Wednesday, March 11, 2009

No Parking. Anywhere.

Never am I more homesick as when I try to find a parking place in San Francisco. A bad parking day in Clinton is when you can’t park at the door of Greg’s market and have to settle for a space closer to the ice machine. Or when a log truck is making a left at the stop light and the prime spot at the courthouse steps is blocked. There are no parking meters in Clinton, just happy, welcoming parking opportunities.

It’s not quite the same in SF. In the first six months of living in the city, I got four parking tickets. OK, maybe five. The first was for parking on the street in front of our house on a street-cleaning day. Our garage was full of boxes and the logical answer was to slide into the space in front of the house. I forgot to read–-or should we say–-interpret the “when you can park here” sign.
Parking tickets in San Francisco are $50.00 across the board, even if you run toward the Despised Meter Person with a fist full of quarters. So next time I needed to park on the street I remembered vividly: Thursday is street cleaning day on 21st Avenue. I had learned my lesson. It was a Friday, so I confidently pulled into a space across the street from our house.

When I came out, I was greeted by a slender white envelope neatly tucked under the windshield wiper. Street cleaning day on 21st is on Thursday on our side of the street, but Friday is Cleaning Morn on the other side.

We have a new rule of thumb on parking. If there is a space available, it is likely illegal to park there. A quarter buys you 12 minutes of parking time most places. If the parking meter is yellow, it’s a loading zone, not for you. If the meter is green, there is a 30 minute limit on parking. This means that no matter how many times you feed the meter, if your car stays parked in that space more than 30 minutes, you will probably be ticketed. The Meter Readers have their ways of knowing.

Our neighborhood is crawling with these little gendarmes. They drive golf-cart sized Meter Mobiles, and peer from their open windows in all directions, hoping to catch someone double parked in front of Viet Nam Cleaner, or with an empty meter at Royal Coffee Ground.

While taking Cleo on a dog-therapy visit to the VA Hospital on Clement I found a space walking distance from the hospital entrance. Magically there were no meters in sight. Returning from my stay, I was all aglow from Dog Based Ministry. This time I had parked in a permit-only space. There were no signs informing me of this, only a “white” mark on the curb. This stripe hadn’t been repainted in my lifetime, and furthermore it was obscured by moss and trash.

Our garage is at sidewalk level so there’s no parking in our own driveway unless you leave adequate space for a walker to pass between garage door and car. Everybody in our hood is aware of this San Francisco quirk, and we leave space accordingly. One morning each resident on our street who parked this way got a wake-up call in the form of a ticket. While we were sleeping the city changed the parking at all in driveways.

After so many tickets I confided to my husband that I was afraid, as a repeat offender, I might be arrested and hauled into traffic court. I might have to wear an orange suit, not my best color. Have no fear, he said. Bad parking means good things for QuakeVille. I was helping keep Fog City in the black. If that’s the case, then I am San Francisco's new best friend.

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