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Caped crusaders? That's the ticket

Let's turn parking meter readers from their nefarious ways with a career change.

February 08, 2007|Sascha Rothchild | SASCHA ROTHCHILD is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

THERE'S NEVER a cop when you need one. A drunk driver swerves onto a curb, nearly killing a golden retriever puppy, and no one pulls him over. Yet, if that same drunk failed to feed the parking meter, he'd have a ticket on his windshield before he could order his next Zima.

L.A. traffic officers appear out of nowhere, silent and swift, laden with high-tech gadgets. But their stealth has not protected them from irate Angeleno drivers, who consider street parking a birthright. Attacks on L.A.'s 550 parking enforcers (I know, it seems like there are thousands of them) have ballooned in recent years. The rash of assaults includes spitting on meter readers, beating them, slashing their tires, bashing in their windshields with baseball bats, even one incident in which five rounds were unloaded into an officer's car.

I have never resorted to physical attacks, but I have been driven to emotional degradation. One especially pesky Brentwood parking enforcer, who always traveled on a bicycle, had given me so many tickets that I finally snapped and ranted, "Why? Why are you so angry with the world that you chose such a horrible profession? Why do you enjoy punishing other people? Why?" He handed me the ticket with a cold and cutting, "Have a nice day."

According to a recent Times article, parking officers learn "a form of 'verbal judo,' used to distract angry motorists and defuse incidents before they become violent." "Have a nice day" is clearly a black-belt maneuver. The verbal judo I usually get when running toward my expired meter is a smug yet monotone, "Already started. Too late."

And it is impossible to get out of a parking ticket. No matter how hot, rich or persuasive you are, once your car has been targeted by the enforcer's glare, you are helpless. These people cannot be bought, bribed or manipulated with tears. They are stalwart down to their civil servant marrow.

It takes weeks for other city employees to replace streetlights, months to fix potholes and years to synchronize traffic signals, yet only one-tenth of a second to give out a parking ticket? It is infuriating. Not so much because of the injustice of it all but because the city seems to be using its most highly effective personnel not to actually better society but to hand out $35 fines.

Based on their speed, determination and calm integrity, these people should be police officers, firefighters, emergency room nurses, government spies or even ... superheroes. They swoop in within nanoseconds of the final click of the meter, tirelessly and efficiently sucking all the joy out of an otherwise lovely Los Angeles afternoon.

Imagine how great this city would be if those same people were instead swooping in to save the day? Fighting off bank robbers, rescuing people from flash floods, saving children from burning buildings and, of course, explaining to miffed tourists that Red Vines are better than Twizzlers. Instead of showering parking enforcers with curses, we should be awestruck and respectful. Because they seem to be the only people in L.A. actually doing their jobs.

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