One citizen's take on the Dick that makes Chicago tick.


Friday, June 26, 2009


This week, I have watched while city police and tow truck drivers circle the block like vultures, preying on the poor car owners who didn't notice the temporary "No Parking 9Am-4PM" signs posted all over the place. While I take great pains to check on my car everyday to avoid being snared by one of these traps, I can't help but feel angry when I see the city treating its citizens this way, especially when absolutely NO WORK is being done on the street to necessitate the ticketing and towing that is taking place. By my estimate, I'd say the city has amassed at least $5,000 in parking tickets and towing fees this week from just this one block alone...Just because people dared to park on a public street in King Daley's Kingdom.

Awhile back, while wasting time on the internets, I came across this rant on a music blog called The Decibel Tolls. The rant has nothing to do with music. Instead, it's about parking in the City of Chicago, and it pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject. The rant also mentions the blog The Expired Meter, run by Chicago's own saint, the Parking Ticket Geek. Definitely check out both of these blogs! And fight your parking tickets...Don't give Daley another dollar he doesn't deserve. Here is the aforementioned rant:

So last week, a booter was shot on Chicago’s south side, and is still in hospital. What’s a booter, you ask? Well, a booter is one who boots your car. Specifically, a booter is an employee of the City of Chicago’s Department of Revenue. After three accumulated parking tickets, a DoR representative will visit your car and attach a big yellow Denver Boot to your front drivers’ side tire. Then, they present to you a big orange sticky note on your windshield that reads like it was penned by Darth Vader: “Your vehicle has been immobilized by the City of Chicago.” The police don’t do this, interestingly, it’s exclusively the jurisdiction of the Department of Revenue, and as such, parking ticket issuing is strictly a business venture over law enforcement. We can thank Mayor Richard M. Daley for that, pictured below as both a caricature and a pretty vile man who laughs at us Plebeians.

The notion of parking in Chicago is a strange thing. Chicago is in a sort of nether region between New York/San Francisco and Los Angeles. Chicago is not as densely designed as New York or San Francisco (where most people don’t even bother owning a car), making the notion of parking in the city plausible, but infinitely more built up and less sprawled than Los Angeles (where you need a car), making parking very difficult. As such, there are many people like me who have a car in the city, but don’t use it. I drive my car twice a month, usually for the reasons of moving it for street cleaning or the like. But if I want to leave the city, I need it. This isn’t Europe.

Chicago maintains a myriad of tricky parking regulations, and they vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Just in my neighborhood alone, you must keep track of which streets are cleaned on which day(s) of the month, which streets have upcoming construction projects, and whether the Cubs have a home game or not, in addition to general parking no-no’s like yellow curbs and loading zones. It’s more modus operandi to have a ticket on your car than not. I usually spend about 30 minutes looking for parking. I check my car twice a week to make sure it’s still there. This is why I don’t drive.

Now, with the city strapped for cash, the DoR is becoming even more rigid in ticketing and towing cars. They’re cutting costs where they can, such as eliminating the amount of booters in a specific zone (and thus, eliminating “safety in numbers” for tougher neighborhoods), and coming up with extremely corrupt schemes to quickly and surreptitiously ticket cars. The Expired Meter has a great story about an “uprising” in Pilsen when they tried this and the people in the neighborhood took a stand. The police sided with the residents, and you had a clash amongst city employees. Explosive.

Most people will not fight tickets, out of hassle or lack of understanding that they indeed can fight, so this is a great way to generate extra income. One of the reasons the aforementioned Expired Meter exists is to give the public information on how to fight tickets and other violation notices. And they’ve found that there’s a disturbingly high percentage of completely bogus tickets issued, with the mindset that most people will just tuck their tail inward and pay the fee.

Which brings to me the point concerning the aforementioned assault. Certainly this story raises safety concerns, and like repo men, a booter is a dangerous position to hold. Dangerous enough to where the city issues bulletproof vests and equips DoR vans with security cameras.

Another important aspect of this story that has not, to my knowledge, been discussed is what this story says about public reaction toward overzealous municipal policies. This is the general policy in Chicago: when the city needs money, instead of cutting out pork barrel projects or adjusting budgets and salaries, they go after motorists, common people, first.

In doing this, the city illustrates a textbook example of class struggle. The wealthy can afford to shell out $200+ per month for personal parking, or own luxury condos that come equipped with a parking garage. As for the rest of us, we deffer our automobiles to the street curb.

Mayor Daley’s response to complaints about booting policy is, verbatim: “just pay your parking tickets.” Sure, a 6-year-old could understand that. But it’s not that easy. Each ticket usually costs between $30 and $100, and doubles within a month. If you can’t afford parking, that suggests that you live somewhat hand-to-mouth. Your car is boot eligible after three tickets (and because of the current economic crunch, an ordinance is being reviewed in council to lower that number to two). [WTD EDIT: This ordinance has passed.] Not everyone can drop this money immediately. These are, obviously, hard times for many people - people who work full time but still have trouble getting the bills paid. If you can’t pay your tickets, the city will boot and tow your car, so add a $60 boot fee and a $150 impoundment fee to whatever your parking violations fees add up to.

Now let’s go to the south side. South Chicago has a lot of poorer, economically devastated neighborhoods - just like the one where the booter was shot. You see many of these people in a pretty desperate situation, people who were not granted privileges in their life (contrast to neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, where most people are the dreaded “trust fund babies” and sit around in cafes all day). You have lots of people that just lost their retirement this month. You have people who can’t afford to live in their homes anymore, due to internal forces such as a personal employment issue, or external issues, such as gentrification. All that shit compounds on the collective psyche of a community. And to top it all off, here comes the Department of Revenue wanting a few hundred dollars from you for keeping something you own, your car, inside the city proper, because the municipal government cannot manage their funds. So what does that lead to? The person who represents these trumped-up parking policies, a DoR working man who has nothing to do with these policies and is just putting food on his table, is shot in the lower back.

This isn’t just an issue of “oh snap, south Chicago is crayyy-zeeee,” this is a reaction to governmental numbskullery. This is a reaction to a pristine example of injustice and a city government run amock. This is a reaction to the innate socioeconomic bias in the city’s parking regulations. “Just pay your tickets.” If people could, they would - if for no other reason to avoid the hassle. But many can’t, and when you reach a dead end, you make irrational choices. That’s the issue here. The city would do good to take notice of this, both the logistical and safety concerns of their city employees, as well as the message sent from the citizens they govern.

It’s just a cryin’ shame that this DoR employee had to pay the price for corruption. And it makes me want to jettison the fuck out of Chicago very soon.

photo via Chicago Reader

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