Reality Bites

Reality Bites: Parking Wars

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

If you own a car, and you live in a place that has curbs, you've probably gotten a parking ticket. If you've gotten too many tickets (an arbitrary number that seems to depend on whether or not your local baseball team needs a new stadium), your car might be "booted," in which a bulky disc is locked onto one wheel, preventing motion. Or your car could be towed, which can also be a response to repeated scofflawry, but is often a result of foolishly leaving your car where a bunch of poorly positioned signs told you you couldn't.

Out of this confusing morass of municipal regulation comes Parking Wars, one of [spins wheel] A&E's newish reality shows, which blows the lid off the intrigue and passion among our nation's parking enforcement constabulary.

The show ranges COPS-like across the country (though concentrating mostly in the Northeast, particularly Philadelphia), this time following the men and women of [parking] enforcement as they write tickets, boot cars, and manage the impound lot.

Watching the ticketing segments, I feel for meter officers like Marilyn, who works the friendly confines of South Philly. Having spent some time in the area, it isn't a job I would take for any amount of cheesesteak money. First of all, most people enjoy the sensation of doing something mildly illegal, like speeding or parking in front of a hydrant while they run in and get cigarettes. They therefore become annoyed when they're busted for it. Maybe it has to do with Marilyn being a normal sized female that people feel the need to treat her like shit. I'd just like to see some of these porcine bozos talk shit to a dude who weighed as much as they did.

Though I did sympathize with the irate guy with a one-month old, because having kids that young will drive anyone insane. Even funnier is when citizens get into it with each other, like the guy who cussed out the parking officer, then was confronted by another guy for using profanity in front of his daughter.

Next up are the booters. For example, we might accompany Rodney and Michele, who work parking enforcement for the City of Detroit. They describe themselves as "married from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday." Specifically, they boot the cars of repeat parking offenders. Encounters, as expected, tend toward the hostile end of the spectrum. My favorite was Auron, who came out of his house lamenting the treatment of his "beloved hoopty." Upon hearing the total amount owed, however ($650), he cleaned the old Lincoln out and bid it adieu. Seems he paid less than that for the entire car. This was a surprisingly common trend.

I do want to ask the one guy how he got the boot off. I'm afraid I'd have to resort to the Homer Simpson in NYC solution.

Finally, we go to the Impound Lot. Tracey clerks at the one in Philadelphia, and she hears no end of sad tales from, for example, the guy who got his brother's car towed...with his brother's ID in it. The brother goes to court to get the release, but he can't do it without picture ID, which is in the car, but the impound lot won't let him into the car without ID. My head hurts just typing this.

And then Lost ID Guy elects to clean out the trunk when he learns he owes upwards of $3,000 in tickets. Is this a Yankee thing? How the hell does that happen?

A high point, if you want to call it that, of one episode was Elleisa and Wendell, a married couple whose vehicle registration expired on their car, a wedding present. They're told they have to pay a ticket, they dispute it, lose, and end up back in the impound lot two hours later. Those are paid, and then they're informed the suspended registration means the car has to be towed away - at their expense - to a place to surrender their tags, before having to return to the lot to secure release. It's positively Kafka-esque.

But there's humor to be had, of course. One of the show's favorite is another street officer named Richie, whose gel-cemented hair earns him probably 150 cries of "Paulie D" a night. He's amiable enough, which is easy when you're 6'4" with an air of casual violence. Not so fortunate is the rookie (I forget her name, but I doubt she lasted past the first day) berated for giving a ticket for an expired inspection (he totally had the paperwork in his glove compartment, WHY DIDN'T SHE KNOW THAT?). The same guy gets another ticket later that day when his meter expires. Not a happy fellow, that one.

There's really nothing we won't watch at this point, is there? I have nothing against "parking enforcement" personnel (tow truck drivers, on the other hand), I just wonder where the cutoff is for which professions we'll follow around with a camera. If "booters" are that compelling, what about gas meter readers? How come nobody's made a show about landscapers (god knows there are enough of them)? Or dogwalkers? How long before TLC greenlights Arlington County Proctologist?

I just gave someone an idea, didn't I?

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar