The office is spartan, not lavish. The counters should be marble lined. The director should sit on a raised dais at the front, dictating. But at all universities, these offices have a torture-chamber-efficiency and utilitarianism that is sickening. (At the beginning of each semester, lines form and snake to the final end, with a bank of "cashiers" intent on taking your money.) They say that it's a privilege; that funding for their projects and employees must be garnered some way, but fees keep going up, and students keep paying. Paying not for their right to learn, but they pay for the right to park, and this is the law.
It's a universal law that all students, everywhere, whether or not they drive, hate the parking department. They may have ideological differences with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez--they may even support them in some way or the other--but the students’ hatred for the machine that is parking is absolute, unless, of course, you work for them; at which point you try to disguise your identity.
The machine knows all. It knows your license plate number, the make and model of your car, and it knows all of your parking violations and the charges that you have incurred over your college career. Park someplace illegal, and you're liable to be slapped with explosively increasing parking tickets--tickets that, left unpaid, have the power to keep you from graduating. Minimum wage paid Parking Nazis circulate throughout the campus, just waiting, waiting for you to break the law, and when they catch you, you'll pay. Sure you can appeal, but save an act of God, it's unlikely that you could succeed. Parking spaces are at a premium, so universities pay Solitaire-playing office workers to make sure that the law is enforced.
It was a Friday night, and through an innocent friend, I was destined to a brush with the law. I lived in Gregson Hall. Gregson is smack dab in the middle of campus, and therefore, parking ismore precious than gold and patience. Because I do not drive, friends who weren't residents in Gregson or any of the five or so other surrounding dorms had to risk life, limb, and pocket book to pick me up. Worsening my situation was the fact that the main cafeteria for the whole campus happens to be located right across the street. This particular night--cafeteria being closed and everyone either partying or "studying"--we planned to go out and get a cup of coffee and something tasty to eat. Going out was difficult for me at the time because I was using a walkerdue to one of my many injuries, and had very visible hardware--reminiscent of Frankenstein’s tools--sticking out of my leg.
Before my friend came over, we actually planned how we would get me down the five steps to the door, get my walker down those five steps, and then get me across the street, all without getting caught by a quota-toting Parking Nazi armed with a hand-held computer and a ticket book. The problem, it seemed, is that there wasn't a place that was close that wasn't "resident reserved" or "loading only" that could get me from my dorm room to the car without breaking something else in the process. We decided that breaking the law would be much less painful for me. It was worth the risk, so risk it we did.
… And we failed.
We made it down the steps, and I commenced my elderly totter across the road. It was evening, but not too late for the tired, unloved, unknown, and unfortunately for us, under “the ticket quota” roving parking policeperson to start issuing a ticket to my friend’s car.
It's one thing to find a ticket placed conveniently in a friendly envelope under the windshield wipers. It's another thing to be walking out to the car while your friend is being nabbed for her serious offense. And it's one more thing if you're being given a ticket while walking to the car with a person who can hardly walk.
They say that once you start writing a ticket, it can't be undone. They say that there's no mercy. But what this poor Parking Nazi didn't expect was the twenty or so students who were hanging out in front of the cafeteria, in plain view of our offending automobile.
Draw the curtains, dim the lights, and roll the protest footage, and you'd see pretty much exactly what this random act of sadness caused, minus the picket lines, protest signs, and rotten fruit (but that was only because they had no time to plan). They could heckle though, and heckle they did for the thirty action packed seconds that it took to write the ticket. Seasoned activists would be proud; an hour of sailor-speak pales in comparison to the rhetoric launched in the fray. F-bombs replaced A-bombs. H-bombs became S-bombs in this modern war of words.
"That's not right!"
"That dude can't walk, what are you doing!"
"That's just wrong!"
And you can use your imagination for the rest.
But the ticket couldn't be undone, so the citation was issued, and the machine ground on, oblivious to the war on its armored fringe, oblivious to the injustice, and oblivious to the countless victims of its wrath. But the world moved on, guilt was felt, coffee was consumed, and we moved on. What else could be done?
Revolutionaries, activists, and protesters have one thing in common--they never give up the cause. The next day my friend got a surprise phone call from the parking office to say that the undoable ticket had in fact been undone due to the "multiple" calls they'd gotten about the incident. They apologized--said it wouldn't happen again--but the machine grated onward.
To this day, permit and citation fees are still collected. To this day, new parking garages sprout roots into the hills, awaiting paying customers. To this day, low-paid drones wander the hallowed ... streets? ... of the campus waiting for someone to nab.
At least one injustice was made good. At least some brave people were strong enough to stand up to the Parking Nazis and "Give 'em hell".
I've been in a walker several times since then, and every time I slide across a parking lot or cross a street, I remember how we fought the law and, that day, by gosh, we won!