When I first moved to Philadelphia from North Carolina years back to take a coveted position with a newspaper that no longer exists, my biggest adjustment to big city life was parking tickets.
With the first one I actually thought somebody had complimented me on my driving. They left a little note on the windshield that said ‘Parking Fine.’ And I thought that was nice. Just fine…
Hmm… It wasn’t ‘fine’ for long. So every three months or so my lawyer-friend from college and I would go down to the Parking Authority and make ‘adjusted’ settlements.’
However, once in-between those adjustments I wrote a column that the former thug mayor, who was also a former Philly police commissioner, didn’t enjoy. And as I was pulling my little sports car off the newspaper parking lot I was greeted by four police cars.
They handcuffed me behind the back. Threw me in the back of a paddy wagon. And introduced me to that old-time ‘nickel-ride.’ That’s like a bumper car rumble where the passenger in the back of the wagon – namely moi – goes pin-balling all over the place, especially with your arms rendered useless.
At a police station 25 blocks away they stripped searched me. Hosed me down. And tossed me into a cell with a wife-beater, a cop-beater and a guy who had just beat the hell out of a store clerk. When they wanted to know what I was in for I replied gruffly: “I’m a meter beater!”
We rolled craps all weekend. And after my lawyer friend, who doesn’t answer his front door unless someone is shoving hundred-dollar bills across the threshold, finally bailed me out, all my Big Momma wanted to know was: Did I win?
My Momma always loved the dice. And so I assured her that I had won. But that I didn’t think it was healthy to stick around and try to collect.
After that I have to admit that I did make ‘adjustments’ in keeping abreast of the parade of tickets that seemed to march in place, flapping in the wind under my wipers.
At the same time I got to quickly comprehend how so many big and little cities all over the country, losing jobs and revenue to China, depended so heavily on parking and a plenary of all other fines… fines… and more fines… not to mention the penalties.
Hells-bells, even when I hadn’t paid just one measly ticket for a couple of months there were two double-wide goons practically knocking down my apartment.
Sheesh… When Solomon said there was a time and a place for everything he obviously had not encountered the problem of parking his automobile.
Anyway this moment of time in my life all came rushing back when Frankie got to telling me how he spent part of the other weekend in jail. He was driving through a little beach town down at the South (New) Jersey shore some 75 miles southeast of Philadelphia. And a cop stopped him for allegedly driving a tad too fast.
Now Frankie, a supervisor at the Philadelphia Mint, is not one to screech plaintively like some hungry seagull. In other words, not like me.
And in the years I’ve shared blowing cigar smoke with this pasty, shaved-headed, avid reader of ponderous news journals and science fiction I’ve come to appreciate his tautology of insightful, common sense thinking.
Frankie is a delight to listen to as he dissects complicated issues into plain talk. However, this time at the cigar shop I have to admit he was verging on popping a head gasket. There was some real exasperated rage boiling under that reddening scalp in retelling his recent woe of ‘weekend-interruptus.’
It seems that after Frank admitted to the officer that perhaps he was driving a tad too fast the policeman reportedly said: ‘Okay. I’ll run your license. If it’s clean I’ll let you go with a warning.’
To which Frankie, after he handed over his license and registration, happily replied: “Oh, it’s clean. Definitely! No problem.”
A few minutes later the cop returned and handcuffed Frankie. He stipulated that there was a warrant for his arrest. It turned out that Frankie had gotten a parking ticket in another New Jersey town – 11 years ago!
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” barked Frankie. “You’re arresting me for an 11 year old ticket!”
Back at the police station in a cell the chief of this four-man force read Frankie the riot act. He said Frank would be going to the Big House until his hearing Monday if he didn’t come up with $700 bail money.
Frank didn’t have the money on him. But he explained if they handed him back his wallet he could give them a credit card.
The chief barked: ‘No credit cards!’
“How about a check?’ offered Frank.
‘No checks,’ snorted the chief. ‘Cash only!’
So Frank suggested that a police officer could walk him down the street to an ATM machine in order to withdraw the greenbacks.
The chief snorted again that Frank wasn’t going anywhere except the Big House if he didn’t get somebody down there with $700 cash.
Frank doesn’t know many folks down at the seashore, especially in the off season. It was no use calling his wife because she doesn’t drive.
At that Frankie remembered that his neighbor was also down the shore that Saturday. And the only reason he remembered his phone number was because it was some sort of combination of Frankie’s birthday and social security number. But when Frank tried to telephone he discovered that his cell phone battery was dead.
All the police chief could snarl was: ‘You’re running out of time!’
But after quite a bit of cajoling and begging the police finally loaned him one of their phones. And his neighbor eventually arrived. Took Frank’s pin number. And gathered the cash.
This is by no means the end to the story. And Frank didn’t seem to appreciate my cynical humor when I interjected, wryly, that a real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.
That wasn’t working on Frank. It all had gotten too furious and expensive. Here he was in jail for an ancient ticket and having to pay $700 bail out of pocket, while bankers in the nation’s ‘derivatives’ scandal served no time and eventually paid mere fines out of a corporate kitty.
Obviously justice for the average Joe is expensive in America-the-beautiful. There are no Free Passes for us. And for a forgotten prehistoric parking ticket Frank didn’t realize he should have been scanning for cop cars in his rear-view mirror.
A few days later Frank missed a day of work to appear in court in that little New Jersey town for his hearing. The District Attorney laughed about the ticket being 11-years-old. He joked to Frank that if he had robbed a bank they couldn’t do anything to him after 10 years. (Let me repeat that about a bank robbery – 10 years!)
“But parking tickets never go away,’ he said. And he told Frank they would let him go with ‘merely’ paying off the fines and penalties.
The fines and penalties totaled $400!
So Frank put the $300 left over from his bail money in his pocket and drove home.
Don’t un-rack your shotguns — yet. The story still ain’t over. It never is for us poor folks.
Three days later Frank receives an official letter in the mail. It is from the same court where he just had the hearing and paid his fines and penalties. The letter stipulated that the court was going to issue a warrant for his arrest for a parking ticket.
The hairs on Frank’s shaved head seemed to suddenly sprout like angry vines. He immediately phoned the court clerk to insist he had just paid the ticket three days ago. The clerk, in a punctilious bureaucratic voice, corrected him. She explained the letter was for another ticket. In Haddonfield, New Jersey. That’s another little town just across the river from Philadelphia.
“I haven’t been to Haddonfield in over 20 years!” bellowed Frank.
At that the scrupulous clerk properly pointed out that the ticket was nearly 21 years old.
To put it mildly, Frank’s feathers were ruffled a tad more than a rooster in a cockfight. All sorts of insanity were launching lift-offs from his every erupting pore. He couldn’t even bring himself to ask the common sense question as to why this wasn’t brought to his attention previously by the cop at the seashore. Or even when he was in court a couple of days ago.
Frank finally went limp from the weight of disgust. He told the clerk to take his credit card over the phone and pay the damn thing off.
‘Can’t do that,’ the fastidious clerk rejoined. She properly informed him that he was required to drive over the bridge and through the Jersey wooded pine barrens… and post $700 – cash — in bail. And then return another day for a hearing.
Frank could ‘stands no more!’ And much like Popeye, he gulped down his can of spinach and recouped his muscle of iron resolve.
“I can’t miss more work to do that! I won’t do that!” he snapped. “If you won’t take my payment over the phone I just won’t pay it. And that’s final!”
The persnickety bureaucrat simply replied: “Then we’ll be issuing a warrant for your arrest.”
Whew… I need a drink. A lot of drinks. Set ‘em up bartender. And keep ‘em coming.
And you wonder, as I posed to Frank, why folks go Postal. Why, after life delivers one too many nicks, paper cuts, bruises and flattened neurons in our 250,000 year old brains, does some kindly family man simply stroll into a post office… or a court room… or a bar… And shoots 10 people.
To tell you the truth, I don’t wonder about it anymore. After Frank’s story. And other such stories. And many stories of my own… I can only exhale: ‘10 people is just a good start.’
And dat’s yDrewIS on dis penal colony…