Stored in my cellphone are photographs that are important to me: snapshots of friends, of family, of a stern “KEEP DOGS OFF LAWN” sign beside which my dog is pooping. Among all these treasured images are a few of my car, taken after I parked in spots so tight that my bumpers are smooching bumpers front and behind.

Like many residents of inner cities, where curb space is precious, I have developed bodacious parallel parking skills, skills I will obnoxiously flaunt in public, like a hacky sacker. I’ve twice been applauded by passersby; one was a police officer.

So I was shocked the other day when I got an e-mail from reader Mary Grider, who told me she had been issued a $25 ticket in Washington for parking too close to another car. I was skeptical until Mary e-mailed me the ticket. Yep, too close.

A quick check of a city government database confirmed: D.C. Municipal Regulation 18-2405.2(i) actually makes it an infraction to park within three feet of the bumper of another car. According to my calculations, I have broken this law exactly 3,613 times, which is the precise number of days I have lived in D.C. Those car snapshots in my cellphone turn out to be crime-scene photos.

My neighbors are outlaws, too. I just walked around my block with a tape measure. Twenty-six of the 37 parked cars were in violation of 18-2405.2(i).

(Eric Shansby)

Now, it may be a bit rude to immobilize another car by parking too close — but any way you slice it, this law is imbecilic. For one thing, the infraction would be impossible to prove, since there’s no way of knowing which of two parked cars boxed the other one in. Also, requiring six feet of air cushion is a ridiculous overreaction to a problem, like trying to reduce nose picking by making everyone wear boxing gloves.

But none of those truths help Mary Grider, who, like you, is an ordinary person at the mercy of an implacable bureaucracy. Fortunately, Mary came to the right place. Journalists have a superpower: the ability to get bureaucrats on the phone and make them snivel.

So on Mary’s behalf, I called Alice Kelly, who is manager of the policy branch of the District Department of Transportation, the agency that wrote 18-2405.2(i) and issued the ticket. My plan was to sweet-talk Alice into defending her stupid rule, and then eviscerate her with righteous logic.

“Oh, yes, that’s a stupid rule,” she said, laughing.


Alice explained that five or six years ago she was on a special task force that identified 18-2405.2(i) as a stupid rule and eliminated it, which is why it’s not on the books anymore and no one has given tickets for it in a long time.

I was back in the superpower business! Gleefully, I told Alice about Mary, whose ticket was issued May 20. So Alice went to the books and discovered that even though finding the problem had happened five or six years ago, fixing the problem had fallen through the cracks. The law finally was dropped this past March, though it’s still up on some government Web sites, and, clearly, some parking enforcement cops haven’t gotten the word.

I asked Alice if, on behalf of the city, she would officially apologize to Mary and any other innocents nailed by this dumb law. After a brief consultation with her inner bureaucrat (“I wonder what our lawyers would advise?”), Alice womaned up and said yes.

The hardest part of writing a column is figuring out how to end it. I was facing that problem just minutes ago when my daughter walked in with alarming news. On the street outside my house, my car had been booted. The municipal ransom note said I was a scofflaw with unpaid parking tickets and that if I wanted the use of my car again, I would be paying a great deal of money. This was clearly a mistake: The ticket showed the parking officer had transposed two digits on my license tag. Still, I was due for a few hours of nightmarish red tape.

Daughter did not understand why dad was grinning.