A Moral Tale of the Benefits of Literacy


Tonight, I am up late. Tonight, I went out for coffee with a friend, and made the lighthearted mistake of ordering fully caffeinated cappuccino instead of the decaf I had so carefully planned to buy.  Now, instead of going to bed early so I can get up early in the morning for an hour-long commute to work, I am hunched with characteristic bad posture over a computer keyboard, itching to write something, and here is what my nervously hyped-up espresso fingers have to offer.

Tonight at six forty-five I drove into the small city where I used to work, onto familiar streets I haven't walked in months.  My car is the kind that parking garages like to call "compact," but it rides through narrow roadways only slightly widened since their 18th-century construction like a sideswiping boat. Or maybe it's the fact that I don't do much city driving, and tonight I was rusty. But I made it to a spot by a gnarly sycamore, just avoiding the roots that spilled out over the curb and onto the cracked macadam.  One car ahead, two empty sidewalk-hugging spaces, one car behind. My ideal parking situation - well, ideal when a completely empty street isn't available. You can pull up behind the front car and leave yourself plenty of forward-wiggle room, just in case some more loftily aspiring driver neatly whips into the space behind you with a jacked-up, monster-tired pickup truck the size of a mobile home (not an uncommon sight in a city that tries hard to be hipster, but still occasionally lures in the good ol' boy type).

I was pretty proud of myself, all in all. A day that had begun with an alarm snoozed one time too many, a broken refrigerator putting the whole family out of sorts and my rushed morning routine out of whack, and two eighteen-wheelers meandering side-by-side, five miles under the speed limit, allowing no one to pass on the highway and making me LATE to a TEMP JOB where I am TRYING to make a GOOD IMPRESSION began to significantly improve. It's amazing how a good park job can do that.  My favorite humblebrag when talking about my difficulties in parallel parking is to casually drop a mention of how I took my teenage driver's test, parallel maneuvers included, on a 12-passenger van and passed the test on the first try. But this is a red herring using the story of one lucky moment to redirect attention from my current state of malpractice in parallel parking: and by malpractice, I mean pretty much no practice at all.  And yet here I was, six inches from the curb, not drifting out into traffic but not scraping off any tire rubber, ten minutes early for my coffee date and with just enough time to swing by the library and stick some nearly overdue DVDs in the book drop so they could be checked in tomorrow before official opening hours. #NoShameInMyLibraryFineDodgingGame  

But there yet remained the bane of all city parking, the blot on my happy-go-lucky accomplishment, the nagging reminder that all good things come with a price and there ain't no such thing as a free lunch: the parking meter.

It glared from the sidewalk, rising forbidding and stern among swirls of cigarette smoke that drifted down from the apartment balconies above, standing over the ugly tree root like a beacon to remind all and sundry that You Must Pay for the Privilege of Borrowing This Tiny Stretch of Street For Two Hours or Less. At least I was prepared for its toll. Before getting out of the car, I scrabbled in the little rectangle holder thingy on the side of the driver's door. I don't know what that pocket is called. Maybe it's the door pocket. Or maybe it's the loose change holder, because that's exactly what I put in it, For Such a Time as This.

Quarters, nickels, and dimes in hand, I swung the door open carefully, just enough to slither out without being splattered on the sidewalk by passing motorists who blithely ignored the 25mph speed limit. The clock was ticking now, thirteen minutes to seven, and I was supposed to be at the cafe - five blocks away - at seven. Feverishly, I stuck coins as quickly as I could into the side of the meter, irritation mounting as the time allotment increased at a tortoise-like rate. A nickel only pays for two minutes! A dime, five! A quarter, a measly ten! Highway robbery, the lot of it. Well, urban roadway robbery. Whatever.  Not enough change to cover the whole cafe trip, clearly. I was only up to an hour and five minutes. The only solution was to duck back in the car and get more quarters. A dissolution of what could have been added to the honeymoon fund, alas and alack. (When the pocket thingy gets too full, I transfer my loose change to another holding area, this one inside my house, earmarked for ice cream and other treats that may be desired by myself and my fiancé during our carefully-budgeted honeymoon in September.)

Check for whizzing vehicles. Glare reprovingly at those far exceeding the legal speed limit. Unlock the car doors. Open the door just enough to squeeze inside. Scoop more coins from the pocket. Crane neck to check for cars again. Squeeze outside. Shut door. Lock door. Lather, rinse, etc.

Back to the meter. Back to poking coins in, checking my watch again - ten minutes to seven! The time on the digital face crept upwards. One hour and thirty minutes. One thirty-five.

And then... and then... my eye wandered.

To the left.

To the words on the sticker bearing the official city parking authority logo, the words that said, "Two hour time limit. Parking fees strictly enforced between the hours of 8 AM and 6 PM."

As you may recall, gentle reader, the time was now six-fifty PM.

And the moral of this story is that a great deal of my loose change is now gone forever, and the parking authority is a few dollars richer, and that those who read the signs that are right before their eyes will live long and prosper on the earth.

I made it out of the parking space pretty neatly when I came back at nine-oh-seven, though. With no ticket on my windshield.

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