Art School versus the Philadelphia Parking Authority




My friend Chris attended an exclusive art school in Philadelphia. Chris and I had been friends since grade school. Chris was always a talented artist, but the art school extenuated his drawing skills. Chris could look at something and accurately sketch it. He had a photographic memory and an uncanny ability to pull out the details in an image. I remember on a skiing weekend with Chris in Vermont watching Chris draw a picture based on photograph on the cover of a TV Guide. The drawing was better than the photo of some star. Chris was a born artist, but he was not a born ticket payer.

Three and a half years of living in Philadelphia netted Chris hundreds of parking tickets courtesy of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Chris said no municipal employees in Philadelphia were more dedicated than the parking authority. He suspected they were paid on a quota system based on the dedication he witnessed. They wrote tickets in the snow, rain, and cold. He said they were more dedicated than the Postal Service. Chris's strategy was to leave the stack of growing tickets on the windshield of his beloved Honda hoping it would prevent more paper from being applied by the parking authority personnel. This strategy was a misnomer as the mountain of tickets only egged on the zealous ticket writers.

Chris's plan was to graduate and leave Philadelphia in his rearview mirror without paying the tickets. That was his plan until his faithful 1978 silver Honda Civic known as "The Silver Bullet" was booted before being impounded and taken to the impound lot. Chris tried unsuccessfully to remove the boot that the city of brotherly love applied to his car. He was an artist not a mechanic. Sledge hammer, crowbar, and screwdriver did not work on the boot. The boot was impenetrable like Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Chris watched helplessly as the tow truck took the Silver Bullet away.

The Silver Bullet was his first car from high school. It was the car he used for dates, road trips, and adventure. Every winter during high school we used the car for towing an eight foot  plastic dingy that we would ride in for car tow sledding. The car possessed an important history in Chris's life. He would not allow the car to go down without  a fight. Chris began to formulate a rescue plan.

When Chris went to the city impounded lot to ask about recovering his vehicle, the guard laughed.

He said, "Son, it'll cost you twenty thousand dollars to get your car back."

Chris said, "But, I don't have that kind of money, I'm a college student."

The guard said, "Well, I guess you'll never see this car again."

Chris turned white and gasped for air. Chris tried to plead the starving college student angle, but the hardened bureaucrat just laughed harder saying, "You should have thought about paying your parking tickets bub." Chris left heavy hearted, defeated, and on foot.

Chris began to think how to get his car back beyond a mere rescue mission. Necessity is the mother of invention he thought. He went to the impound lot and conducted a surveillance of the operation. He monitored their schedule, who did what, and their paperwork. He sketched the impound lot layout, the workers, and the escape routes. Chris sketched each of the twelve workers giving each fictitious names based on their appearance, demeanor, or style of dress.  There was Officer Donut, Lurch, and Ivan the Terrible. These three interested Chris because they were the laziest and least thorough employees. Ivan being the best of the three for taking smokes breaks, chatting it up with people, and not looking paperwork over as thoroughly as the others. Ivan was an extrovert who likes to talk, brag, and cajole.

Chris returned to the impound lot and asked about getting his personal effects out of his car. While he talked to Lurch the tall 6 foot 6 inch guard he looked at other people getting their cars back and the corresponding paperwork they carried. He saw a guy getting his car back. He observed the man hand the blue form to Lurch with his driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. He began sketching the paperwork needed to get his car based on the form color, paper type, and special markings such as the agency seal.

Chris took notes on the various employees he previously sketched like a police line-up. He identified Ivan as his mark. Chris wanted to deal with Ivan, who was an unarmed guard not an armed police officer on light duty. Chris knew a bluff would require the weakest link in the chain and that link was Ivan. Chris determined the optimal time to get his car back was on Saturday at 430pm. Saturday was their busiest day of the week. The impound lot closed at 5pm, so it was the busiest at 430-5pm.

Chris prepared his release form with the seal of the city of brotherly love not unlike a Rembrandt painting being copied based on his memory, sketches, and notes. Chris scheduled the Silver Bullet's rescue for the last Saturday of the month. Chris walked slowly verifying the impound lot was following its usual routine. It was crucial Ivan the Terrible be on duty. Chris observed Ivan taking a smoke break talking to a co-worker outside the office entrance before going back in. Chris now walked purposely to get his car back with his counterfeit vehicle release paperwork. Chris got in Ivan's line.

Ivan looked at Chris's paperwork in his customary cursory manner. He told Chris where his car was and told him to show the gate guard the blue release form.  Chris left the crowed hectic office trying to not sweat or look nervous. Chris walked towards his car trying to not look furtively left and right like a suspicious man would. He got in the car and started it up. The Silver Bullet started on the first try. He put it in gear as he backed out and eased it forward toward the exit. He stopped at the gate and showed the paperwork to the guard. He was just about to leave when he heard someone shout, "Stop that car."

Chris knew he was busted. The gig was up someone must have recognized the counterfeit paperwork. He saw Ivan's big frame running towards him in the now parked car sitting with the engine idling at the exit gate. Chris thought about crashing the gate, but that would lead to a police chase and incarceration. Ivan ran up to his window and said, "Hey, you forgot your receipt." Chris sucked in a big gust of wind as his heart started beating again. Chris thanked Ivan, God, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority as he exited the impound lot.

Chris paid for a protected parking garage for the next six months leading up to his college graduation. He left Philadelphia never to return again. He never paid for the parking tickets, boot, or impound. Chris got a job in Virginia shortly thereafter as a conceptual artist for a surgical medical equipment company.