My best piece of writing last week was a letter that I sent based on principle. Nearly two weeks ago, a bright orange parking violation envelope was left on my van that was parked in front of the library. I had exceeded an hour in one spot. I should have parked on a side street in the two hour spot, but no. I was selfish and carrying a heavy backpack, so I grabbed the spot right out front.
The neon orange paper burned my eyes from its spot on the kitchen counter. For days I debated. Pay $25 and be done with it, or write to the parking clerk asking for forgiveness -- or a hearing. Finally, a week later, I knew the answer. I couldn’t write a check. I wrote a letter intermittently over six hours while my computer sat on the kitchen counter as I made dinner and entertained my 12-year-old on an electronics-free evening – that’s a whole other story about self-induced pain.
First, I thought it appropriate that the clerk knew who I was – and indeed, that I admitted to violating a parking regulation:
I am a resident of our town and a writer; I work in the library two or three times a week. Normally, I park on a side street. The day I received the citation, I parked in front of the library, knowing it would be a short visit. When I left the library, I decided to walk to a restaurant on Main Street for lunch, rather than drive a block. It was one of the first days the humidity had broken, so I lightened my load, putting my computer and backpack in my car. Then, I walked to lunch.
There is no doubt I violated the parking limitation. However, I feel it’s important to make you aware of the fact that I am a citizen of this town and working in this town. I am not a commuter trying to save money by parking for free on the side streets, rather than at the train station.
I spend hundreds of dollars in our town every month. I start my mornings by parking near the coffee shop, buying breakfast and coffee, and grabbing a table in the coffee shop to work an hour before the library opens. Then I drive to the side street adjacent to the library, park, and work in the library for a couple of hours. Then, I drive and park again for lunch at one of the restaurants on Main Street.
I had established who I was… now, exactly what did I want? I decided to move from me to us – citizens who need longer than an hour to park on Main Street.
Rarely do I run to a box store, like Target; instead, I pop into the local drug store or Ace Hardware in town. For gifts, my first stop is the gift shop in town. I’m in our small grocery store two or three times a week. I mail my manuscripts and personal correspondence from the Post Office on Main Street. My whole family goes to the eye doctor on Main Street. Our pediatrician, my dentist, and our lawyer are in the downtown area.
So you see, to be ticketed for parking downtown is a bit of a slap in the face to me. Normally, I drive from one parking space to another, in observance of the parking time limits – in a distance that I could easily walk. For the downtown businesses to succeed, particularly restaurants, there needs to be extended parking. And what about other residents like me, who are using the services and supporting the businesses week after week, and month after month? A resident sticker, perhaps, in return for the vehicle excise taxes we pay?
At this point, I was sure I would be called in for a hearing as I heard belligerence in my voice.
I’m not including payment for the ticket. Please contact me with how you wish to proceed. Preferably, this fee will be waived. If I need to come in for a hearing, so be it.
I took the letter to the van with me Friday morning as I left the house to take Will to school. I asked Will what homework he had to do over the weekend, and I couldn’t believe his answer: to write an argumentative essay directed to an official to change a law. No. Lie. I told him to gently rip open the envelope and read my letter. We exchanged “that’s creepy!” looks.
Resisting the temptation to have the taped-shut envelope certified, I dropped it into the outgoing mail slot at the post office. It was good to have that glowering orange paper out of the house for the weekend.
On Tuesday afternoon, my phone ran. “Parking Clerk” was the caller.
“Linda?” it was an aged male voice. “This is Mr. Mah-nah-lah.”
“Mr. Nah-mah-lah, parking clerk.”
"Oh, hello.” I took a deep breath.
“Well, it looks like the heat got the best of you this summer, huh? And since you did admit to parking too long, I’m going to give you a break this time.” These words were spoken in what seemed to be a blend of accents and speech patterns... I think Bostonian, Italian, and elderly man.
I concentrated hard on listening to the meaning behind the words. From my carefully thought out argumentative essay, how the heck did he read that this was my worst New England summer? Had beads of sweat dripped onto the letter?
“Oh, well, thank you!” There was no point arguing the big points of my letter. I would be happy not paying $25 and letting someone else argue the need for better parking in town.
“You’re welcome! I tell you what, you can just give me a cookie!”
I giggled. “Oh, OK! I’ll leave it on my windshield next time I’m at the library!” I giggled, again.
He giggled, “Oh, you can just give it to the librarians and tell them it’s for Mr. Nah-lah-mah!”
I’m moving in one of those crazy surreal spaces again. I don’t know the man’s name, and yes, now I need to take a cookie to the library.
“Well, thank you so much!” I hung up.
Out of my concise one-page letter about the parking situation, he stated so aptly that the heat got the best of me this summer. My high school Sunday school teacher, Marge, might have called this a “God-thing.”
On principle, what kind of cookie do I take to the library? Liam suggested the smallest one possible. I didn’t want to spend a nickel on this ticket. I would dig to the back of the fridge to find the outdated pre-packaged cookie dough, pop the squares of dough into the oven – and then leave the cookies out overnight to harden. But at 9:30 p.m, I had no energy to bake.
This morning, I parked at the local grocery store and ran out in the rain to buy a big chocolate chip cookie. It cost $1.50. And it was hard as a rock. Then I drove to the coffee shop. Then to the library. The cookie is in a brown paper bag at the circulation desk. Waiting for the parking clerk.
P.S. For the record, as I write this on Tuesday, it’s 77 degrees with 88% humidity. And tropical depression Florence is dumping on us – which makes the current weather hot, humid and rainy -- as opposed to hot, humid, and sunny.
Praying for my knees to stop sweating for the season.