by Ben Cater

Why does parking dominate so much of our attention in this town? Steve Eugster filed a suit with the city over a parking ticket last year, and the River Park Square parking garage was central to the debates in our recent mayoral race. Is parking our cars an issue that we really consider vital to our city's health? As sad as it is, it may be true.

I don't think the average citizen in Spokane could really relate to the debate over the RPS garage. If the candidates wanted to strike a chord with the people of Spokane, they should have debated downtown street parking. Had Tom Grant promised on-street parking reform, he may have garnered unprecedented bipartisan support. The issue, as I see it, actually has less to do with our current system of metered parking and more to do with the suffocating and oppressive presence of the Spokane meter maid.

Some consider "meter maid" an outdated expression with certain sexist implications. Perhaps it's not a politically correct term. Rest assured that if it was my intention to treat the parking enforcers with respect and dignity, I would refrain from using the term "meter maid." Since, however, I have rarely received such treatment from them, I quite joyously use the term at every opportunity.

I've heard all the arguments that "they're just doing their jobs," etc. Well, it's a dumb job carried out in a way that needlessly aggravates just about everybody I've ever talked to about it. Their near-coplike status has created a bunch of power-tripping monsters.

Herein lies the problem: As a city, we do not adequately distinguish between the meter maid and the average policemen. While it may be harmless to confuse a doctor with a dentist or a city councilperson with the President of the United States, only bad things can come from confusing cops with meter maids.

Still, we allow meter maids to drive around in vehicles that appear to be the offspring of police cars and ice cream trucks. Do we really want our children confusing meter maids with the ice cream man? "No, Johnny, that's not the ice cream truck. And that man driving the vehicle is not your friend."

I doubt the meter maids really like these sissy vehicles anyway. Here we have a group of glorified hall monitors being forced to drive three-wheeled vehicles that couldn't withstand a collision with a golf cart. Yet these folks want to be taken for real. In a just world, all meter maid three-wheelers would be painted entirely in black and equipped with loud speakers continuously playing Black Sabbath's "Iron Man": "Nobody wants him, he just stares at the world, / Planning his vengeance that he will soon unfold."

Of course, these are not the kinds of reforms a mayoral candidate could have proposed during a live debate, or even muttered jokingly at a campaign rally fuelled by copious amounts of free beer. I doubt whether the citizens of Spokane are poised for such brash challenges to our city's long established Wonder Bread political culture.

So what do we do about our problem? When addressing on-street parking in Spokane, most people attempt to cite numbers and statistics. They discuss how much revenue the meter maids generate and whether or not we can afford to lose any of it. However, should the people of this city allow such a grotesque and mean-spirited agency to hold sway in our downtown? The real problem is not one of financial concern, but rather the negative atmosphere that parking enforcement perpetuates on the streets where we work, live and play. Simple mention of the phrase "meter maid" among those who work downtown invariably triggers sincere feelings of anxiety, fear, and hatred.

It is doubtful whether the city will ever tamper with such a well-greased moneymaking machine as Spokane Parking Enforcement. Which leaves us with an enduring dilemma: How do we extinguish our burning contempt for the meter maids? No amount of yoga, group therapy, or binge drinking will erase the ill will many of us have toward Spokane's meter maids.

Simply put, we deserve a chance to get even. The drivers of Spokane are constantly on the receiving end. We need to be given a chance to feel vindicated for the crap we put up with. How about a public dunk tank? I know that the same folks that complain about a $7 ticket would gladly fork over $5 for three throws at a dunk tank featuring their "favorite" meter maid. This kind of harmless retribution would be healthy for everyone - and possibly lucrative. Under this scheme, the meter maids can just continue to be themselves: The meaner they are, the more money the city would make off the dunk tank. The money raised could even go into the parking meter fund so that they wouldn't have write so many tickets.

It's a foolproof plan. But it will take a fearless individual with a formal knowledge of the law and our city government to escort this legislation through the proper channels -- someone who once was so upset with a parking ticket that he filed a lawsuit with the city over it. Dare I suggest that former City Councilman Steve Eugster might just be the man to get this done? What do you say, Steve? Are you ready for one last crusade for a healthier, saner community? It may not be your crowning achievement, but you'll be remembered fondly every time one of Spokane's meter maids gets soaked.

Publication date: 03/11/04

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