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Shine on, shine on, and harvest the money -- two bits at a time

May 7, 2010 |  6:08 pm


Out of the last four or five times I’ve parked at a Los Angeles city parking meter, the meter’s been broken … let’s see … four or five times.

Every meter. Every single one. I’d put my money in in good faith, and the meter would gulp it down and then flash FAIL in that creepy ‘’Space Odyssey’’ 1970s digital font. 

I don’t begrudge the city the two bits or eight bits I’d pop into the meter; L.A. can use the dough. [Things are so bad that former mayor Richard Riordan has ticked off whole floors of City Hall by suggesting bankruptcy as an option – you can read my Q and A with him online and in the paper on Saturday.]

But the city isn’t helping its own case here; at least one out of  10 city parking meters is busted, which means that my experience proves that I definitely should not book Vegas as a vacation destination.

It’s an all-around nuisance when the meter fails. The city loses the dough, and all of us lose time and,  eventually, patience.

When it fails, you’re supposed to call the city on the phone number on the meter – if you can read it – and report the broken meter, where it is, and what its ID number is. This is so you don’t get a ticket, but that’s no guarantee. The last time this happened to me, I went through the Good Citizen Susie act, yet the snotty City Hall guy on the other end of the line told me that I can’t park at a broken meter – that I have to move my car to a working meter.

Oh, yeah? You come on out here and find one for me, pal, and I’ll do that thing.

My colleague Maeve Reston wrote about it a little while ago.

So the city’s phasing in solar-operated meters. High time. Beverly Hills and West Hollywood started converting their meters nearly three years ago. L.A. just made a big announcement about putting in 10,000 solar meters of its own now.

The city figures those 10,000 meters will make as much as a million and a half bucks a year.

I love the whole solar thing, but the equally big fanfare was about the new parking meters taking credit cards. As far as I can tell, the meters will still take coins, but I shudder to think of the day when they won’t.

Does the world really want to go all plastic? I’m talking to you, woman-in-front-of-me-who-just-paid-for-a-$1.50-coffee-with-a-debit card. You really don’t have the cash for that? Homeless people have more cash than that? [Of course, that’s all they have, unfortunately.]

Maybe I’m the only one who’s creeped out at the notion of using a credit card to pay for 25 or 50 cents’ worth of parking meter time. [Doesn’t it cost a lot more than 50 cents to process a 50-cent charge? And what’s the credit card interest charged on that four bits, anyway?]

Really, people -- do you want your credit card company to know where you’re parking, and when, and for how long?  Today it may just be stopping outside the pet store for kibble. But tomorrow, you may decide to tell the boss you’re sick and have to leave work early – and then you meet friends for beers. Boom, if anybody presses the issue, your 50-cent parking meter credit card charge out in front of the Happy Hour Tavern is on the record to bust you.

Can I hear an ‘’amen,’’ somebody?

If parking meters go all-plastic, I’m counting on somebody out there being riled enough to reenact the scene that launches the film ‘’Cool Hand Luke’’ -- where Paul Newman makes his anti-social sentiments clear by decapitating parking meters.

-- Patt Morrison




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