Tales From The Car Side

Thanks to this post about failed parking meters I found on Atwater Village Newbie’s blog, this otherwise unrelated piece of parking meter nostalgia fell out of my mental archives so I just thought I’d take us back to the mid-1980s and share it.

Back then I worked for a company in Hollywood as a courier and one of my jobs was to go pick up the mail in the morning at its box in the post office on Wilcox south of Hollywood Boulevard.

It was a cool post office in part because there was always a chance you’d be in the line to get packages with a celeb of some sort. Once it was actor Dennis Franz who was familiar to me from his role on “Hill Street Blues.” Once it was the entirety of Guns ‘N Roses before they’d hit it big.

But the point isn’t that the place was a focal point for recognizables so much as it was for the area’s invisibles.

Most of the homeless would do the standard panhandling, but there was this one conniving and clever fellow who set up something of a cottage industry manning the parking meters out in front of the place. I got to know his con pretty well seeing as I saw him in action practically on a daily basis.

What he would do is keep his eye out for two things: people parking at expired meters and knowingly gambling they could beat a ticket from the nearly omnipresent enforcers; or people parking at meters who far whatever reason didn’t check whether the meters had time left on them or not.

If it was a mark of the first order and they were driving a nice vehicle, sometimes he’d conspicuously invest a nickel or a dime of his own and feed the machine — especially if a meter maid was on the prowl. If it was a sap of the second order and there was some time left on the meter’s clock, it didn’t matter if they rode in on a Rolls or a Rabbit, he’d just as flamboyantly pretend to feed it.

Then he’d stand around and wait for their return. When they did come out of the building  he’d  excuse himself to them and courteously point out that he just dropped a coin of his own and saved them a parking ticket (I think they were a quaint $13 back then) before respectfully asking if  they would return the favor with whatever they thought was fair, be it 25- or 50-cents or perhaps even a dollar or two.

Sure, most people declined to pay back his assistance, and when they did the dude’s demeanor would drop like a rock from from polite to prickly — especially in those rare instances when he unintentionally did spare someone a parking violation fine. But in terms of a return on his investment, the dude made a killing. His grift worked best if a parking enforcement officer or vehicle was anywhere nearby (and it seemed they always were), but even if the coast was clear, there were a good percentage of saps — me included, once early on — who’d fish out whatever spare change we had and gratefully hand it over.

The second time with me he wasn’t so successful, in part because by then I figured out his game, and on that particular morning  I saw that the meter I lucked into  had five minutes left on it. In and out of the post office in much less than that, I found him leaning on the meter by my Mazda hatchback smiling widely up at me and begging my pardon as I came down the steps.

Before he could get going into his shtick I held up a hand.

“Sorry,” I said.

Instantly he turned frosty.

“So that’s the thanks I get for helping you out?”

“If that’s how you want to play it.”

“But you owe me!” he yelled desperately as I made my way past him to the driver’s side of my car, telling him I didn’t owe him jack.

“There was five minutes on the meter when I got here and I wasn’t inside for more than two.”

The liar called me a liar so I pointed to the two minutes remaining on the meter’s clock and wondered how thinly he’d sliced the coin he’d allegedly deposited for it to only give him that amount of time.

“Dude, I come here Monday through Friday and know your routine. It even worked on me once, but I don’t get fooled twice.”

With that he cut his losses and quit the fight by walking away and making the mistake of suggesting I watch how close I park to the post office in the future lest something happens to my car.

“Because I didn’t give you a fucking quarter you don’t deserve? I asked incredulously.

“Just saying you best be careful,” he said over his shoulder.

I laughed and advised he’d better do the same.

He turned. “Why’s that?”

“Because I’ll be back here tomorrow and the next day and the next and all of them after that and I don’t care if I have to wait a half-hour for a space here in front,” I said. “Do what you think you have to but do it knowing there’ll be consequences.”

He pretended to be frightened, but never bothered me or my Mazda with anything more than hateful glances after that.

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Will Campbell arrived in town via the maternity ward at Good Sam Hospital way back in OneNineSixFour and has never stopped calling Los Angeles home. Presently he lives in Silver Lake with his wife Susan, their cat Rocky, dogs Terra and Hazel, and a red-eared slider turtle named Mater. Blogging since 2001, Will's web endeavors extend back to 1995 with laonstage.com, a comprehensive theater site that was well received but ever-short on capital (or a business model). The pinnacle of his online success (which speaks volumes) arrived in 1997, when much to his surprise, a hobby site he'd built called VisuaL.A. was named "best website" in Los Angeles magazine's annual "Best of L.A." issue. He enjoys experiencing (and writing about) pretty much anything creative, explorational and/or adventurous, loves his ebike, is a better tennis player than he is horr golfer, and a lover of all creatures great and small -- emphasis on "all."