Parking meters and I have never gotten along all that well. I tend to be late and they tend to be early. At least that’s what I tell the judge.
The relationship hasn’t improved since Chicago Parking Meters have been ‘upgraded’ over the past year with space age technology and higher rates. Most retailers understand that parking is one of those critical things you don’t want customers thinking about. You want them to just feel like it will be there, not some barrier to entry. I blame the meters for the loss of my favorite store, Cut Rate Toys. Don’t mess with a man’s toy store people.
Which sets the scene for my latest run in with a parking meter.
My lovely wife and I were set for a romantic evening thoughtfully concocted by the kids. Dinner and a show. Just the two of us.
We arrived at the restaurant early, so had a chance to scout parking options. Garage, pay lot, valet, and wonders of wonders, a street space right next to the entrance.
I’ve not used the new street meters often. Only once actually. I’m more of a subway kind of guy when it comes to going downtown. But tonight was special. Which would indicate the correct, romantic choice would have been to use the valet. However, as my lovely wife LaVonn has on occasion reminded me, my ability to think romantically appears critically impaired.
Some of you will understand, this was street parking right in front of the restaurant. The holy grail of Chicago parking. Something I could brag about over wings and beer. (Again, remember, romantically impaired, OK?)
We pull up. Unfortunately, the meter for the space was half a block away. No problem. My loved one waits in the car and gets the full impact of the door side space while I gallantly slide through the 5 degree, slightly icy weather to the meter.
The meters now take credit cards. Good deal. Pumping quarters has become a hassle since rates went up. Back when I was a kid my dad had a gadget that only makes sense when your thinking quarters and meters. A small parking meter timer attached to his keychain about an inch across and all dial. Like a pocket egg timer. Made with springs, gears and a bell in the days before we discovered the transistor. Until his business could afford a monthly space, he parked on Lower Wacker where quarters would buy you a few hours at a time. Trick was you had to get back down to feed the meter or tickets would sprout from your wiper blades. Set the timer to go off with time to get down to the space and away you go.
A marketer thought of that. “When a watch simply isn’t enough…”
The credit card slides into and out of a slot. It goes difficultly. Like it needs oil.
I push buttons. There are several.
I try again, however, this time pulling the credit card out required my gloves come off – holding them in my mouth – and use of thumb and index finger of both hands. I gag on my gloves. I yank. It takes several tries.
I push buttons.
Now we are at a point dear reader, where, as a male, I needed this parking meter to work.
Parking on the street. Bad idea. Fine.
Walking half a block to get a spot right next to the door. Bad idea. Fine.
Letting the lovely wife wait in the car while I wander off on a lonely downtown Chicago street. Bad idea. Fine.
But going back, starting up the car, and pulling up to the valet at this point is distinctly unacceptable to my admittedly testosterone addled brain on this fine romantic evening.
I try again. This time there is a click.
I am excited.
I push buttons.
I grab the card with near frozen fingers.
It does not move when I grab it with one hand.
It does not move when I grab it in two hands.
It does not move at all, Sam I Am. I believe I’ve hurt my hand.
(Pause. Fight Panic. Resume.)
I read the instructions.
Yes, the instructions confirm that I should not leave my credit card in the parking meter slot. Had to check, you never know.
I walk back to the car, visions of the romantic evening declining into calls to credit card companies, funny looks from the lovely wife, and a trip to the valet. Yes, even I can see when things are going bad.
Distinctly unacceptable. This is a ROMANTIC evening. Must Fix.
“Sceuse me my dear. Must fix the parking meter. Slide aside a second while I grab the pliers.”
This is not something my wife wants to hear. Ever.
The meter surrenders without a fight when it saw I was armed.
A quick yank.
I push buttons.
Score: Man 1 – Machine 0. It gives up a small receipt indicating my 2 hour victory. I set my iPhone timer ap. Ain’t progress something?
I slide back to the car.
“I have fixed the parking meter.”
I am a hero. (Again, addled non-romantic mind. Don’t forget.)
Gather lovely wife on my arm as we slide ten steps to the front door and go on to enjoy a lovely dinner at Cafe Pazzo. I recommend the duck. Fabulous.