While retrieving my car from the D.C. auto impounding lot in Northeast Washington the other day, I stopped to ask Dee Dee, whose government truck had just been loaded with a batch of auto-impounding boots, why, of all the District employees, was the parking enforcement squad so darned efficient.
"We're just doing our job," she smiled. Some job, I noted, that necessitates a warning printed on each parking ticket: Assaults on D.C. employees will be prosecuted.
"I wanted to be a policewoman," Dee Dee said, "but I was afraid of guns." So they gave her a computer printout with my license plate number on it and a truckload of Denver boots.
I would have stood a better chance if she had been armed with an Uzi.
"It's not so bad when you know the system," she said.
I thought I knew it. Twice this year, my car has been booted -- the last time within days of receiving a third parking ticket, which had been stuck under my windshield wiper by someone named O. Neal.
I had parked near a sign that said, "No Parking in Entrance." The sign had made a lot of sense when the building behind it had an entrance, but now the entrance was boarded up and the building was abandoned.
I asked Dee Dee if people like her and O. Neal were given bonuses for extra parking tickets written and boots attached.
"We make about $11 an hour," she said. "You can earn more by volunteering to work overtime on Saturdays."
Several other parking enforcement employees, who asked not to be identified, said there was a general understanding that those with the lowest productivity would be subject to furloughs and firings if the District's estimated $100 million budget deficit worsened.
"Each boot represents bread in our babies' mouths," one said.
This explanation made more sense. What else, other than personal desperation, would account for the frenzied, militaristic activity of the District's parking enforcement squads?
It takes roughly 15 seconds to write a parking ticket and a minute to fasten a boot. Of course, when it comes to appealing bad decisions or even paying the fine, all of that efficiency disappears.
The system inside the traffic ajudication office at 65 K St. NE, or any other government agency having to do with automobiles, for that matter, looks like a scene out of Eastern Europe.
The elderly, along with other mostly low- and moderate-income folk are forced to wait for interminable lengths of time. Although the government has added people to crack down on the streets, it has actually cut back on the number of employes who serve us.
Residents who need their cars for school and work, or to take neighbors to hospitals and stores, receive little understanding and almost no sympathy. To be sure, there are those of us who park illegally -- and we pay. But it is a chilling testament to the sad state of this city's government when taxpayer money is used to finance such a cold and calculatedly callous system.
It may take a full day to get a hearing on one of O. Neal's questionable tickets. For the typical working person, this can cost a full day's pay just to save $20.
It seems to me that if O. Neal was truly a dedicated public servant, he would have alerted his or her bosses at the D.C. Department of Public Works that a sign prohibiting parking in the entrance of a building that has no entrance made no sense.
The District could then erect a parking meter -- but even then, O. Neal would probably lurk around till the time on the meter expired..
I feel sorry for people like O. Neal who are caught in the economic trap of milking their neighors. They seem to have been reduced to mere extensions of the government's central computer.
Nevertheless, to her credit, Dee Dee has truly learned the system. She drives a government truck. And leaves her own car at home.