PARKING METER FAIRY STRIKES EDMONTON!
“Am I too late to save him?!” The breathless Parking Meter Fairy runs to catch a parking enforcement officer about to ticket an illegally parked car.
The officer stops writing and mutters, “You could.”
Oh, thank you, Parking Patrol Officer. Clink, clink, clink, clink go four magic quarters into the expired parking meter – good for 20 minutes, with a friendly note slipped under the windshield wiper: “You have been saved by the Parking Meter Fairy!”
Like the Tooth Fairy, Parking Meter Fairy rarely meets the beneficiaries of Parking Meter Fairy’s good deeds, but in this case the errant motorist walks up shortly afterwards and spots the note, which resembles a real parking ticket. He’s fuming, “Ugh! That’s the kind of day it’s been!”
Surprise! “You have been saved by the Parking Meter Fairy,” the bemused parking officer tells the man.
“Oh, my God! Thank you!” the man says, handing Parking Meter Fairy a loonie, which Parking Meter Fairy refuses to accept. Parking Meter Fairy requires no repayment for his munificence. The officer tells the man instead, “The best way to pay it forward is to pay the meter next time.” Oh, yes, indeed, the man promises, “I definitely will.”
But so many drivers don’t – and so Parking Meter Fairy’s work is never done.
There are 3,200 parking meters in Edmonton, which collect more than $6 million in change a year – and 52 full-time parking enforcement officers to make sure it stays that way. They write up to 15,000 parking tickets in a busy month – far too many for Parking Meter Fairy to save. At an average of $50 per ticket, do the math.
With such a big chunk of change at stake, Parking Meter Fairy wonders if parking officers would get mad at Parking Meter Fairy for depriving them of their rightful tickets. None of them do. All the officers Parking Meter Fairy meets are very nice, and surprisingly forthcoming. One even thanks Parking Meter Fairy. Another officer shrugs and says, “Do what you want.” It’s not illegal to plug other people’s meters. And while official policy states that there is no quota, “There are times back at the office at the end of the day, sometimes it feels like there is,” one officer admits. “They’re not going to say that, but there’s a little bit of a push to get more tickets.”
Encouraged by such candour, Parking Meter Fairy asks another parking officer: Would you get angry if Parking Lot Fairy tagged along on your rounds to save those about to get ticketed? The officer replies, “I probably shouldn’t say this, I’m not going to lie to you, but yeah, I would.”
Parking Meter Fairy does not want any trouble, and moves on.
“Love for everyone” is the motto of the Parking Meter Fairy, who on another occasion plugged $1.25 into an expired meter next to a Porsche – because Parking Meter Fairy does not discriminate between the rich and the poor. Citizens might think it’s the fancy cars that get ticketed the most, but as one parking officer says, “I thought so, too, but it’s been pretty equal.”
Parking Meter Fairy meets the Porsche owner, too, who says a quick, “Right on, thanks” before driving off. He does not offer to reimburse the $1.25.
The Parking Meter Fairy’s all-encompassing aura of love extends especially to the poor parking enforcement officers – who have to be the most widely hated group of people in the world next to rock critics.
Does it get to them? The Parking Meter Fairy is not afraid to ask and record their anonymous responses on a magic hidden tape recorder.
“I try not to take it personally,” says one officer. “It’s the uniform. They just hate what we do, but necessarily us. If they hate us, they don’t know me, so I don’t care. I don’t go out of my way to target people.”
Another parking officer says basically the same thing about the almost daily verbal abuse suffered from enraged parking malefactors: “It used to get to me, but not anymore. They don’t know me. But the thing is, if they want respect from us, they have to start giving us respect. We’re just out here doing our job. Now I just laugh it off if people get angry. Some people yell, ‘get a real job!’ This is a real job. It pays for rent, it pays for school, it pays for food, it is a real job. People are always going to be mean, but you can’t let it get to you.”
There has even been violence, minor versions of scenes from “Parking Wars” played out on the streets of Edmonton. Someone once pulled a gun. Coffee and bicycles have been thrown. Lots of insults are hurled. Traffic enforcement officers – who are employed under contract to the City of Edmonton by the private firm Paladin Security – always have instant radio contact to the police should an irate motorist go too far. Before donning the uniform, parking enforcement officers are required to take special courses. One is called “verbal judo.”
Example of verbal judo:
Angry motorist: “I am so extremely angry that I got this parking ticket.”
Parking enforcement officer: “I understand. I would be, too. I’m just doing my job.”
Angry motorist: “I am ashamed.”
City of Edmonton parking enforcement spokesperson Erin Blaine says violence against officers is uncommon, “But it has happened. We try to deescalate the situation before it comes to that.”
Surprisingly, one officer does allow Parking Meter Fairy to follow along on the route, thwarting tickets. This job is good exercise. It’s a brisk walk that winds around the city blocks, up and down and all around, checking every meter and chalking tires in the two-hour parking zones. Parking Meter Fairy learns a number of things: Officers have discretion on whether to tear up the ticket if the owner of the offending vehicle happens to come by. Rubbing the chalk mark off your tires doesn’t work nearly as well as plugging the meter past the supposed two-hour limit. If the officer remembers the car, a ticket will be issued. And if officers spot a meter with one minute remaining, they generally won’t wait around for it to expire. As the officer says, “That wouldn’t be cool, would it?”
In the course of three days wandering around downtown and Whyte Avenue, Parking Meter Fairy plugs meters to the tune of about $30 and issues as many friendly fake tickets – which includes Parking Meter Fairy’s e-mail address. A lone response is received: “Every now and then something like this happens and you remember how good people really can be. Thank you so much for saving me from a parking ticket. I will definitely be ‘paying it forward’.”
Parking Meter Fairy is slightly chagrined to admit an ulterior motive – a story – yet there is something intoxicating about being surrounded by such love on the otherwise mean streets. While many pedestrians avoid Parking Lot Fairy – perhaps because of the pink spray-painted shirt or the halo made of sparkly pipe cleaners – still others have kind words.
“I appreciate your fairy thing,” says a homeless man.
“You rock, Parking Meter Fairy!” shouts a youth from a passing car.
This fills Parking Meter Fairy with hope and joy. Sadly, as Parking Meter Fairy has no visible source of income, Parking Meter Fairy’s days of saving harried, hapless motorists from whopping, horrible $50 fines are numbered. But from such a surprisingly positive experience in the front line of Edmonton’s parking wars, it may not be long until Parking Meter Fairy strikes again. Just need a little more spare change.