I, parking ticket

| Sunday, Oct. 7, 2007

I am a dead Pittsburgh parking ticket.

I was just one of 275,000 green or red tickets that will be issued this year by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

I was born -- spit out of a high-tech handheld device, actually -- on Sept. 13 on Forbes Avenue in Oakland, where so many of my fellow tickets begin their fleeting, often controversial lives.

One of the Parking Authority's 20 full-time and 15 part-time parking enforcement officers placed me neatly under the wiper of a Honda Civic parked at a legal but un-metered parking space near the University of Pittsburgh bookstore.

The car's owner, a wily, oft-cited veteran of the brutal, daily, never-ending struggle for legal on-street parking in Oakland, had not committed the most common parking crime in Pittsburgh -- the lowly meter violation.

He had unwittingly violated Chapter 541.01 (b)(1) of the city's Code of Ordinances. That, as any aspiring blank parking ticket knows, is the rule against standing or parking a vehicle "in front of a public or private driveway or within three (3) feet thereof."

The Honda's owner had parked within two (2) feet thereof the driveway in question. Counting the fine and costs, that was a $45.50 mistake.

The parking perp could have accepted his guilt like a sheep. And thanks to the now-customer-friendly Parking Authority and the private firm it's hired to handle everything from collecting ticket revenue to booting, towing and auctioning impounded cars, he could have conveniently paid for me by Internet, phone, mail or in person.

If he had, my life -- and my story -- would have ended there. My $45.50 (less overhead) would have gone to City Hall, which needs every dime of the $4 million it nets from the $7 million in revenue collected each year by the Parking Authority.

But the perp decided to contest me in Pittsburgh Parking Court. As I found out when we met face to face in the courtroom Oct. 2 at 7:35 p.m., he came prepared. He had taken photos of the crime scene on the day of his violation with his cell phone and again three weeks later with a Nikon.

I heard the perpetrator -- I knew his license number but not his name -- tell the magistrate there was no yellow paint at the curb-cut to warn him of his 12-inch transgression.

I saw the magistrate look at the perp's photos and the fuzzy black-and-white ones taken at the crime scene by the enforcement officer who wrote me. The magistrate said it looked more like 16 inches than 12. And paint or no paint on the curb, he said, it doesn't count: 3 feet is the law.

I figured the perp wouldn't get off. The magistrate was no pushover. That night he had already shown no mercy to the woman who had illegally parked while at a funeral. And the mother-daughter team who contested their ticket for being in a handicapped zone -- the most heinous parking crime -- never had a chance.

But I guess the perp got lucky. Maybe the magistrate was swayed by the evidence. Or maybe he just wanted to end his long day on a merciful note. But in a flurry of scribbling, the judge marked me down from $45.50 to $25.50.

I admit being discounted was a blow to my self-esteem. But the judge had weighed the facts. The perp -- whom I later overheard praising the Parking Court's pleasant personnel and customer-friendly waiting room -- was ruled guilty but seemed satisfied. And so I, ticket No. 2865086, can rest in peace knowing that -- in my case, at least -- parking justice was done.

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