The Amateur Parker
Money Talks in Every Language
Melissa Bean Sterzick
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want the government interfering in every aspect of my life. That’s a pretty standard statement for many Americans, but not all.
Self-sufficiency is one of my core values, so I don’t want to be dependent on anyone for my food, housing or other basic needs. Whenever I have the opportunity, I vote against expanding the government’s reach.
That said, I think if our national, state or local officials decide it’s important enough to pass a law, then they should enforce that law in a way that actually works. (And that statement is meant to support the idea that making fewer laws is a good way to ensure you’re able to apply those laws.) If you make laws you can’t enforce, pretty soon they are no longer laws.
It’s like parenting, in some aspects. If you outline the rules and the consequences for breaking those rules, but don’t follow through, next thing you know you’re the mom at the store whose kid is either running away from her straight into the parking lot or lying down on the floor screaming bloody murder for a pack of gum. And that never happened to me, ever.
It’s my opinion that our government is a bit like the parent who has made a few too many idle threats. But in a less metaphorical sense, it’s really just an organization that has made more rules than it can administer.
Parking is a highly regulated industry, and that goes against my preference for not being controlled by forces outside myself, but fully supports my wish not to live in a country where parking is some kind of vigilante sport.
I’ve seen pictures of what people in other countries think is parking, and that’s not what I want to experience on a daily basis. Triple parking, parking on sidewalks, parking in ditches, and parking grille to grille are not my cup of tea.
I think Americans are too attached to their cars to resort to parking mayhem, but I’d rather be safe than sorry on that count.
I obey traffic laws not because I’m afraid the cops will get me, but because I want to do all I can to be safe in my car. I’m not worried about tickets. I’m worried about hurting or killing myself or someone else. I stop at red lights, and I hope everyone else will, too. I stick to the speed limit, or reasonably close to it, because I think it’s probably a good indication of how safe it is to drive in the designated area. I stay on the right side of the road because, well, obviously, in the United States, that’s going to be the least life-threatening option.
My ethics are not so solid when it comes to parking, but the ease of compliance and the threat of inconvenience and punishment are enough to keep me in line. Aside from stealing parking from the disabled – something I think about but would never do, and which could cost me $1,000 if caught here in California – I obey parking laws because I don’t want a ticket. I obey them because I don’t want my car dented or scraped or sideswiped. I obey them because it’s pretty darn easy to obey them.
I can remember that red means no parking, yellow means loading only, blue is for disabled, green is for 15 minutes, and white is for running in to get something really quick. OK, I had to look up the exact rules for white and yellow, but the other three I’ve got covered. Besides the occasional nonsensical parking sign to decipher, the industry and the government have done their best to make following parking rules a simple procedure.
Boring nerds like me obey parking laws, but oodles of people are willing to gamble that the threat of punishment is an idle one – and they do pretty well with those odds. They take the chance that they probably won’t be caught, because they know they probably won’t be; and they know that if they are, it will cost them only $35.
In places where illegal parking really is hazardous, it seems fair to raise fines to scary proportions. If getting caught will cost someone $200, $300 or $500, he or she might be less inclined to park illegally. Constant, but meaningless, enforcement doesn’t work. Money is the only language some people speak.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader, occasional writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at
Article Abstract from March, 2014