Monday, November 11, 2013

Choose your battles

I’m supposed to be teaching our 16-year-old how to drive, but it looks like I’m the one who should be studying the DMV manual.
Can I blame it on Halloween? Because it was Oct. 31 when I had my run-in with the law. OK, it was a meter maid, but she wore a uniform and had a shiny badge. And instead of a gun, she had one of those handheld computer thingies aimed at my car.
I can explain. School tradition says eighth grade throws the annual Halloween carnival. So there I was last Thursday in the parking lot of the youngest Huffman’s school, wearing my witch hat and glittery witch cape. I was working at the nail polish booth painting Strawberry Shortcake’s fingernails when I heard our principal announce: “Parents, if you are parked illegally, move your car.”
I’m not parked illegally, I said to myself. I know not to park at a red curb, and a green curb and all the other colored curbs. I know not to block driveways or park in disabled spots. Because I am such a know-it-all, I just knew that it was OK that I happened to be parked next to a silver fire hydrant.
I was in that state of denial, the one where you think: “My car is fine parked next to that silver fire hydrant because the red ones are the only important fire hydrants.” That kind of denial.
A few minutes later I looked up and that’s when I saw her — Mrs. Meter Maid, or Ms. Parking Enforcement Officer, which I am now thinking is a more respectful sounding name. She was slowly walking up the sidewalk. Like a hunter stalking her prey, she looked up and down the street as if to say, “Who’s the next parking scofflaw/numbskull/dummy I’m going to run across today?”
And then I saw her look at my car.
“Tell me that car is not parked next to that silver fire hydrant,” read the imaginary thought bubble over her head.
Two things became very clear to me at that point. Parking next to a fire hydrant was not a good idea. And I was about to get a ticket for doing so.
From across the parking lot, I ran. I ran like my life depended on it.
“I’m coming,” I yelled, holding onto my witch hat, my cape billowing behind me.
Arriving at my car, I practically skidded to a stop at her side.
She looked at me sternly.
When is it OK to park next to a fire hydrant? she asked me.
When it’s silver? I said feebly.
As the words tumbled out of my mouth, I knew I’d given the wrong answer.
It’s never OK, she said, even more sternly.
I gulped.
You’re absolutely right, I said.
What if there was an emergency, she said? What if the fire department needed this hydrant?
She lectured me for another minute or two, throwing in numerical references to the California Vehicle Code during which I only nodded my witch hat in agreement to everything she said. I may have thrown in a few “yes ma’ams” as well. She had me dead to rights, and I knew it. I had no legs to stand on. I was at her mercy.
After more deep gulps on my part and more sternness on her part she left me standing there, ticket-free, in her wake.
Only I didn’t stand long. I jumped into my car and moved it far away from any fire hydrants.
An editor of mine always said never pick a battle with someone who buys ink by the barrel.
I say never pick a battle with a Parking Enforcement Officer.

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