"Uh-oh", I muttered to myself as the three CPD squad cars approached.
As the cars screeched to a halt just in front of me, their blue lights flashing, I was rethinking my bravado of just minutes before and started trying to remember the phone number for any one of my lawyer friends.
Ten minutes ago, I told her to do it.
Ten minutes ago, I said, "go ahead and call the police."
Was I ready to go to jail for this "cause?"
I knew in my gut I was right. There was no ordinance in the Chicago municipal code that made it illegal to feed someone else's parking meter. It was just a big fat urban myth. Right?
And that's what I had been doing. Feeding the parking meters of complete strangers.
I saw the Parking Enforcement Aide (PEA) on the street where I had parked. As she made her way down the block, I quickly jammed my hand into my pants pocket, fumbling for quarters among the pennies, nickels, dimes and the other crap that collects in my pockets like so much flotsam and jetsam.
Walking briskly down the street, I plunked two bits into one expired meter and then another, adding a crucial 15 minutes of life to each one and robbing the PEA of two more tickets on this North Side street.
"You can't do that!," she barked at me. "It's illegal to feed someone else's meter."
"I don't believe that's true," I calmly replied.
"Yes it is!!! And I could call the police on you," she threatened with a yell, her face reddening.
"Go ahead," I said, looking back at her in a feeble, pitiful and laughable Eastwood-esque posturing. "Go ahead and call the police. I'll wait right here."
She called my bluff and called the police on her radio. I exhaled nervously, mentally committing to staying put and not embracing all my instincts screaming at me to "run, run, RUN!"
It was actually more like a battle between my fear of being arrested and having to explain to my overly patient wife why I was in jail and my pride and knowledge of the municipal code. My pride, calmed by my miniscule legal knowledge won the day.
While I waited, I asked her for her name and badge number.
"You'll get it when the police get here," she growled back.
Ten minutes later, the three squad cars pulled up.
"What's going on here?" asked the first officer out of his car.
"Well officer, I'm putting quarters in these parking meters and it's making her mad," I said in even tones, pointing to the PEA.
"He's following me down the street and feeding other people's meters and harassing me," the PEA shrieked at the three officers who showed up.
After five to ten minutes of questions, being patted down, emptying my pockets, explanations, and being scolded, the three police officers told me to essentially ... take a walk.
The cops actually seemed more pissed off at the PEA, who from what I could tell, had radioed in a call of a city employee in distress or being attacked or something like that. Obviously, the police officers had better things to do than referee a sidewalk legal debate between a pissed off PEA and some self-styled doofus Robin Hood trying to keep a few cars from being ticketed.
A reader named Vincent had relayed a similar experience just a few days before, explaining, "I didn't want a car whose meter had run out to get stuck with a $50 surprise, so I just stuck a quarter in the meter. She asked me if this was my car and when I said 'No", the meter maid (PEA) said it was illegal to do that. Is this true?"
I promised to look into it, but now that I just had a similar experience, I was really curious. I just had to know.
Was I actually correct? Is it legal to feed someone else's parking meter? I was on a mission.
My first call was to Jennifer Hoyle at the city's Law Department.
"It is not illegal to feed someone else's parking meter," explained Hoyle after a day of researching for me. "There is no city ordinance prohibiting that. Although there is a time limit (two hours) of how long a vehicle may stay at a meter."
But why are PEA's I've come across so adamantly convinced it is illegal to feed someone else's meter?
So I made a call over to the Dept. of Revenue Street Operations at Ashland & Diversey to get some answers from a manager and, of course, report on the PEA who tried to send me to the big house.
I was expecting to talk to someone cold, brusque and dismissive. Instead, the DOR supervisor was actually quite charming, pleasant and apologetic after I related my story.
"You're absolutely right," she said. "It's your prerogative to feed the meter. It's not against the law. It just makes our (PEA's) jobs more difficult.
I eventually got the PEA's name and badge number, not from the PEA, but from a person who received one of her tickets, and passed it on to this supervisor.
Originally, I had planned to go public with the PEA's name and info. But after talking to her kind and affable supervisor, who assured me she would talk to the PEA and explain to the other PEA's that it was absolutely legal for people to feed someone else's meter, I thought better of it.
The Expired Meter is in the planning stages of a parking meter Good Samaritan program, that helps feed expired meters when PEA's are lurking.
If you have a good name for us, send it to: email@example.com
Check out The Expired Meter for even more information and advice about parking, fighting parking tickets and red light tickets in Chicago.