One morning a couple winters ago I was at my girlfriend’s basement apartment in Uptown, Minneapolis, getting ready to go to the gym. It was a weekday, but I was fresh out of grad school and still without a job, so a mid-morning gym visit was a good way to be productive with my time. I threw on my coat and went outside.
The night had brought a heavy snowfall. It coated the tree branches, the sidewalks, and the empty streets. The empty streets. Weirdly empty. Sure it was a weekday and many of the cars that normally lined the crowded avenue were likely in the garages and parking lots that accompany the work places of their owners, but that alone could not explain this emptiness. And then it hit me: the snowfall. There must have been a snow emergency declared. The streets needed to be plowed. Any cars parked on a declared “snow emergency route” would be towed at the owners expense. One of those cars was mine.
I got a ride to the Minneapolis impound lot where my car was being held. The line was literally out the door, and judging by the number of cars being towed in behind me, it wasn’t going to get any shorter.
Moods ranged from mildly annoyed to outright furious. It’s not the way that any of us wanted to spend our Tuesday mornings. But aside from our shared anger and frustration, there were other common elements amongst the people with whom I shared that room: the worn clothes, the tired eyes, the unkempt hair…And it was in those moments that a wave of class consciousness swept over me: all the people in that room were people who could ill afford to be there. They were people who were really going to struggle to pay the $138 standard tow charge, and who were even going to struggle more to make up the half-day of work they were likely missing.
It is not a coincidence that most of the people in that room were from the working class. That’s not to say that the city specifically targets working class people when doing its street sweeps, but it is to say that working class people are much more likely to be parked on the street than people of higher social classes.
It’s not that working class people like to park on the street, they park there out of necessity. Working class people are less likely to live in a place that has its own driveway. Working class people are less likely to be able to afford private parking spaces, or ramps, or garages. Working class people come from harder economic circumstances, and consequently, working class people are going to be much more hurt by any street-parking fine. $138 buys a lot of groceries. $138 buys a lot of gas.
As I said previously, I was jobless at the time. The charge sucked, but I managed to pay it without being thrown into financial crisis. I don’t know if I can say the same for all of my working class brethren.
I have since obtained full-time employment, but I’ve been thinking about that day a lot in recent weeks. I still park on the street, and over the last two weeks, I have received two parking tickets. I won’t bore you with the details, but both tickets came in situations where the charge was murky, and where the enforcement is clearly inconsistent, seeing as how I have gotten away with both “offenses” scot-free literally dozens of times over the year that I have lived at my current apartment. Maybe the City of Minneapolis has stepped up reinforcement, maybe they’re trying to make up for a budget shortfall, or maybe they just recently hired a dickhead to patrol my neighborhood.
The fines were $32 and $42, respectively. These fines don’t kill me, but they still hurt, even as someone who has ascended into a relatively comfortable middle-class living.
And while, for me, these fines are annoying and frustrating and will likely force me to skip a social outing or two over my next pay cycle, I know that there are families on my block who would be hit much harder than me, who rather than skipping social outings, might instead be skipping meals, or coming up short on overdue bills.
And the problem isn’t that there are punishments for street-parking violations. Of course our city needs them to maintain some semblance of order. The problem is that these punishments are far too severe, especially considering the economic circumstances surrounding many street-parking people. $138 for the city to essentially steal my car?!?! I get it that the streets need to be plowed, and that a tow costs the city money, but doesn’t $138 seem a little extreme for an innocent mistake that has already totally fucked up the day of the offender? $32 for parking within five feet of a driveway?!?!? How about $10? Better yet, how about a frickin’ warning?
Street-parking people usually are not trying to break the law. They are just people trying to make it: recently graduated colleges students working that first job trying to pay off their student loan debt, single mothers and fathers trying to support a family and put healthy meals on the table, adults with two jobs coming home late from a night shift, just trying to find parking so they can go to bed and do it again the next day. They are people with enough money to afford a car, but not necessarily enough money to pay the fines that a car can currently get them. So take it easy on your street-parking people, Minneapolis. Chances are that they are already struggling in one way or another, but that doesn’t mean that they will be struggling perpetually, at least so long as their city’s semi-insensitive policies don’t force them to be.