I used to write from a Caribou Coffee located in a strip mall that was notorious for booting cars. Despite signs on the doors of every shop in site screaming "Do not park in the middle of the lot - YOU WILL BE BOOTED!", people would, almost purposefully, avoid the normal, designated spots and aim for the smack-dab-middle. The limo driver who ran in for a Subway foot-long; the mom-of-two who needed to fax something at Kinkos. I'd watch from my window "office" as a tow truck swung wildly from the liquor store across the street and, in an instant, either boot or tow the car. For a while my innate sense of good and hatred of The Man prompted me to get up and warn those who entered Caribou. I even saved a few of them from bootdom. But a girl's gotta work and I couldn't wear my Anti Towing Cape all the time. It was amazing, the swiftness and, at the same time, the painful slowness with which it all happened -- in the 10 seconds it took someone to lock their door and turn towards Ace Hardware, their automobile was gone or locked down, like dropping a bottle of nail polish remover on your hardwood floors and screaming, slow-mo, "Noooooo---". Splash.
My trusty Mercury never got towed, as I parked within the dotted lines. I lived a life of smug bootlessness.
Until last week.
I had driven to my cousin's to say hello and fed the meter two quarters. Plenty of time. He even walked me back to my car after 55 minutes to make sure I didn't get a ticket. But as we rounded the corner, our laughter fell silent as our eyes fixed upon that hideous monstrosity of Chicago parking enforcement known as ... the Denver Boot.
What was it doing on my car? I still had two minutes left! I shrieked like a little girl who just had her doll's head popped off my the neighborhood bully and ran over to find a giant, bumper sticker-like notice practically hot glue-gunned to my window. Too many unpaid parking tickets. I had to go to Horrible Government Office X, Y or Z -- in person, right now -- or risk towing and additional fees.
As I cried into my sportsbra, my cousin called the police, who informed him I had ... wait for it ... $1300 in unpaid parking tickets. Yes. Actually, they were my husband's tickets, but he had appealed them all -- sometimes he even got out of them -- so we thought we were safe. No, the operator informed us, we most certainly were not. And now we owed an additional $60 for boot removal.
Chicago law states that after three unpaid parking tickets, you are boot-eligible. Compounding matters, under a brand new revenue-generating plan introduced by Mayor Daley, motorists with only two delinquent parking or red-light tickets will soon face my fate. Da Boot. In my case, the shoes fit, and now I was wearing one. And it was the worst shoe ever -- ugly, painful, clunky, debilitating, hobbling and very out of fashion.
Paying those tickets was great fun. I waited in line with about 30 other Chicagoans who had been snagged that same day. Many of us texted or conducted business in lines; others tried to placate their kids with vending machine snacks or simply sulked. I was informed of a payment plan option but I knew a monthly reminder would simply bring back this horrid memory, so I paid in full. (Hey, at least I get United miles!) After settling my -- our -- gigantic tab, I was told the boot would be removed sometime before 10pm that night.
It was 1pm.
"For $1300, you can't send someone now?" I snapped/pleaded through the glass partition.
The woman did not look amused. She waved me away with a hand that said, "Girl, please. We don't owe you a damn thing." It was a wave reserved for scofflaws; drivers who think they can escape the law with eloquent, strongly-defended letters about broken meters, tree-obscured No Parking signs and too-long but very important doctor's appointments. It was a wave that, in one swoop, took my rent money, my dignity, my hope that karma would circle back 'round from when I saved those Caribou Coffee customers.
You think you can escape The Boot?
No one can.