Several months ago, I got two parking tickets. Only in reality, I didn’t get them. I just went out to get in my car, only to discover that it wasn’t where I thought I’d left on the corner across from my apartment building. This in and of itself isn’t that strange, because a) Your average New Yorker doesn’t drive every day and therefore might only visit their car once a week when street cleaning regulations force them to do so; b) Your average person who works in film production is used to finding themselves parking their car after a 12+ hour day topped off with an hour of searching for a parking spot at 3:30 am, the details of which they might not recall in full; c) your average 50-something-year-old entering menopause has a brain under attack by hormones that make it much more spongey than it used to be, and d) I am, yes, all three of these things. But because I’d been unusually coherent when I’d parked it after grocery shopping a few days earlier, and because I was also fairly sure that I’d seen a truck from my electricity supplier, Consolidated Edison, on that corner the day before, I felt pretty confident that my car had not, in fact, been kidnapped by aliens (which, considering the shape it’s in, with the front bumper now out of joint from having recently been knocked off and reattached with a couple of well-placed screws, seemed more likely than its having been stolen).
So as one does, I googled, and figured out that in New York City, when one suspects one’s car has been towed but no information about it is posted nearby, one should call the local police precinct. More googling revealed that mine was the 70th Precinct, where a cop, who was clearly a New Yorker because he had an accent like my Brooklyn auto mechanic and didn’t try to hide how unhappy he was about being on desk duty, sighed as he asked for my license plate information, then found my car on some list that indicated its new location, about a block away from where it had been.
However, when I found the car, I discovered that it had two parking tickets on the windshield. I quickly called the 70th Precinct back and complained about this and got the same sulky cop, who told me he couldn’t do anything about it, and that I needed to contest the tickets. Because after all this I still had to actually, you know, drive somewhere, I stuffed them into my bag and got on the road (only to find that a portion of my car’s undercarriage was dragging on the ground and also needed to be screwed back on, leading to a brief odyssey to find a new mechanic who could fix it, since the shop I had been going to recently went out of business due to the owner being a “real degenerate gambler” according to the guy I found hanging out there when I’d tried to bring it in last time). And so it was only several days later that I realized these weren’t ordinary $45 street cleaning tickets, no, they were two $115 tickets for parking in a no standing zone — because the moron who’d moved it had placed it slightly sticking out past the sign that delineated legal parking from illegal parking.
So I went online again, to the New York City Department of Finance, which, oddly enough, is the department that deals with parking tickets (or does it maybe tell you everything you need to know about how the city perceives them?). At their website, which seems like it was created around 1998, I attempted to “Request a Hearing,” explaining in detail what had happened in the little box allotted for me to do so for each ticket. I even included the phone number of the 70th Precinct for verification.
And then I went back to my life and promptly forgot about it all for about a month or so, until I realized it had been a month or so, and I hadn’t heard anything (yes, I checked my spam folder). So I attempted to ask the NYC Department of Finance what was up, but that was no simple matter. To even contact them, I had to “open an account” at their customer service portal, which, for some reason, I had to be “invited” to do. Once I got invited and signed up — twice, because the site seemed to crash before I completed the process the first time — I received an email telling me to “provide the Account Name and Taxpayer ID so we can properly assist you,” along with a phone number I could try calling. I tried calling that number a few times and leaving messages, to which I never got a response. But several days later, I received another email saying, “Our records show that we have reviewed your case and contacted you with our findings. This case is now closed.” Well, that was great, except that I had never been contacted, and thus didn’t know shit. So I went back to the page on the website where you can look up and pay parking tickets, typed in the violation numbers, and found out that, on one of my tickets, I’d been declared “Guilty” (yes, in red letters) and on the other, my case had been “Adjourned.” For both, my payment was listed as past due.
So I went googling what an “Adjournment” meant, and what I could now do about both that and the Guilty verdict and, as one does, found myself going down a rabbit hole. Believe it or not (and if you live here, you believe it), several websites devoted exclusively to parking tickets have been built by angry New Yorkers. According to a few of of them, an adjournment usually means that they want more evidence, and you can appeal both that and a Guilty decision. The problem is that tickets start accruing additional fines soon after your fines are past due. I didn’t know exactly how past due my fines were since I had never been contacted — not an abnormal occurrence, according to these websites — but their advice was to just pay the fines to stop them from growing, even if I was going to appeal.
It was at this point that I began to wonder,
1) How much does $230 really mean to me?
2) How much does it mean to me to prove that this wasn’t my fault?
3) How pissed off am I about it all?
“That’s just absurd! You should fight it,” was my husband’s response when I updated him on the saga.
“But I don’t even know if this appeals process works —”
“Then take them to small claims court.”
“Is that a valid use of my time?”
This gave him pause. Damon and I often talk about how much our time, as freelancers, is worth. Because I have a few different jobs — location sound, editing, teaching — my rate is somewhere between $50 to $125/hour. That meant that once I’d wasted over four hours on this debacle, it would pretty much cease to be worth it, and I’d probably spent at least two so far. On the other hand, I had an entire week of location work coming up, during which I’d have both nothing to do for the second half of my lunch hour and also significant driving time that I would otherwise just spend listening to terrible news about the president on NPR — so realistically, that time was worth considerably less to me.
My first call, on my way home from work on Monday, was my third one to the 70th Precinct. This desk-duty cop was also clearly a New Yorker because she had an accent like my hairdresser from Staten Island and had pretty much the most unhelpful response to how I might get a record of my car being moved in mid-July:
“I don’t even know if we keep information like that. I mean, we probably do, but I don’t know who has it.”
“Well, could you find out?”
She left and came back with a phone number. “This is the Parking Ticket Bureau, they should be able to help you.”
So I called the Parking Ticket Bureau, where I explained the problem to a person who then transferred me on to a woman who was clearly a New Yorker because she had an accent I couldn’t quite identify (maybe South Asian?) and immediately got emotionally involved.
“You absolutely should not pay that ticket. The same thing happened to me once and I was very, very upset. It’s not right.”
“So what should I do?”
“Call 311 for help, and they will tell you how to fight the ticket. Then call this number I’m going to give you, this is the Brooklyn Tow Pound. They should have the record of your car.”
At lunch the next day, I called 311 and told my long story to an operator who was clearly a New Yorker because she showed how efficient the city can be when it really tries by actually listening to my story and then saying, “Let me transfer you to a parking claims specialist. She should be able to at least get you the information about your adjournment and what you should do there.” And sure enough, the Parking Claims Specialist (which seems like a position a city shouldn’t have a need for, but this one does because of course it does), who was clearly a New Yorker because she was able to give directions in overwhelming detail, laid out the deal for me.
“You can pursue the adjournment by getting in touch with who towed your car and getting them to give you verification, then writing to the Department of Finance and explaining that you’ve received an adjournment to get them additional evidence. The Guilty verdict you can also appeal, but it’s less likely to happen. Plus, you shouldn’t have paid the fine (so much for the advice of angry New Yorkers), and because it’s been adjudicated, you need to contact a different office. I’m going to give you two different addresses, write this down…”
After she was done with me, I had all the info about exactly what to do, and I was completely exhausted. I used my drive home from work to call the Brooklyn Tow Pound where I spoke to another woman who was clearly a New Yorker because she cut me off before I even got halfway through my story to ask, “What’s your license plate number?” Then she checked the online database and said, “We don’t have a record of your car.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Well, it means the city didn’t move it. It must have been some private company, probably hired by who was doing the work. I’d say call Con Ed, maybe they have a record of it.”
Did I really want to start all over again with an entirely new bureaucracy? No. But at this point, what was one more phone call? So I called Con Ed, and spoke to a nice man who was definitely a New Yorker because he had an accent like my uncle from Queens and seemed like he couldn’t decide whether to be bemused or aghast at the whole situation.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this. They moved your car from a legal spot to an illegal spot? This is…I wish I didn’t understand this. Can I have your Con Ed account number?”
“But this doesn’t have anything to do with my home electricity —“
“I know but I need somewhere to put the information in the system.”
Right, because when you’re dealing with a private company, being a customer is the thing that gets them to care. So we went through all that, then he went off to talk with a supervisor and came back.
“We wouldn’t be able to give you any information of that kind unless you subpoena it in court. But you can file a claim on our website…”
And that’s when I decided to give up.