopped abruptly on the avenue, which is a main thoroughfare, and without a second thought executed a U-turn. Then he folded the ticket and inserted it halfway into the hood of my car, practically out of sight.
For any good it will do me, I’ve written to the Parking Violations Bureau to express myself. In effect, I ask, since when have the rules of driving been relativized? Are traffic enforcers, who are city government employees and presumably set an example to other drivers, held to a different standard? Mayor Mike, your representative broke a law. He should be accountable. With the exception of emergency police, fire or ambulance drivers, no traffic employee should be above the law. And besides, I cannot even decipher the complainant’s signature on the ticket. That in itself is, or at least used to be, grounds for the defendant’s refusal to pay.
I’m not holding my breath for a reply. I know two wrongs don’t make a right. But I also remember a number of years ago being ticketed before 6 a.m. while parked near the front of my church. (My car’s rear end extended a few inches beyond a restrictive sign.) I was just coming off overnight duty at the parish homeless shelter—doing work that the city needs and appreciates. My memory is blurry, but I think the fine then was $50. I entered a not-guilty plea, reminding the city of my purpose there and the fact that there are no weddings or funerals ever scheduled before 6 a.m. I received a reply from the Parking Violations Bureau rescinding the guilty charge. But, get this: they lowered the fine to something like $10. I felt as if a doctor had informed me I was somewhat pregnant. In any event, I did not pay a penny.
If I am half as lucky this time, and pray that I am, you’re invited to my home for dinner. I hope you like pasta with tomato sauce.