Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fighting City Hall

In New York, if you want something done, you invariably have to do it twice. I was reminded of that adage when I got a piece of returned mail this weekend with 27 cents postage due.

One of the great things about living in New York is not needing a car.
It's nice to have one to get away to places like the Berkshires, the Hamptons, or the Lower East Side. But I hadn't owned a car since getting divorced nine years ago -- even when I lived in LA three times, I rented from friends, which proved fortuitous when the jobs ended and I could just pack my bags.

Then my dad died and I inherited his two-door convertible, the last car I'd choose for New York. The soft roof seems destined for vandalism, and the car is cramped for more than two people (or two suitcases - right).

I decided for sentimental and practical reasons not to sell it just yet.

But paying to garage it -- $300 to $700 a month, what people in most cities pay to rent an apartment -- on top of the $2000 a year for insurance, seemed doubly insane.

So instead I returned to the alternate-side-of-the-street dance, which requires Manhattanites to move the car at least twice a week for street cleaning [left].  My neighborhood's not too bad in terms of finding a spot (and not being broken into), and my hours were flexible. And if you get one ticket a month, it's still cheaper than any garage.

Then I got a real job.

For the first month or so, I had to be in at 8 a.m., which meant positioning the car the night before instead of being able to move it in the morning.

Most of the time it worked well, but last month came the night from hell, when I spent an hour listening to a World Series game while cruising up and down blocks searching for a space that would remain legal. (Sometimes I think I'd be better off just sitting parked on one block waiting for someone to leave, but there's a whole art form to circling certain blocks that become ingrained if you do it long enough.)

Finally I found a spot on Riverside Drive, which looked close enough to the mandated 15 feet from a fire hydrant. Though the space was actually pretty far from my apartment, it was around the corner from where I was going to have to return in a few nights to pick up my daughter to drive her to my place.

So I locked up and walked the mile home.

When I returned with my daughter two nights later, we found under the windshield wiper the sickeningly familiar orange envelope [above that is the color twin and psychological equivalent of the Monopoly "Chance" cards [right] that augur the opposite of holiday cheer.

I examined my summons: it had been written up after midnight, and accused my car of being a lackadaisical 12 feet from the hydrant instead of 15. Splitting hairs, Mr. late shift cop, eh?

I had my camera with me but the night was pitch black; the below is the only useable photo I got.
I paid for a 5x7 print of the photo, wrote a succinct letter, and popped it in the mail in a manila envelope, with a first-class stamp and another for a second ounce.

The Hearing By Mail Unit is admittedly an improvement over how you used to have to contest tickets --  in person downtown at the Municipal Building [right]. The amount of time it took to wait for a judge was rarely worth the money saved.

Since the hearing by mail option was implemented, I've had a 50% or better record at getting unfair tickets dismissed, so there was no harm in trying.

A mere SEVENTEEN DAYS LATER, the post office delivered my own envelope [top] back from wherever such decisions are made with a "returned to sender" obscuring the address, saying I owed 27 cents more postage.

Imagine the manhours and labor it involved to pull it from the pile, bring it all the way back to me, and how that 27 cents might have been better spent.

So I wrote up ANOTHER letter to the Parking Violations Bureau, affixed it to the still-sealed envelope, and put that within ANOTHER manila envelope, and this time I peppered it with several 44 cent stamps.

I have no doubt that the PVB will now reject my claim as being outside the legal time limit. And then I'll have to protest their finding. And so it goes.

POST SCRIPT: In the interim, I got another notice informing me that because I had not responded in time, my fine had gone up $10 for nonpayment and would continue to do so every 30 days.  I still held out hope.

Then testerday, January 4th, I got a suspiciously thin envelope in the mail from the NYC Dept. of Finance. (The fact that the tickets are administered by the Dept. of Finance should tell you all you need to know about how important these tickets are to the city's revenue.)

I opened it expecting it to say I was guilty, guilty, guilty, please pay $135. Instead -- who'd a thunk it -- case dismissed! Fine reduced to zero! But it wasn't because of my photography, my letter writing skills, my legal prowess or my mastery of the US Postal System.

The judge stated that the summons had been "incorrectly drawn." Who knows what the cop did, folks, but my advice is, you might as well protest your ticket, because there's always a small chance that someone else screwed up even more than you did.

1 comment:

JanDev said...

Been there, done that! Used to live on RSD & 87th, in the bad old days when each time I parked my car I had to remove the radio and carry it with me!