A warning to the good citizens of our fair city


Are you a law-abiding citizen? Do you obey the laws, the ones you know about, because you care about the common good? Do you believe there’s a reason for our laws and you follow them because it makes your own life and the lives of others safer and more pleasant and so on? Do you care about “humanity”? That’s how I am. Then again, there are certain laws I don’t understand and which I obey just so I don’t get hassled.

We all know that for obvious reasons we’re not supposed to park by fire hydrants. I’m not sure how many feet away you have to be, but I do know how close to a driveway, a crosswalk or an alley you can park. I became informed one day when I found a ticket on my windshield. My car was parked just outside the Southside Pride office in what had been my favorite parking spot, under a maple tree, for nearly five years. The ticket said my car was parked within 5 feet of a driveway.

This consideration was new to me. I guess in terms of visibility and maneuverability for cars leaving driveways and alleys, it’s not so far-fetched.

I went out and measured the distance with a yardstick because I’m not one of those people who can gauge distance perfectly by eyeballing it. I can usually come pretty close, but it’s not like I have “perfect pitch.” I took a picture. It looked like the ticket was in error—there was definitely 5 feet from the front of my car to the driveway—so I took a big chunk of a morning (within 21 days, of course) to ride the light-rail downtown and contest the ticket.

I got fairly paranoid along the way. My car is silver, but has one black door. (Our former accountant had a white car with one teal blue door and we thought of our cars as fashion statements; we took a positive attitude since there was no way we could afford to get them painted.) I wondered if the paint job on my car suggested a certain level of poverty and therefore powerlessness that would make a tagging officer think the owner wouldn’t contest the ticket. I started thinking in terms of stereotypes and political forces and group dynamics. The word harassment came to mind.

The woman I spoke with at the courthouse was polite but firm. I also was polite because generally in those situations (and most situations) it’s a good idea to be polite. It’s a practical thing. Of course if you are Christian you think of every living soul as a precious child of God, so you are polite, and even loving, just naturally, to everyone. I don’t always go that far. But sometimes I am graced and blessed.

She explained that the 5-foot rule is an old one, not a new one. And that you don’t measure the 5 feet starting along the straight side of the driveway, or the alley, but rather starting where the curve in the curb starts, the “tail,” which is about 2 feet before the straight side of the driveway. So I said, “Where do I pay?” Since my defense was heretofore blissful ignorance and I had no priors, she excused me.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that I wanted people to know about this rule in case they were not aware of it. Right when I got the ticket I talked to one of the owners of the new restaurant downstairs and she said she had received exactly the same ticket at her house, next to her own driveway. So she hadn’t known about the rule either.

Whether the rule is necessary is another question. Whether there should be at least a foot of leeway is another question. Whether we should even be driving cars at all is another question. Whether all drivers should be required to re-read the book of rules you learn originally to get your driver’s license is another question. Whether there’s a war going on between the powerful and the powerless would be a whole other question.

There are a lot of questions here.

Just remember: Don’t park within 5 feet (as explained above) of a driveway, alley or crosswalk!!!