Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2005/ 25 Tishrei, 5766

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

Itís Not the Dollars That Get You, Itís the Dimes | The expression, "getting nickeled and dimed to death" has never been truer than when it comes to the city's parking meters. Whoever it was that first hatched the idea of citizens having to pay for the privilege of parking on public streets undoubtedly holds a special place of honor among bureaucratic bloodsuckers in hell or wherever it is that bureaucratic bloodsuckers wind up after their wicked work has been done on earth.

Parking meters are one of life's little annoyances that, like the infamous Chinese water torture, slowly but surely drive you mad. On the surface of it, it appears to be such a benign pittance to drop a couple of dimes or quarters or nickels into the blasted machine, but that pittance over time adds up. I figured out with paper and pencil last weekend that I must have paid more than $397,652.85 into parking meters over the course of my life.

Unlike parking lots, parking meters weigh heavily on one's mind and cloud the brain with the incessant tick, tick, ticking of time going bye-bye. As they used to say in the soap opera, "Like the sands of the hourglass, so goes the days of our lives." No matter where you've gone or what you're doing, you sense the minutes falling away on that parking meter and you know that you must make it back there before the thing expires or else you will be dealt another of life's petty annoyances — the next level of civic punishment, the parking ticket.

It's hard to concentrate on whatever you happen to be doing while your mind is on that stupid parking meter standing guard at your car like some kind of Nazi SS trooper. If you are in a restaurant, it can really spoil your appetite — making it hard to choke down your food as you nervously keep an eye on the clock on the wall next to the big photo of the triple-decker pastrami sandwich.

And try to enjoy shopping in one of the stores while your poor little car is being browbeaten by that steely eyed machine outside. Tick-tick-tick-tick. Waiting in line to pay, glancing at your wristwatch and sweating it out, hoping beyond hope that this dumb line will start to move a little faster so that you can run out there and save your car before the minutes tick off and the meter maid starts writing you up.

You know of course that once they start writing, you're sunk. No amount of discussion, explanation or begging will stop them from writing you a ticket. As a matter of fact, once they stop their little meter maid mobile next to your car, the chances are pretty good that they'll write you up even if you're running, arms flailing and screaming, "NOOOOOOOO!" Masochistic, heartless monsters, these people. Can't reason with them, don't even try.

You've noticed how the prices have gone up on the meters, haven't you? Where once a dime would buy you about fifteen minutes, you now need twenty cents and the old reliable hour for a quarter will now cost you two quarters. Machines used to take nickels, too, now many new ones don't even have that slot anymore.

I'm surprised some enterprising young bureaucrat hasn't come up with parking meters that accept dollar bills yet. What about parking meters that take credit cards and bank cards? The meters could be a sort of mini ATM right there on the sidewalk next to each spot. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before a variation of calling cards like the ones you can use for the telephone or those cards you can buy for a limited amount of time for public transportation will be usable in all parking meters. This too shall come to pass, mark my words.

It used to be so easy — you saw a spot on the street, you pulled into it, parked your car, went into the store, did what you needed to do, then got back into your car and drove away. No parking meters, no muss, no fuss. Simple and free — just how I like it. And somehow, all the cops and firemen, and other city workers managed to get paid. And somehow, all the streets were able to get fixed and all the other necessities of maintaining a city were seen to and everything just hummed along quite nicely.

I wonder why with all the taxes, and all the bond issues, and all the parking meters, and all the other city and county charges that they continue to invent which stick it to the good old citizens, we have less services, more potholes, dirtier streets, and constant threats of library closures and vital services being drastically reduced?

As someone once said to me a long time ago, "well, that's progress!"

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2005 Greg Crosby