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?”