Meter Maid Unmoved by Apology

This is a photograph (click to enlarge) that tells a heart-breakingly tragic story. It is the picture of a single, doomed transaction between two human beings who may never meet, and though it shows only the mid-point of that drama, we fellow humans can picture vividly its beginning and end; at a glance we relate to the characters, though we cannot see them.

I took this photograph while walking to New Times' Beerfest Saturday evening. The car in question was a black Toyota sedan parked on the east side of Brickell Avenue, a block west of Andrews and just south of Broward Boulevard. Given the several thousand revelers who attended Beerfest, we can assume that the driver was frustrated by the lack of metered parking within a half-mile of the event. He refused to pay the $10 - $20 fees he saw in lots, though as he searched lucklessly for metered parking, he was coming around to the idea. That's when he spied this single meter only a two-block walk from the festival entrance. Too good to be true? No, 'twas the reward for his faith and patience.

With a fistful of quarters our hero leaped from his car. But though the meter took the first quarter, it gave him no time in return. Incredulous, he fed it another quarter. Still nothing. Now he became angry. Fifty cents for nothing? No, thought he, I have already made an investment. He imagined the meter maid, who in her travels has surely encountered the un-working meter. Was she not a human being for whom a reasoned argument would prove persuasive? He turned around, looking in all 360 degrees for her, but she wasn't there. In his car, he had a blue marker. He tore off a slip of paper and made his brief, impassioned case, placing that sign in the very place the meter maid would be tempted to place a ticket. Feeling the camaraderie that he imagined lawyers must feel with a jury after receiving a favorable verdict, he strode off to Beerfest, confident in his faith in humanity.

Not long after our hero left his car, there appeared a member of the Fort Lauderdale Parking Enforcement division. In a nod to the Beatles, we shall call her Rita. This being her assigned territory, she recognized from a glance down the block that some intrepid motorist had dared to park at the meter she knew to be broken. As she drew close to that car, she noticed the sign in the window and gave a cynical smirk. Rita had received many such notes. In a flash her mind conjured the very same scene I have already described, but she dismissed it in the same motion, it being too commonplace in her experience to keep her interest. Rather, she reached for her pen and opened her pad. Rita was working, while this man -- who sought to appeal to her reason and empathy -- was manifestly not working. He would have her betray the responsibilities of her job -- one that is necessary to the civil order of society -- so that he could imbibe huge quantities of alcohol at minimal cost. With a sadistic flourish, she signed the ticket, placed it in the envelope and with the satisfaction of a player on the verge of checkmate, tucked the envelope under the windshield, right next to the driver's desperate plea.

Several hours later, the driver walked toward his car. From halfway down the block, and through a mind clouded by beer, he recalled suddenly the legal ambiguity of his parking situation. With each step he expected the worst, even while reminding himself of the righteousness of his position, deciding ultimately that we are all at the mercy of every other person's sense for what's fair, a hopelessly subjective quantity, alas. Then he saw the ticket. He cursed. He snatched it angrily from the windshield, seeing also the note he left, looking forlorn and pathetic. He cursed again. Betrayed by the same meter maid in whose judgment he trusted. He climbed into his car, tossed the ticket on the passenger seat and drove home. He fell asleep. By the next morning he had forgotten about the ticket. Then he climbed into his car and saw it again. He cursed.

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