The Parking Meter; Not So Lovely, Rita by Marjorie Dorfman
Question: Lovely Rita, meter maid, where would I be without you? . . . The Beatles
Answer: In a less expensive place. . . . The Dorfman Archives
Have you ever wondered who invented those metallic bandits that eat our hard-earned quarters and live off our city streets without contributing even so much as a significant scandal to modern society? Who? came up with the idea of parking meters and why? are questions that always burn through my mind while I am searching for quarters among the ruins of my handbag. Well, wonder no more. The answer lies below, but not with the buried treasure chests of some colorful pirate (even though more booty than any pirate ever stole rests in our country's municipal coffers). Gold doubloons and pieces-of-eight are, after all, relative. They can be found in today's twenty-five cent piece; the silvery symbol of ill-gotten gains for every city and township within the good old US of A, as Archie Bunker used to call America.
I suppose that we deserve it, however we feel about it, for the parking meter is, unfortunately, an American invention. Carl Cole Magee of Oklahoma is credited with originating the idea. As head of Oklahoma City's chamber of commerce, he hoped the meters would resolve the city's growing problem of parking congestion. Apparently people who worked in the downtown area were parking on the streets, staying all day and leaving few spaces for others who visited the central business district. The world's first parking meter was manufactured by Magee's own company, Magee-Hall Park O Meter, also known as POM, and was installed on July 16, 1935. America has been paying through the nose and other significant orifices ever since.
Magee's solution was to install meters, charge an hourly rate for parking and create turnover in those spaces that would otherwise have been filled by all day parkers. In addition, his brainchild would generate revenue for a growing city. From that early, not -so -innocent beginning, the use of parking meters by municipalities, colleges and universities has increased to the point that today, in the United States alone, there are an estimated five million parking meters in use every day. Based on this number, if every parking meter collected only 25 cents per day, the gross revenues for one single day would be $1,250,000! (Talk about making enough money to quit your day job!)
Like all good ideas that cost money, there were many on its receiving end who felt the parking meter's time should not have come. The early meters, which were produced at factories in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, were met with more resistance than you could ever imagine arising from a state with such a wonderful musical score. Citizen groups were enraged and vigilantes in neighboring states, particularly Alabama and Texas, attempted to destroy the meters en masse. Alas and Alack. The parking meter, like some love and all Poison Ivy, was here to stay in Oklahoma, all of America and most of Europe as well. Thanks, Mr. Magoo, or whatever your name was. May you rest in metered pieces with the same creep who invented pay toilets!
The early parking meters were totally mechanical, powered by a clock-like mainspring that required periodic winding. This was achieved either automatically or manually. With an automatic meter, the required coin is inserted and the clockworks move the time remaining indicator to the appropriate location and set off the timing mechanism. While this is convenient for the patron, it requires personnel, who might otherwise be home doing something productive, (like loading their guns or beating their dogs), to periodically walk the streets in search of meters that need winding. With a manual meter, the patron does the winding by turning a handle after inserting a coin. These meters reduce overhead costs as Big Brother, Judas and Benedict Arnold are not needed to provide winding services.
Although manual meters reduced some of the personnel costs, the money still had to be collected on a regular basis, and this too required manpower. So did installing the posts upon which to mount the meters. Occasionally these posts were hit by cars (disgruntled motorists perhaps?) and had to be straightened or replaced. And for every metered parking space, there was one post and one meter, that is, until someone came up with the idea of the dual head parking meter. This served to reduce labor costs in several ways. First, fewer posts and meters had to be installed. Second, the dual head served two spaces but had only one coin box from which to collect money. John Q. Public had been foiled again!
Well, John Q, what to do? Is now the time for all good men and women to come to their own aid? Is there any recourse for those of us who are sick and tired, tired and sick and sick of being sick and tired? Perhaps there is still time to fight back. Consider the following options, but only while wearing a mask.
1. Pretend you are facing a slot machine in a casino and the coin you are inserting is a chance to win mucho money. When you don't win anything, you won't feel that it cost you that much.
2. Never park your own car illegally in front of a meter, only someone else's. That way, the ticket you may receive will never be your responsibility.
3. Always pick a meter that has some time left on it, even if you have to ride around for hours and use up more gas than it's worth to find one. Principles are important here.
4. Never carry quarters with you. This way, the parking experience is sure to be a pain in the ass and you might even meet some nice people while panhandling. (Don't be a snob. One never knows, does one?)
5. Never insert quarters into a meter when the police are looking in your direction. This is a waste of money, as tickets are never issued when one is looking.
6. Always insert the maximum amount of quarters that the machine will take. If you finish before the allotted time, wait in the car so that no one can get the space that you paid for. (You might want to reconsider, especially given rule #3, but only do so if the stars are in your favor and you are not having a bad hair day.)
If you can't remember any of these rules and all else fails put the quarter into the damn machine and walk away. It won't solve anything at all, but it might make you feel a little better. Try walking to work or the shopping center. If they are more than a mile away, you might drop a few pounds in the process. Look on the bright side. You won't have to go to the gym because you have already exercised and you can park your rear-end free anywhere you want. Just keep them quarters coming, folks and remember that even though as the saying goes, you should never take any of those wooden nickels, those meters don't take them either!
Did you know . . .