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Drive Time

When Searching for Common Ground, Parking's Just the Ticket

March 28, 2001|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you ask someone about it, the myth of Lotusland evaporates. When you ask someone about it, the response is visible, physical and irreversible. When you ask someone about it, you make a commitment of at least 15 minutes, during which time you will hear verbs associated with procreation and elimination used in combinations you never thought you'd hear this side of the Hudson River.

If you want to watch a person change from a literate, sophisticated individual to a spluttering, incoherent mess, simply ask to hear about his or her worst parking ticket.

We all have them. Mine was the one I got, in my own driveway, at 2 a.m. because three inches of my rear bumper extended over the sidewalk. My husband's came this holiday season when he miraculously found one space on a Galleria-adjacent side street chockablock with cars. He glanced at the sign, which said, he thought, No Parking on Thursday. It was not Thursday, so off he scuttled--only to return half an hour later to see the whole block fluttering with tickets. Upon closer inspection, the tiny words between "No Parking" and "Thursday" read "except on."

Other friends describe the ticket they got as they were pulling away from a meter that expired, or the one they got when they stopped for two whole minutes in a red zone to drop off their incredibly pregnant wife at the drugstore.

In a city of more than 3 million disparate--and often desperate--souls, it is possibly the one universally shared experience: the meter that ran fast, the sign that was hidden by foliage, the street-cleaning schedule that inexplicably changed one fine day.

According to "Pain and Parking in Los Angeles," a truly hilarious and yet somehow disturbing film by David Bret Egan, parking-enforcement officials in Los Angeles issue 3 million tickets a year. The average fine is $40, an amount that can--as many of the citizens Egan interviewed remind us--represent a day's wages, a week's worth of groceries. The film, which aired on public-television stations including KCET earlier this year, begins with a montage of the multilayered parking-restriction signs that line so many L.A. streets. "Modern day totem poles," one interviewee calls them, as one after another passerby attempts to decipher their meaning, eyes darting from sign to contradictory sign in neck-craning bewilderment.

Egan's personal low point came when he got three or four tickets in one week, totaling $120. "I was living on, like, $60 a week," the 33-year-old filmmaker says. "So parking became this constant crisis. I would wake up in the middle of the night, having a parking spasm, panicked over street cleaning."

By putting a classified ad in this paper calling for people's ticket stories, he unleashed a force unparalleled in intensity and vitriol. "Moral outrage is very funny to watch," he says. "And I love hearing the stories. Because sometimes the ticket is unjustified, but sometimes it's fair. But the anger is always the same. That's what's funny about the film--that the people in it don't find their tickets funny at all."

In the film's most hypnotic segments, actor Sam Dobbin attempts to get parking officers to take back a ticket--he is only successful twice, when he breaks down into pathetic tears. The team got busted so often while filming these segments, Egan said, that they had to stop working in Hollywood. "They were talking about us at roll call," he says. "But they thought it was pretty funny too."

In fact, no audience was as appreciative of the film as the adjudication officers and judges who saw an early screening. They particularly loved the sequence detailing the futility of trying to fight a parking ticket. "I don't think it changed their attitudes, no," says Egan. "They were laughing way too hard."

Since making the film, Egan says he has been "cured" of parking tickets. "I am hyper-aware of where I can and cannot park now. Also," he adds, "I work so much now, I can only go out really late at night--when all the meters are free."

*

Mary McNamara can be reached at mary.mcnamara@latimes.com.

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