Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
My car was towed the other day and I want to preface this by acknowledging that it was absolutely my fault. And also, equally important, I am not interested in taking any responsibility for my actions whatsoever. I deserved it and also it was wrong and I am upset.
Right now, as I've mentioned before, I'm basically existing in two timelines as I commute between Philly and Baltimore for plays currently in rehearsal in both cities at the same time. (Both EXTREMELY good productions that you should see in person or stream. Details here!)
When I'm in Philly, I stay at the theater's artist housing, which is in a historical neighborhood full of cobblestone streets aptly named Old(e) City. As one might expect in a place that still has open bar tabs for Ben Franklin, the streets are small and the parking options for an automobile are scant. I have many suggestions for ways The Founders could have improved upon the birth of America but I think chief among them is that they could have put a little more effort into figuring out where one might stash a hybrid hatchback in roughly 175 years. Like, all those sections in the Federalist Papers and not one on metered charging stations?! How come Aaron Burr?
So, the other day I'm in Philly for rehearsal and I find parking on 3rd Street where you only have to pay between 8a and 6pm. It's 6:30pm so I set a reminder to use the parking app to start paying at 7:59 the next morning. Easy peasy. The wheels of society continue to turn, one digitally administered quarter at a time.
Did I check the signs around the parking? I think we already know the answers is "Not enough, apparently." I wake the next morning and go to the ParkMobile app to make my offering to the capricious gods of the gutters, but the app is telling me that parking is not allowed during this time. Well, how can that be seeing as how I'm parked?
I hustle out of the apartment and over to 3rd Street and you know what I find? Well, not my car. What's odd about the ParkMobile app is that it will tell you that you've broken one of the sacred commands of the Stationary Senate but it won't tell you what the actual rules are. I look around the barren street and then up a little ways from where the ghost of my car is and see another sign. In addition to having to pay from 8a to 6a, there is no parking whatsoever from 6a to 7:30a. It is 8:05a. I could legally park again, but I have no car with which to do so.
Philly's Parking Authority is an independent agency built on byzantine rules and rampant cronyism (that's not an insult, that's their company motto). But heretofore, I've had no experience with them beyond paying meters and squinting confusedly at signs because I've only had a car for 4 and a half years and all of that time I lived in Baltimore. My first roommate Lisa once had her car towed about 15 years ago, when we'd first moved to Philly. She was parked legally but it was on a snow route and apparently there was snow in the forecast. We left our apartment on the way to the bar and discovered her car was missing. It was happy hour and we didn't really know what to do about this issue, so we just kept on going to the bar. When we got back, a little drunk, we stood in the snow and called the PPA and asked "Um, so, what now?" The PPA said that they hadn't towed it to the lot, but just moved it off of the snow route so we should "just look around." We found it by the Walgreen's after about a half hour of tipsy searching. This is a true story.
So, when my car was towed, I walked around the block, hoping that maybe my car was just "around." I also called the number on the sign. The recording on the number told me to text "parking violations branch" to a different number. It did not repeat the different number I was supposed to text, so I had to call back three times. The text service then told me that it was placing me in the queue. For what? I am still waiting to find out. It told me I had a four minute wait. So, that was encouraging.
It also told me that I should download the queue app to put myself in line. Now you may think "Weren't you already in line? What about those four minutes?" Honey, I don't know. Those minutes belong to God now.
I eventually figured out that I needed to walk to a place about 15 minutes away to pay for my crimes (with money, I presume) and that that was where the app and the texts were placing me in a virtual line. I would then need to catch a Lyft to a parking lot down by the IKEA. So I started walking. In the meantime, I was also due on a Zoom call in 20 minutes and but had decided that I would be able to wrap this all up by then and take the Zoom from the back of the Lyft. LIKE A FOOL.
The long and short of it is that it took about two hours, again it is not my fault, and also I am fully responsible. My favorite part of it is when I arrived at the payment center, I told them I was in the queue on the app and the security guard had no idea what I was talking about. "They told me to use the app," I said. "I have four minutes!"
"We have never used an app," she replied. "Go sit in the chair with the number 8 on it."
Meanwhile, the text service is repeatedly texting me to tell me it's only a few minutes more. As I was stepping up to the window, the texts told me that they were giving my space to someone else in line. It did not seem to effect reality but I fear that someone in the ether, I and my ghost car are stuck in digital limbo, hopelessly appealing to the mercy of the gutter gods, and, above all, absolving ourselves of any true responsibility for anything that is happening.
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