Monday, May 17, 2010

Fun With Pennies!

A few months ago, my husband and I were shopping along Main Street in a decent-sized small town about half an hour away from our home.  We were throwing money in the way of the barber shop, the jewelry store, and a notable diner-type restaurant, all located on the same block.  And we were lucky enough to get a centrally-located parking space.  So we parked the Jeep at a meter, saw there was some money left on it, and threw in an extra dime.  Our things we needed to do weren't going to take very long.

Well, as it turned out, Everyone and his brother in town was queued up at the barber's, I was having an indecisive moment in the jewelry store, and then the B-team was cooking in the diner, and it took fifteen minutes for our food to come to us, instead of the usual instant-to-five minutes.  It was okay, we'd be cutting it close with the meter, but we'd have time.

Except, we didn't.  We must have missed the meter running out by two or three minutes.  And sure enough, the zealous MeterMan (no MeterMaid for this town!  It's a man's job!) had already written and slapped a ticket under the wiper blade.  He was only three cars away, scribbling out another ticket for some other poor schmuck.  We thought, 'whatever,' and figured the town could use the $2 parking fine, and we could have put in another dime on our way into the diner, but we'd felt lucky and luck wasn't on our side, and all that.

And then I looked down at the front passenger side tire and saw it was flat as a diner griddlecake.  This was a bit of a surprise, but not really.  We'd just had the Jeep in to the garage to have a tire plugged, and the tires rotated, so either the plug failed, or we were enjoying the gift of a second flat tire in a week.

Either the parking ticket or the flat tire wouldn't have caused much stir.  Both on the same day, at the same time- that was another story.  In my head, MeterMan was even more of a twenty-four karat-dipped horse's behind for writing a ticket when we already had a flat tire.  He had to have seen the flat- injury.  Then he wrote the ticket, just moments after the meter ran out- insult added to said injury.  And the little SOB was now four cars down, writing yet another parking ticket on a partly-cloudy autumn Friday afternoon.

The humanity!

This normally would have really irritated me.  I understand the guy's just doing his job, and parking meters are the one thing standing between society as we know it and complete and total anarchy, and if people just started ignoring the parking meters, eventually civilization as we know it would crumble and we'd all have to learn how to live in a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-like world where people park their dunebuggies in front of all the good (read: open) stores and restaurants and leave them there for weeks on end with no consideration to anyone else who wants to park there. 

On this day, I wasn't at all irritated.  In fact, I had an idea, as my husband and I switched our flat for the spare on the back of the Jeep.  A couple people stopped to talk to us, and we told them about the parking ticket AND the flat, and shared what a bastard MeterMan was, considering we'd spent a good bit of money up and down Main Street that day, but overall, the blood pressure stayed low and slow.  My plan was brilliant.

After getting the tire changed, I took the little envelope that was the ticket, conveniently sized for accepting payment for said two-dollar parking fine, and got into where I keep the change in the Jeep.  I didn't have any singles on me, after all.  We put down all the singles we had as a tip in the diner!  And in the first or second grade, when I learned to make change, I learned that you start with the biggest coin you can- in this case, a quarter, and then go down in denomination as required by the amount of change you're counting out.  I should have done the job in eight quarters, but you know, quarters are just so convenient to spend, both in parking meters (ahem) and vending machines when one is driving along and suddenly needs a Coke or a Snickers Bar.  Twenty dimes?  Sure, I had a change holder full of dimes.  I could have paid the fine in dimes and had dimes to spare.  Nickels are my least favorite coin.  I still hold nickels responsible for my failing a pre-test in math in fourth grade.  In my defense, the copy was crappy, and it was difficult to tell the different denominations apart, and I mistook the nickels for pennies.  Unfortunately for nickels, I hold a grudge for a long time.  Which left pennies.

Pennies are fun. My hair's the color of some pennies.  You have the face of Honest Abe on the heads side, and on the tails side, there's an image of the Lincoln Memorial, with Honest Abe sitting inside.  I kid you not.  Get a microscope and check it out sometime.  You can use pennies to shore up a wobbly chair leg.  You can even hot glue them to a lampshade or a wall for a fun and interesting decorative piece or objet d'art.  And, you can also pay a parking ticket fine with pennies.

This isn't a terribly original idea, I know.  People have been paying fines and their rent in pennies for ages.  It's a wonderfully passive-aggressive way to stick it to the man, and it's completely legal, because at least right now, pennies are still legal tender!  But I was going to take the passive-aggressive one notch closer to aggressive-aggressive, as I am wont and duty-bound to do.  I was going to waltz into the police station, hand my fine to the person who was in charge of receiving parking fines, and pleasantly ask for a receipt, so they'd have to count every penny.  I was laughing so hard I was snorting as I filled that envelope with a hundred and seventy pennies and six nickels (I only had a dollar seventy-three in pennies and had to fill in with the hated nickels, after all).  And I was going to stay unfailingly pleasant, even as that miserably public servant counted the change, no matter how sour he or she was in the process.  I was even going to wait until I got out to the Jeep to toss the receipt I'd get.

After counting the change three times to make sure it was correct, a hundred-seventy cents and six nickels, we drove to the police station, and I literally skipped my way inside.  This is how gleeful I was, anticipating how cleverly my plan was going to go off.  Then I saw it: a big, heavy metal box put in the lobby for the specific purpose of collecting parking ticket fines.  (Deposit Parking Ticket Fines Here is emblazoned on the box in unmissable yellow block letters.)  What, no person to count the change and give me a receipt?  What a gyp!

The envelope with my ticket and fine was meant to slip through a slot in the top of the box.  And it would have, if I would have paid with two singles, or eight quarters, or probably even twenty dimes.  A hundred-seventy pennies plus six nickels was too much for the slot, and as I struggled to flatten out the envelope, my heart started racing.  Having to call on a person to help me get my fat fine envelope through the tragically narrow deposit slot wouldn't have played out as slick as making someone count my change whose job it was anyway.  Needing assistance at this point would be simply obnoxious, and any right to smugness I had would be negated as soon as I uttered a weak "help."

So I shook and shook the envelope, got half of it in the slot, then worked the remaining change in the envelope either above or below the place where the slot was holding it fast.  Finally, after what felt like far longer than the Jeep had been parked on Main Street to earn a parking ticket, the copper-laden envelope hit the bottom of the deposit box with a loud metallic thud.  I didn't hear any envelope breakage, no telltale sound of pennies rolling around loose, like undisciplined children in a store.  And with the mission accomplished, sort of, I hightailed it out of the police station lobby and back to the Jeep.

"Drive!" I commanded my husband.

"What'd you do?" he said, waiting for the random parade of South Main traffic to pass so we could pull away from the curb.

"Nothing!  I just paid the fine, and now let's just drive and put this awful experience behind us!"

He looked at me as though I'd sprouted antennae, and deliberately pulled away from the curb, instead of peeling out like I thought he should have.  After all, I'd just paid a parking ticket with pennies.  We were practically anarchists!  That should have warranted leaving a little spare tire tread in front of the police station!

As we got farther and farther away from town, I told of the catastrophic failure of my plan, that it ended in a nearly anti-climactic thud at the bottom of a metal deposit box.  But all was not lost.  Even though I could hear the defeat in my own voice, one sound I could not hear was the jingling of pennies that had been growing louder and louder every time over months that  I went into a store and came out with pennies.  Into the center console they'd go with a coppery plash.  They'd slosh around whenever I'd take a corner too fast, and really, is there any other way to take a corner?  They cluttered up the center console, rendering it difficult to put other interesting things in there, like a pair of emergency mitts for Sabres games, or various chargers for electronic devices, or heck, even a pen.  Everything smelled like pennies. 

And now, all but three were gone, sitting in the bottom of the police deposit box.  The remaining three were nicely corralled in my Tupperware change holder.  Surely I would save a ton of gas money every time I drove the Jeep, just by having all that extra penny weight gone.  And that made me feel less of an anarchist and more of a winner!

Now, though, when we go to town with the intention of spending any time on Main Street, we find a free space, where MeterMan has no dominion.  We'll walk a quarter of a mile if we have to.  And just the other day, I caught MeterMan snooping around at cars in Walgreen's parking lot.  There aren't meters there!  What on earth did he have any business doing there?  Clearly, more people should pay their parking tickets in pennies to keep him busy counting and off the streets...