Beware of the Clark & Devon Meter Reader
Earlier this week, preparing to purchase some needed building supplies for a building I have started having a more direct hand in managing, I couldn’t help but do a double take as I pulled into the City parking lot adjacent to Clark & Devon Hardware, in Rogers Park.
There, next to a parked vehicle stood a parking violation enforcer (the “Meter Reader”) – a middle aged man, crutches under both arms, busily working a hand held device which spews out the parking meter violations that he would then stuff inside the orange and white sleeves before sliding them under the windshield wipers on our front car windows.
He stood out because he only had one leg.
I pulled into a parking space next to the Clark & Devon Hardware’s side entrance, grabbed some quarters and placed around five of them into the machine, allotting me around a half hour to do my shopping.
While waiting for the machine to dispense my ticket, I looked over at the Meter Reader, as he hobbled around the lot, gazing in car’s front windshields, examining to see if that driver perpetrated a violation. There weren’t many vehicles in the lot, a City owned lot.
As politically incorrect as it was for me to do this, I must admit that my first reaction upon seeing all this was to stare. It just looked a bit odd.
I am not sure why I found the image of a one legged man dishing out parking violations so grabbed my attention, but soon I reconsidered my take on this.
“Perhaps this looks odd,” I thought to myself, while watching him perform his craft. “Yet, how great that someone with a disability such as this gentleman can find meaningful employment, especially in a job that requires considerable mobility.”
I started thinking more.
“Geez” I thought. “Perhaps he is a veteran of one of our countries two most recent wars? Or perhaps he lost his leg due to a disease, or an accident?”
Now sympathetic and deeply appreciative of this man’s endeavors, I decided to say something respectful to him, as I was about to pass him as I walked to the front entrance of the store. As I steered myself to the left edge of the sidewalk, giving him sufficient room to pass me on my right, I quietly said: “Nice day today. Isn’t it sir?”
Barely acknowledging me, the Meter Reader passed, staring forward, his partially open mouth revealing yellowed and slightly unkempt set of teeth.
Not thinking twice, I proceeded into the hardware store, and, shortly after getting a new key made, I got caught in a friendly conversation with the store’s owner, Ken Walchak, whose family has owned this wonderful store, a Rogers Park institution, for years. Ken and I spoke about our kids for a while, and then I commenced my shopping expedition, purchasing paint to cover some graffiti that recently appeared on my building, mousetraps, a tape measure, a set of nails, and gum. Noting a sale on high efficiency light bulbs, I soon found myself working with a 20-year veteran of the store named Norman, who helped me understand cost efficient approaches to lighting my buildings’ common areas, and I took advantage of a volume discount he offered me on high efficiencies.
Finally, after proceeding through check out, I went outside, bags of hardware in tow, and as I walked up to my car, I noticed the orange citation sitting on my windshield, held in place by the driver’s side windshield wiper.
The sympathy and respect I had earlier felt now transferred to outright fury.
“Asshole!” I thought. “He gave me a ticket.”
I grabbed the citation, matched it up to the printed receipt generated by the parking box – the one we place on our inside dashboard. The parking box receipt had given me until 12:10 to legally park in that space. The Meter Reader had written up the violation at 12:22.
“Damn” I thought. “I stayed twelve minutes too long.” I cringed realizing that my error would cost me $50.
It’s one thing to get a ticket when you fail to put any money into the meter, and another when you incurred the expense of paying to park, but you simply didn’t buy enough time.
A surge of self-righteousness still overcame me –self-righteousness that inflicts those of us who know we did something wrong, but want to blame someone else. In this case, I started wondering why the police had to penalize residents who were trying to keep their money within Rogers Park, doing business locally.
“Home Depot, Lowes and Menards (competitors to the local hardware store, with locations outside of the community and the City of Chicago) have large parking lots. By ticketing Clark and Devon customers, the police are driving us out of the community, and store profits to the national franchises and corporate shareholders,” I thought.
I marched back into the store and voice my concerns to Ken, the store-owner with whom, only a half hour ago, I was sharing accounts about my kids, and he, his daughter. I wasn’t going to complain to him, as I knew none of this was his fault. But I wanted to be sure he understood frustrations experienced by people like me, his customers, so he could join me in reaching out to local officials who set local parking policy to assure that officers use proper discretion when deciding whether to ticket those who do business within this community.
While walking, I started writing in my head my letter of complaint. “To whom do I make it out to?” I wondered. “The Alderman, with copies to the Police Commander, and to the Business Alliance?
“No. It must be the Police Commander who oversees the Meter Readers. I’ll write it to him, with copies to the Alderman and to the Business Alliance, and remind him that his officers must consider the consequences of ticketing local business customers.”
I went up to the platform where Ken works, and I saw he wasn’t there. Across from Ken was another gentleman, whose name I forget, who is Ken’s brother in law.
I started voicing my concerns to him, and I saw him nodding his head.
Smart enough to let me voice my frustrations, he waited until I was done, and then he patiently told me that efforts at complaining to these governmental officials were in vain.
“The private company that owns the lease on the parking meters controls the issuance of tickets” he informed me.
I didn’t know. I know that the outside firm that purchased the 75 year City wide parking lease kept all parking revenue*, but I had figured that the City had retained the rights to issue tickets on violations of the parking rules and collect those fines.
I was wrong.
“The company that owns the parking rights diligently tickets violators,” explained Ken’s relative. “They are aggressive. They don’t care.”
I felt angry, and a bit helpless.
“You mean that for the 75 years an outside contractor will be controlling all parking and the right to issue tickets for violations? The City has no control over our streets?”
Ken’s brother in law nodded his head. “Yup. There is no one to hear your complaint. There is no one who cares that aggressive ticket writing might dampen customer willingness to park here and support local businesses. We try to educate all of our customers that we have a private parking lot and that they should try to park in it to avoid any problems. We’ve even hung large signs to alert our customers.”
I shook my head, bid thanks to Ken’s relative for hearing me out, and I walked out, admittedly wanting to do nasty things to that Meter Reader.
I guess what most angered me was that I was kind and compassionate to this guy. True – I had violated the parking rules, for I had stayed twelve minutes over the time that I had paid for. But that Meter Reader knew which car was mine, and I figured that me offering him pleasantries and words of respect ought to have caused him to cut me a break.
How frustrating to think that the entity that now controls our parking spaces and their employees have no motivation to consider public interest; instead, their only interest is in maximizing their profits on their investment, and that means writing citations for everyone in violation. Being courteous and respectful to the people of this City, or erring on the side of aiding local business is not a consideration.
We read accounts of how zealous this company is in strictly enforcing terms of the 75-year lease. If the City needs to close off certain streets for special events (street fairs) or for public safety reasons, be sure that we, the taxpayers, are compensating them for lost revenue.
I suppose I should applaud the parking company for offering employment opportunities to physically disabled people, such as the man who wrote me up for my violation.
But it just feels wrong that our elected officials are no longer accountable for what happens on public ways such as our streets and our street side parking spaces.
Notwithstanding these gripes, I encourage Rogers Park residents to support Clark & Devon Hardware, a Rogers Park gem.
It’s actually a fun place to shop. The staff is personable, knowledgeable and eager to offer valued advice.
Just be sure to use their private lot!
Post a Comment
you must be logged in to Post a Comment
Login below. Not a member? Register here.