How To Beat a Parking Ticket

ritaSome vehicles are magnets for parking tickets.  Like mine. All of mine. Throughout my driving years, no matter how discrete the car or truck or jeep or mid-70s European sedan, I’ve managed to accrue tickets. I’ve doubled my carbon footprint simply from the carbon copies used in ticket books. I’ve parked for a weekend, only to return and find a vehicle that looks as if it were attacked by a tickertape parade.

My office is about half a block from the Plaza on Broadway, which is to say, prime parking territory. I’m surprised Tuesday’s farmers market doesn’t offer valet service given the relative dearth of spaces. Consequently, when I find one I hold on to it. Too long. And, inevitably, I get a ticket (and it is “when” not “if”) I’ve accepted this as a fact of life. When I lived in San Francisco, my car earned the nickname “Quota” among traffic cops, who could always depend on it for a quick “expired meter” citation or “Parking While Desperate.”

In Los Angeles, where I lived prior to “Tow-noma” as I’ve come to call it, the parking patrol just shoots your car on sight for any of a number of parking offenses. The only way to avoid having your car riddled with bullets like Bonnie and Clyde is to be a film producer (a pose I can occasionally fake) in which case you receive a headshot as your citation. I have so many cop headshots, I could cast “Police Academy” sequels ad infinitum and still have enough cops left over for some “Moving Violations” flicks and a couple of bachelorette parties. Sometime in the last century, public affection for traffic police turned from, say, the romantic comedy sung in The Beatles’ “Lovely Rita,” (“Lovely Rita, meter maid! / Nothing can come between us / When it gets dark I tow your heart away”) to a bumper sticker in the mid-80s that read, “Meter maids eat their young.”

I suspect the change from love to loathing came with the rise of parking-ticket fees. I’ve heard tell of tickets once as low as $5, a mere slap on the pocketbook, no more a nuisance than if the law had clucked its tongue. These days, a local parking violation begins at $20, which in this town is a decent bottle of wine (if we could pay in wine, everyone would surely get along better). And we’re the lucky ones – Petaluma’s tickets start at $40 and if you manage to get a ticket in Gualala, forget it, just push your car into the ocean and start from scratch.

Fortunately, to contest tickets received in Sonoma County one needn’t travel to Southern California where much of the processing is outsourced (to movie cops), but rather to Room 100F on Fiscal Drive in Santa Rosa. I nearly went there last week when I received a ticket with an X in the box next to “Current Tags Not Displayed (expired),” a $40 infraction, which I thought unjustified seeing as I had just bought the car and the tags were in the mail. I suspected this would happen repeatedly until A) My tags arrived or B) The car got towed.

At the bottom of the ticket was the officer ID. I called “Eileen.” I realized upon hearing her kind voice that one can only call the person who issued your ticket in a small town. I had a Mayberry moment. Eileen told me what to do and I did it. 36 hours later, a copy of my ticket appended with a note from “Linda,” from the county’s “Parking Administration & Adjudication” department, arrived. Citation number 50-76987 was stamped “Dismissed.” Whereas before I’d refer to the red ink of the stamp as “bureaucratic blood,” in this case, I’m going to pretend it’s the rosy hue of a karmic Valentine. Or to quote the Beatles, “Oh, lovely Rita meter maid, Where would I be without you?”

From headlines to breadlines: Old media is toast

Back when I was in J-School in the mid-90s, or more specifically, studying creative writing at San Francisco State University, my classmates and I knew nothing of the then-nascent Internet and the havoc it would eventually wreak on a bevy of industries. We knew nothing because A) We had the misfortune of studying at SF State and B) The web seemed little more than a computer lab curiosity responsible for introducing the tilda to English speakers, when web addresses looked like cartoon talk bubbles full of profanity (“‘#@%~!’ you too, Dagwood!”). We had little reason to believe that its once blue “hyperlinks” and primitive grey screens would soon swallow all media that had preceded it and permanently reorganize the industry in its image.

It’s as if some bastard offspring of Edison, Bell, Farnsworth, Gutenberg and the Lumiere Brothers cooked up a Dream Machine upon which all human desire may be projected, reflected and perhaps even perfected – always on, always aglow. Of course, the road from the boob-tube to YouTube, from movable type to blogs with typos is laden with casualties. There’s an entire generation that will never purchase music in a record store or read a printed newspaper, let alone call a travel agent and say “Get me out of here before the Singularity and the sentient Internet turns us into slaves.”

When I canceled my subscription to the New York Times, the mawkish voice on the other side of the line (a VOIP line I should add), plead the Grey Lady’s case as more than merely “all the news that’s fit to print.” She reminded that it’s an institution, a daily tribute to truth, justice and the American way. We agreed that the Times is superior to the Daily Planet, especially since Clark Kent got canned and replaced by a blogger. What she failed to realize, however, was that I wasn’t quitting the New York Times, I was just quitting the paper. My appetite for Times’ content remains the same but now I prefer to consume it via the iPhone app they’ve provided for free so I can read the news for free. If they charged for this service I’d gladly pay but they don’t. I can only assume their subscription department didn’t get the memo.

It’s ironic new media types once used the term “eyeballs” as slang for “market share” since they were evidently blind to the fact that they were dooming their own model with the free content they used to pluck those very peepers. These days, media pundits chide old school content producers for not having the foresight to establish fee schedules for their product a decade ago. Craigslist founder Craig Newmark often gets the blame for mortally wounding newspapers with his online want-ad juggernaut that effectively replaced the newspaper classified ad market (and created a cottage industry for “erotic services” in the process).  But blaming Craig is like saying that Mesozoic mammals killed the dinosaurs when anyone who saw Disney’s “Fantasia” knows it was a meteor.

The meteor is back and this time it’s on a collision course with traditional media. At present, the big guys have decided to take a page from the little guys’ playbook. The Times is currently beta-testing “The Local,” their hyperlocal online news portal with the ungainly tag “Your town. Your neighborhood. Your block. Covered by you and for you.” I dare them to come to Sonoma. Local coverage has proceeded here just fine for 130 years. The Sonoma Index-Tribune has weathered all sorts of teacup tempests (anyone remember the Sonoma Valley Expositor?) and has managed to evolve and embrace all matter of new media in the process. This is good for readers like me because, admittedly, I read it almost exclusively online (which, as a contributor, sort of makes it user-generated content – how vogue).

Anyway, I’ve realized that contributing to a local paper means more than merely giving David Bolling a headache once a week. It means overcoming my 21st century prejudice against wood pulp and participating with the product and indeed, Sonoma, with greater commitment. I put my money where my keyboard is. I subscribed.

Static People Make Studio Move

Special thanks to Sonoma musicologist James Marshall Berry who made mention of the DHowell Media Group house band, Static People, in his Sonoma Index-Tribune column last week:

Sonoma’s latest cult band Static People has hooked up with multi-platinum, award-winning producer Jason Carmer to produce its debut album. Carmer’s credits include Third Eye Blind, the Donnas and Korn, among others. Tracks were recorded over a three-day period at Decibelle Recording in San Francisco, with Drew Zajicek [engineering]. The band, which consists of Dmitra Smith, Pascal Faivre, Daedalus Howell and Mundo Murguia has yet to determine a release date.

Cult band, indeed. Care for some Kool-Aid? For more on Jason Carmer, check out this Ear Whacks interview (his hair is longer now).

Media Wipe Out

No magic bullet for media.

Regular readers will know that I frequently refer to my ?burgeoning media empire? as the hope and salvation of all humanity, you know, by way of my bank account. It seems to me, however, I should qualify the term ?media empire? seeing as there are enough Neros fiddling in traditional media to fill a string section. Also, when I say “empire,” please know that this my scene?s slang for “creative work that contributes meaningfully to one?s household.” For that matter, the ?scene? to which I refer consists mostly of, well, those in the aforementioned household and a handful of welcomed stragglers.

I’m pleased to say that the plan has worked thus far, having had my fill of? traditional media start-ups wherein my collaborators and I are invited to drain the coffers ? then walk the plank! ? only to hear of content that has sunken to little more than a “mayday” with an undertow of mutiny. The lessons we castaways learned, or rather had reinforced (media professionals, like rats, intuitively know when their ride is about to capsize), had been buoys drifting in this sea of uncertainty for some time. They’ve been netted in two recently published books that serve as astrolabes to those hoping to wash ashore with something better than an extended nautical metaphor.

Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson follows The Long Tail with Free: The Future of a Radical Price, an insightful analysis of the ?free economy,? with a deep exploration of how media will be monetized (or not) given our proclivity for giving it away. And how did Anderson?s favorite price point jibe with his book?s asking price? Several versions of the text, including an audiobook (285 MB .zip) and a Google edition, were (and in some cases still are) free. Read Anderson?s book in one of these capacities and you?re participating in the new wave of media consumption, though at first you might not notice how.

Likewise, as a co-host of NPR?s On The Media (the podcast is mandatory listening ? I recently sent piffling $5 to WNYC, which produces the hour-long media industry chat show as a small token of my gratitude) Bob Garfield has long steeped in the vicissitudes (and ineptitudes) of our media landscape. Garfield is also a contributor to Advertising Age, which provide daily email digests are well worth receiving. His new tome, The Chaos Scenario, humorously subtitled Amid the Ruins of Mass Media, the Choice for Business is Stark: Listen or Perish, is a frank call-to-arms regarding the media and marketing’s End of Days. Like Anderson, Garfield proposes a paradigmatic shift in the way media and money might intersect with refreshing frankness. And it wasn’t even user-generated. I think.

Here’s a link to a charming and edifying chat on NPR?s Talk of the Nation wherein Garfield and host Neil Conan explore the inevitable demise of their vocations. Here is a link to Chaos Scenario, Garfield?s blog and recruiting station for October?s 30 Days of Chaos, a sort of month-long immersion in ?what happens when the old world order collapses and the Brave New World is unprepared to replace it ? as an ad medium, as a news source, as a political soapbox, a channel for new episodes of ?Lost?? Welcome to The Chaos Scenario.?

Yep. Surf the tsunami.

It was 40 Years Ago Today: Woodstock, Baby

Sonoma attracts many characters – a great many eccentrics and a great many more “plain, ordinary folk.” Within this latter, dominant demographic is a man whom I will call Jason – a man, who, on the eve of his fortieth birthday lost everything but found himself.

Until recently, Jason was a typical specimen of his generation. Male pattern baldness had begun its slow creep from the crown of his scalp and a goatee wishfully obscured a weak chin. Rarely had he worn pants that did not have “Dockers” written on his butt.

In recent years, Jason distracted himself from his quiet desperation with cable television and occasional flirtations with a woman in accounting who once swiveled her chair such that he chanced a peek down the backside of her jeans and spied her tattoo. It was at once vaguely exotic and comfortably familiar. He married her. They honeymooned in Hawaii. They bought a home in a subdivision. He made payments on a fuel-efficient car that was “champagne-colored” but knew in his heart-of-hearts that it was actually beige.

He was not a Mac, he was a PC, but he had a Mac friend who waited outside when he went to Starbucks where he ordered Pike’s Place coffee because Starbucks told him it was superior and after all they would know. Jason was a sucker for products marketed as unique to scenes he knew existed but of which he was not part. His refrigerator brimmed with microbrews of corporate provenance, as if every mutation of sudsy cool emanated from Milwaukee. On his cubicle wall was a sports car calendar that had not been turned in two months. Otherwise Jason might have been better aware of the coming of his fortieth birthday and might have better understood the changes that were beginning to occur to him.

At one point Jason entertained the notion of hosting a birthday barbeque so that he may be ribbed with “old man” jokes, which he would accept with a good-humored smile while turning a chicken-apple sausage on the grill. With his wife’s goading he had already sent the Evite. However, this was before his “revelation,” before he and his Mac friend’s ritual excursion from their respective cubicles to Starbucks for Jason’s “grande” Pike’s Place. Mac guy was driving. In his CD player was Jimi Hendrix’s live version of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which Jason, despite a typical Gen X youth pawing predictably through prepackaged “alternative” CDs at retail chains, had somehow never heard. It gave him a headache. Then a flashback. Visions of mud-covered, straggly-beaded men and bare-breasted women overtook his consciousness, as did a tremendous feeling of wellbeing that was so alien a sensation he thought he might throw-up.

The visions persisted as did Jason’s increasingly beatific attitude. His intial instinct was to annul the phenomenon, which he attempted by draining his microbrew collection. When this didn’t work, he acquired some pot from Mac guy but that only increased the fearsome happiness that was overtaking him. Soon, he stopped going to the cubicle, which he condemned as having been polluted by “the man.” To the great chagrin of his wife, he expressed an interest in opening their marriage. He neglected to shave and purposefully missed his appointment at Supercuts. He wore sandals, marveled at the sheer beauty of life as it is and frequently injected the word “groovy” into his rambling monologues about peace and harmony for all humankind.

Jaosn began to know something about himself, something that both aroused in him a vitality he had never before known as well as the suspicion that something was horribly amiss that would require a course of psychotropic medication. He spoke with his parents about his childhood. He recalled roaming newly minted sidewalks that arbitrarily curved in predetermined intervals to affect something suggestive of what? Nature? He remembered “Star Wars,” Keds and husky-sized Toughskin jeans. He remembered being typical in all regards. But he was not. As his born-again mother dolefully explained while pouring her son an artificially sweetened iced-tea, the nature of his birth – the key to the recent change in his behavior, the truth she and his father conspired to hide from him, “For your sake, darling,” to spare him what they had themselves had endured in the wake of an Aquarian age that never dawned.

Despite their efforts to provide for their son as “normal” an experience as possible, it would prove impossible to obscure the rather extraordinary nature of his birth. There were only three such births to ever have occurred and this during one of only three days on a farm in upstate New York in August of 1969. His mother retrieved a shipping tube the recesses of a hall closet. It was too large to contain a birth certificate Jason later recalled as his mother unfurled the contents within. All Jason had to see was the iconic image of a dove resting atop the neck of a guitar to instantly inherit the self-knowledge that theretofore had been denied him. It was the truth. It was who he truly is. As he later shared with a whimsical smile: “I was a Woodstock baby.”