The device from hell

In a city neighborhood, it may take a while to find a place to park the car. Often, by the time I find a spot, I’m behind schedule. I always kept a stash of quarters to feed the parking meters so I didn’t end up having to run into a nearby store to ask for change. Most of you are familiar with the old style parking meter. Around here it costs twenty-five cents for twelve minutes.

parking meter

A few years ago, the city replaced the parking meters with machines that print out tickets.

There are about two machines for each city block.

machine one

After you park, you walk to the machine and put in enough money to cover the amount of time you think you’ll be parked there. The device spits out a ticket. Then you walk back to your car and peel off the back and stick the ticket on your car window. The instructions show you exactly where to stick this ticket and naturally, it’s not where you think it should go. If you place it in the wrong spot, you can get a parking ticket, which is probably the motive for the awkward placement instructions.

machine three

As you can see, these machines have many buttons on them and a slot where you can feed quarters or you can use a credit card. However, there aren’t really any good directions on how to use them. And if you do something wrong, well…read on.

The Crocker Museum parking lots use these machines. One afternoon, I went to there with a friend. There were four machines in the back lot. The left hand one had a sign on it indicating it was broken. The machine at the other end had a small group of people around it and they said that one did not seem to be working either. Which left the two in the middle. So we went to the second one from the left and my friend put some quarters into the slot. The machine registered the time and she pressed the PRINT TICKET button (the big green button) and nothing happened. We waited. Nothing. She pressed a few more buttons and her quarters fell to the tray at the bottom and she pulled them out. Then she did the whole thing again. No ticket. Meanwhile, the people at the other machine said that one on the near right worked, so when they were done, we moved over to try it. They wished us luck and left.

My friend tried to use coins again but this machine wouldn’t even take them. The coins would not even go into the coin slot. Having no alternative, she decided to use a credit card to pay. So she put the card in and then nothing happened. No time appeared in the digital window. No sounds. Nothing at all. Pushing the PRINT TICKET button did absolutely nothing either. Neither one of us had ever used a credit card in one of these devices, but we figured two intelligent people could easily figure out how to do this. There were no instructions, but there were two small buttons and one button said ADD TIME. I felt this logically meant if you pushed the button, it would add an increment of time for each button push, probably the same amount of time it gave for putting in one quarter. Logical, right? So I reached over and pushed the ADD TIME button. Once.

Immediately, the machine began to chirp, hum and grind out a ticket, which fell to the tray at the bottom. My friend pulled it out and softly shrieked. She said, “Well, we can spend the night.”

I said, “What?”

The ticket was good until the next morning at 6 a.m. and she’d been charged the maximum daily rate of ten dollars! And no way to get a refund.

Fuming with indignation, we began to walk back to the car to affix the ticket when we saw two city parking enforcement officers walking the lot, checking for violators so they could write tickets. I went over and told them what happened and she showed them the ticket. One of them laughed. The other one raised his eyebrows and shrugged like even that much effort was beyond the call of duty. He said he’d take a look at the machine, but  we could tell this would happen sometime next year, if it ever happened.

My friend, to say the least, wasn’t happy. I felt guilty because I was the one who pushed the ADD TIME button. I gave her some money to make up for it. When I got home later, I went to the city’s website to look for information about these parking machines. The one they show there doesn’t look anything like any of the machines I’ve ever seen here. This made me even more irritated. So I made this collage as a tribute. I used the parking sticker–both sides– and some other images…


Please visit my website at and check out my etchings and my novels.

~ by mickeyhoffman on February 2, 2013.

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