The Amateur Parker
We’re All Famous
Public officials need to follow parking rules, too.
Melissa Bean Sterzick
Not long ago, a San Francisco blog posted a request for pictures of public servants parking badly. Some of the offerings included a police vehicle parked in a bike lane, a postal truck in a red zone and a police car in a crosswalk.
What struck me most about this blog was not the photos of questionable parking choices, but the climate of exposure we live in. Cameras record our every move in parking lots, hotel lobbies, airports, elevators and shopping malls. Not only that, half the people in the world carry a cellphone equipped with a camera. They document their lives from morning to night on Instagram – including photos of meals, naps and trips to the gym.
I know some individuals who share photos of dental work, mysterious rashes and extravagant birthday cakes. Others publish honeymoon pictures while they’re still on the honeymoon. There’s no such thing as anonymity anymore, but there is such a thing as a whole lot of people who don’t desire anonymity anymore. I’ve seen it, but I don’t get it. And that just means I’m getting old.
We’re all being filmed and photographed everywhere we go – by our own hands or by the hands of others. Consider how the perpetrators of the bombings at the Boston Marathon were identified and captured. Numerous spectators had photographs of the terrorists, who probably didn’t account for the impact several hundred cellphones – all snapping away at the race and the crowd – would have on their getaway plan.
The cellphone camera is changing our world. It’s a fun change for many, but a concern for some. Not so great for criminals, and definitely a challenge for public figures, city officials and public servants.
Police officers, city officials, postal workers and emergency crews all have tough jobs to do, so we can’t really begrudge them their right to park wherever they like, but we gripe a little when we see them doing things we can’t get away with.
It’s always going to be the outliers who create a reputation for specific groups of people. I know I see police officers breaking laws all the time – and not when they are speeding to a crime scene. In fact, some of the most dangerous driving I have seen in real life are the men in blue, with their lights off, running stoplights, passing on the right, and rolling through stop signs in school zones. I know they’re not all driving badly.
But this new age of constant and amateur photography and cinematography means civil servants’ best and worst behavior is likely to be documented. In truth, there are individuals who like nothing better than to expose the failings – great or small – of public officials.
When a city employee parks illegally and faces no consequences, this is seen as unfair treatment. The laws apply to all, and exceptions belie favoritism and the abuse of power. When public servants park illegally, they set a bad example for those they are called upon to serve. “Do as I say and not as I do” has never been a successful mantra and when applied, shows a lack of respect for the law and the law abiding.
Naturally, emergencies trump the law. Nobody wants an EMT feeding a downtown parking meter with a heart attack victim dying on the drugstore floor. Nobody’s going to blame a police officer for parking in front of a fire hydrant on his way to thwart a home burglary. And if my house is going up in flames, the fire department can park on my lawn if that’s what it takes – flatten the shrubberies – we don’t mind.
There’s a saying I learned in Sunday school: Avoid Every Appearance of Evil. In non-emergency situations, the public isn’t so forgiving of public servants taking leeway with parking regulations. And now they have to contend with the reality that, essentially, their every move is being recorded.
Pictures don’t lie, but they tell a truth that lasts only a second. And now that the world is armed with cameras, every second is a story.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader, occasional writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at
Article Abstract from August, 2013