Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fame and fortune, as is my due

It should come as no surprise to anyone here that I’m a news junkie. Always have been, always will be. This is why I know everything that there is to know, of course, and why I am known for bringing you the facts and nothing but the facts on a regular basis.

So believe me when I tell you that just as I am known far and wide as the triathlon goddess, Carol Marin is THE news goddess in and around Chicagoland. This woman, well, she is probably the most well-respected journalist around here, and like myself, she does things based on principle, like when she quit her job of being on the channel 5 news because they had signed on Jerry Springer to do guest spots. Umm, yeah. That clearly didn’t work out too well, so she’s back on channel 5. I worship this woman.

Anyway. The other day, Carol wrote an article in the Chicago Sun-Times about a potential parking meter rebellion brewing in Chicago. You see, our Mayor, in all his wisdom, decided that the parking meters were yet another yoke around the neck of the city that could be put to better use by selling them off for a piddly sum, but a piddly sum of cash-in-hand. In HIS hand, that is. As usual, the lives of the citizens of this city have been drastically inconvenienced, yet we see zero benefit in that our taxes, fees, etc., are still going up. Plus Chicago still has one of the highest property tax rates in the country.

But I digress. So she wrote about this injustice foisted on ordinary Chicagoans, whereby meter rates have doubled, in some cases quadrupled, and you now need to tote around a bucket of quarters to park anywhere. And it’s now 24 hrs/day in many cases, as well as on Sundays. So basically, no rest for the weary. And me, I’ve had much experience with the city’s parking meters, particularly downtown. You’ll recall my excitement (yes, I admit, it doesn’t take much) when I managed the coup of finding metered parking for the ENTIRE 6 weeks that I had to go downtown for radiation treatment. And even before that, when I was going to Northwestern to see one doctor after another, for either the cancer, the broken collarbone, or the brain injury, I’d find street parking. Sure, the validated parking at Northwestern for $10 is nice, but when you’re going down there that often, it adds up.

So the parking meters were turned over on January 1st – and I will note that our esteemed aldermen discussed the topic of selling the meters for all of about 30 minutes before deciding it was an excellent idea – and I’ve been downtown since then, but the meters were either broken or still at the old rates. Then came that Friday...but wait, let’s let Carol tell the story, because immediately after I read her first article, I trotted over to my computer to shoot her an email with my own tale of woe, and behold, her follow-up article:

'Boycott' may not be too strong a word after all. I'm talking about Chicago parking meters and the fury out there right now about what the mayor and the City Council have done by selling off our meters to a private company for $1.2 billion. And the rage over what that company, formed by Morgan Stanley, and its subcontractor, LAZ Parking, have done by meteorically raising rates, blanketing cars with tickets and eliminating free Sunday parking. Adding insult to injury, these private contractors have done a rotten job of posting new rates and times on meters.

As a result, drivers stick their quarter in only to discover it now buys a measly seven minutes and can require 28 quarters to park for two hours.

Your raging e-mails came roaring in after my Sunday column, in which I noted what you apparently noticed, too. That suddenly there are scads of empty metered parking s-p-a-c-e-s downtown where cars just a month ago were bumper to bumper. Could this, I asked, signal a citizen boycott, or was boycott too strong a word?

"Personally, I'm in full boycott mode," replied a computer consultant who does business in the city. "I'll stand on my head to . . . spare myself an onsite visit if street parking is involved."

He added this: "Because of the outrageous 10.25 percent Cook County sales tax, I go out of my way to make my purchases outside the county . . . To hell with Chicago."

A teacher who lives in the South Loop along Printer's Row wrote, "Now I have to wake up at 7:30 on Sunday so that I can move my car. Many of the businesses in my area are not even open on Sundays. My street is like a ghost town. It's lost its vibrancy. . . . I have some friends that live in areas where meters are 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I don't know how they're coping."

But the most compelling letter came from a young woman named Tasha Huebner, who is being treated for breast cancer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital just off the Inner Drive. In the fall, before the meters went private, Huebner might have to circle awhile but could usually find a meter, put an extra quarter or two in it to avoid being ticketed, and go in for her radiation. "Fast forward to last Friday," she e-mailed, "when I had 2 follow-up appointments with doctors . . . I'd been stockpiling quarters . . . since I knew I'd need quite a few. I find a spot, no problem (there are actually a lot of spots open, hmmm). Put in a quarter . . . and see that it only got me 7 minutes. 7. I start thinking -- I'm there early, and I'll be there for a while . . . they might run late so I need to build some cushion time in. So I calculate all that, realize that I don't have 8 pounds of quarters with me, and also realize that I could either pay $7-8 for street parking (and I'd have to dash back in between appointments to put more money in), OR I could just park at Northwestern's garage and get up to 7 hours of validated parking for $10. I drove off to park in the garage. Thinking, 'Screw you, Daley.' "

Mayor Daley was quoted in the Tribune a couple of days ago as saying, "Let's not blame this new company. There will be complaints, but like anything else, they will get to those complaints."

They don't seem to be in much of a hurry, mayor.

Oh, and you know those un-elected private contractors you've allowed to operate our parking meters for the next 75 years? They do an abysmal job of answering questions and, in the case of subcontractor LAZ Parking, an arrogant job of not calling back.

In 1979, lousy snow removal sparked a voter rebellion and booted a mayor.

Could parking meters be the new snow?

I will add that I also had uncharitable thoughts as to what Mayor Daley could DO with those meters, and apparently I’m not the only one having these thoughts – in fact, there seems to be a movement afoot, or rather several movements: the Glue Movement, the Penny Brigade, the Beat-the-Crap-Out-of-the-Meter Effort, and so on. See for more fun details. Proletariats of the world, unite!

And I especially love the “snow” comment – because you see, as noted, we’ve already had one mayor run out of office on a rail for his ineffectual efforts to clear snow after a blizzard. So since then – at least until this year – snow removal has been the “third rail” of Chicago politics, i.e. mess with it at your own peril. I hope the meters do the trick this time.

Of course, Chicago being what it is, I should make a note here: if you suddenly don’t hear from me for a while, there’s a good chance the city has “accidentally” shut off my gas, my electricity, my water, etc. In the meantime, I have an appointment with my oncologist this Friday, downtown, so gee, maybe I’ll make a trip to the bank to get some rolls of quarters, so I can park on the street. Yeah. Right. Maybe not.


tribabe said...

Give em hell!

Bridget said...

My mom had free valet service at her military hospital when she was doing radiation. They figured that radiation patients were there so often for such a short time that it made sense.