Sunday, March 27, 2011

Parking Meters and the Window You Shouldn’t Open

The city of Seattle installed its first parking meters downtown in 1942. By the end of 2005, the city was about half-way finished switching from normal, old-fashioned stand-alone meters to high-tech kiosks.  I was quite surprised to see the same kiosks near Venice in Italy when I was there a few years ago.
The new kiosk takes coins or credit cards, which is very convenient when the kiosk actually works. Some seem to suffer from vandalism. Others seem like they don’t get enough sunlight on their solar panels to function properly.  You tell the machine how many minutes you want by hitting the “Add More Time” button or the “Max Time” button, but the machine feels a bit like it’s just not going to work every single time you use one.  Once, the “Add More Time” button was so laggy that I added way too much time and had to cancel and start over.   When a unit is really not working correctly, you get a strange error message like, “Card Unreadable,” or “Bank Unavailable.”  Every step of the process seems to take at least twice as long as it should. Worst of all, I’ve paid and had no sticker come out.  The point of the transaction is to get a sticker, which is printed with the time the parking expires.
Sometimes, when people leave before using up all the minutes they have paid for, they will stick their ticket back onto the kiosk. Once or twice I have driven to another park of the city and been able to use the rest of my time. Drivers are supposed to display the sticker on the inside of the passenger side window. 

I drive a 2002 BMW wagon, with about 130,000 miles on it. I bought it new, and I am responsible for putting essentially all of those miles on the car. Typically, my passengers have been some combination of my three children, all boys, now 20, 17 and 13, and my dogs.  This car is my favorite car ever, and even though I bitch and moan every time it needs another $1100 brake job, I love how it drives.
If you are familiar with Seattle at all, you know that it is a dependably wet and muddy place in all but the months of July, August and September. If you have experienced children, you know that they are mud magnets who climb into the car, touch every surface with their dirtiest appendage, wrestle into place and then swing their feet until arrival, depositing a maximal amount of dirt onto the door, seat-back, seat and carpet. Dogs do all of these things and also touch the windows with their open mouths.  It rains too much in Seattle to keep the outside of a car clean. And it rains too much in Seattle to keep the inside of a car clean. But life is not for keeping one’s car clean, as far as I’m concerned.
If you ever come for a ride in my car, I will not let you open the passenger window. It is not because the window will not open. It is because someone along the way opened the window with a parking sticker still attached. Down went the window with the sticker, and when it came back up, the sticker was stuck inside the door. Now when you close the window, it comes up very, very slowly, as if this time might be the very last time it is able to close. If a brake job for the BMW is $1100, how much do you think it will be to dismantle the door and get that sticker? I don’t want to find out. 

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