I got yelled at by a cop.
In 1974, when Richard Nixon was president, “All in the Family” was the No. 1 show in America, “The Godfather Part II” was in theaters, and Joe Biden was in his second year as a U.S. senator, Washington D.C. enacted arcane parking laws. As a D.C. resident, one can’t park on just any street. One can only park in his zone.
Going to another zone for dinner? Sorry, Rockefeller, you can’t park on the street there. Live in Georgetown but visiting a friend on The Hill? Can’t park. Catholic University student going to a lecture downtown? No! Stop. Enough. You know the answer. You can’t park on the street.
D.C.’s parking laws need to be updated, but like everything in government, the process of changing the law is worse than the policy itself. We may have gone from 8-track players to Spotify, but our zone parking laws are a de facto D.C. institution, like having a Kennedy in Congress.
So why did the cop yell at me? I’m stuck in parking limbo. My address doesn’t qualify for zone parking — any zone parking. I can’t legally park anywhere. There’s a way around it, and it’s what those of us screwed by the D.C. DMV — which has its H up its A — have to do. We go to the local police station and get a temporary parking permit.
So I did, despite the mayor’s threats of jailing me for leaving the house.
Just Give Me My Parking Permit
I had to ring the station doorbell twice. Finally, the voice from the antiquated intercom screamed at me, “Come in!” and the door buzzed open.
I had only one foot in the door when the on-duty officer bellowed from behind the bulletproof glass, “Don’t touch ANYTHING!”
I wasn’t planning on it. Not just because of coronavirus — because D.C. police station.
“What do you want!” he shouted more than asked.
“Officer, I need a parking permit, officer,” I said, obsequiously incorporating the title more often than necessary.
“So, you are risking my health and my life for the almighty parking permit in the middle of a pandemic? IS THAT RIGHT?”
He was in his own “Full Metal Jacket” scene, but I was not. I was not having it, either. I didn’t want to be there any more than he wanted me there. I wanted to stay home. Not only did I have to put on pants, for *&%!’s sake, but I want to park on my own street.
I pay taxes and fees and inspections and registrations. D.C. is happy to charge me for all of them. Every gallon of gas has a tax for the roads, which are pockmarked with more craters than a pubescent boy’s face.
Traffic congestion is insane, with lanes constantly eliminated to make way for the sacred cows of bicycles. And street parking costs $2.30 an hour, an hour, unless the spot is a homeless camp, a bikeshare lot, or blocked by some nitwit who tossed an electric scooter like an urban matador throwing his cape.
Although I am normally a deferential person, with 16 years of Catholic education and “Yes, sister” and “No, father” as part of my lexicon, I was not in the mood for a cop roughly my age yelling at me. I’m mad, too.
“You know, officer, if they would stop ticketing me, I wouldn’t have to be here. The parking people are still out writing tickets, and it’s $30 a day if I don’t have this permit.”
“Look at this!” he shouted, holding up the placard for me to see. “It says it is enforceable by the D.C. Parking Authority. Then why do you have to come to the police station to get it?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” I shouted back. “But I am not going to get hundreds of dollars in fines!”
“The DMV is CLOSED!”
“So what am I supposed to do? Is someone going to pay my fines for me?”
Silence. Eye contact through the glass. Respect.
“I’m going to give you a permit for a month so you don’t have to come back here,” he grumbled.
“Thank you, officer. That’s good of you. And I’ll call out the mayor’s office. It’s not right that I have to risk being here—”
“You risk ME being here!”
“—that we risk you being here to get these permits to come here and have to get them, yes.” (It made sense at the time. He understood.) “I have a decent social media following. I’ll tweet the mayor as soon as I get to my car. It’s not right.”
“Well, I hope you do. It’s bullsh-t that you are all coming in here right now. It’s just bullsh-t.”
The doorbell buzzed. I could see more people, IDs in hand, coming into the station for the same reason. The cop was not going to be happy.
D.C. Government Is Always Dysfunctional
I made good on my word:
.@MayorBowser parking enforcement is still out forcing us to go to police stations for permits because DMV is closed.
I can’t stay home if you keep ticketing me.
— Daniel Turner (@DanielTurnerPTF) April 1, 2020
I’m realistic. Coronavirus aside — mandates to stay home, stay off the mall, and don’t go near the cherry blossoms, yada yada yada — the policy will not change. The city collects more than $300 million a year in parking violations revenue. That’s 2 percent of the annual budget.
Parking enforcement authorities (meter maids, as we called them back home) are worth their weight in gold. No crisis is going to keep the state from collecting revenue. Even Pontius Pilate knew that.
But the officer had a valid concern and legitimate fear, and I hope he reads this so he knows I take his concerns seriously. If states and cities are forcing people to “stay at home,” then the government has to take away those multiple, obnoxious fees and fines that force us to leave.
But dysfunctional D.C. government is an institution itself. Something we’re accustomed to. Like the congestion. Like cherry blossoms. Like a Kennedy in Congress.
Like my windshield with a parking ticket.