Jul 11, 2023, 05:55AM

The Meter Maid Incident

My head was a minefield of consequences, all bad.

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My first show business job after college was as a menial serf for a Beverly Hills production company that specialized in award shows. I ran errands, made photocopies, distributed scripts and ordered supplies. The low point of each day was lunch. I took meal orders for a dozen and then drove to multiple restaurants to pick up food.

My nemesis was a portly executive producer named Dennis Goldstein. He threatened to fire me if I didn’t fill lunch orders in an hour. He’d accuse me of screwing up and then send me out for more food, an excuse for him to get double portions. Restaurants included Nate ’n Al’s for pastrami, Hamburger Hamlet for burgers, Kate Mantilini for roast chicken and Il Fornaio for pasta. Each stop meant I had to find parking, tough in Beverly Hills. Restaurants didn’t have loading zones and this was the pre-cellphone era so I couldn’t call to have food brought outside.

I carried rolls of quarters and prayed for available spots. Broken parking meters were the bane of my existence. I received a ticket in my first week due to a faulty meter on Canon Drive. The citation was $75, more than half my daily salary of $150. (The company refused to cover parking tickets.)

During pre-production on the Golden Globes, I took lunch orders for two dozen people. I limited choices to two restaurants but Goldstein advised people to order whatever they wanted. “He’ll go where I send him,” he said.

On a rainy Wednesday in January, I drove to California Pizza Kitchen on Beverly Drive. I sought parking for 15 minutes before risking the red zone in front of the restaurant. I sprinted inside, grabbed the food and returned to the car whereupon I found a citation under the wiper blade. The fine was $90. I groaned and headed toward the next stop, the Cheesecake Factory. I eyed a car leaving, made an illegal U-Turn and parked in the open spot.

The meter was broken. I pondered whether to risk a second ticket. The heavy rain made my decision. I jaywalked, sans umbrella, and entered the restaurant. They forgot an item causing a five-minute delay. I returned to the car expecting another ticket. I was lucky. The meter maid was busy up the street tending to a fender bender. I returned to the office where Goldstein accused me of botching his order.

“You asked for Cobb Salad,” I protested.

“Don’t be a schmuck,” he said.

“But sir, I asked you three times.”

“I want a Bronx special on my desk in 15 minutes or you’re fired.”

I returned to my car, exasperated.

I circled Beverly Drive. Twice I saw cars leaving but both times another driver beat me to the spot. I knew there was a handicapped spot in front of Nate ‘n Al’s. This was risky since handicap citations were expensive. I searched for another 10 minutes before opting for the handicapped spot. The deli was packed and it took a few minutes to get the sandwich. When I returned to my car there was another parking ticket on the windshield. This one was $225. I did a quick calculation. I was losing $165 for working that day. I saw the meter maid about 30 feet away. She was a middle-aged black woman with a no-nonsense demeanor. I strode towards her.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” I said.

She gave me a cursory glance then looked away.

“You gave me a ticket but I was only there for a minute to pick up food. There’s no parking anywhere and it’s raining. This is my second ticket of the day and, uh, I was wondering if you could like maybe cancel the ticket?”

“Once the citation is written there’s nothing I can do.” Her lips were pursed as if she’d bitten into a lemon.

“Can’t you just say you made a mistake?”

“I didn’t make a mistake.”

She walked away. I followed.

“Ma’am, please. Have a heart. I’m a lowly worker like you.”

She scowled.

“I didn’t mean lowly. I mean… please ma’am. I’m just trying to make a living.”

“Get away from me, sir.”

She thrust her finger inches from my face and then continued walking. This only made me angrier.

“Are you proud of what you do? Ruining people’s days.”

“Sir, if you don’t get away from me I’m calling the police.”

She mustered a stern look. I eyed the ticket book in her hand. If somehow she were to lose that book, she’d have no way of tracking me. Without thinking, I ripped the ticket book out of her grasp. We locked eyes, both stunned by my action. I froze, unsure what to do. The meter maid reached for the ticket book. I turned and ran. Full sprint. I was young and she was in her 50s. I knew she couldn’t keep up with me. Halfway up the street, I saw a sewer drain with brown rainwater spilling into the hole. I tossed the ticket book into the sewer and watched as it flowed into the muck and mud. I looked back and saw the meter maid staring in disbelief.

My head was a minefield of consequences, all bad.

I hurried to my car and sped away. The meter maid was too far away to record my license plate or take note of the car I was driving. This provided little solace. I drove to the office, my heart beating out of my chest.

I lingered in the office parking lot until I caught my breath. I delivered Goldstein’s sandwich and left before he could scream at me. I told the office manager I wasn’t feeling well then took the rest of the day off.

At home, I smoked a joint to relax. It didn’t work. I told my roommate about the incident. He laughed then adopted an aura of gravitas.

“If they find that ticket book, you’re screwed,” he said.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“You need to get it before they do.”

Around midnight, my roommate and I drove in his car to Beverly Hills. The stores were closed and the streets empty. We parked near the sewer and shined a flashlight into the open drain. We saw fast food wrappers, bottles and tons of leaves. We rummaged through the detritus using a long mop we’d brought from home. We finally saw the ticket book in the corner, pages open. It was filthy but intact.

We heard an approaching car and saw flashing lights. A Beverly Hills patrol car pulled to the curb. Two officers approached, their bright flashlights blinding us.

“What are you doing here,” the first officer asked.

I commanded my brain to come up with an excuse.

“I lost a $100 bill in the sewer.”

“How exactly did you do that,” the second officer asked.

“I dropped the bill and a gust of wind blew it into the hole.”

Fortunately it was a windy night.

The first officer pointed his powerful flashlight into the sewer. We saw a Budweiser can, a bike tire and a Neiman Marcus bag. The beam lingered on the ticket book for a moment and then moved left to reveal a large rat. The officer turned off his light.

“Looks like you’re out $100,” he said.

“That sucks,” I answered.

“You two need to get out of here before we arrest you for loitering.”

We drove home. I had nightmares about the meter maid and cops breaking down my front door. The next morning, I called a friend who was a defense attorney. I asked what I should do.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Should I pay the ticket left on my car?”

“Absolutely not. You’re going to be fine, I promise. That meter maid is probably close to retirement. Not only did you embarrass her, you might have caused her to violate some internal code of conduct that could risk her pension. She’s not going to report you, I guarantee it.”

“So you think she’s just going to let it go,” I asked.

“She’s going to be looking for you. But as long as she doesn’t find you, you’re in the clear.”

He advised me to stay out of Beverly Hills for the foreseeable future. I quit my job and found a new gig at Radford Studios in the Valley. For the next six months, I lived in a low level state of panic expecting to be arrested any day. It never happened and I put my life of crime behind me.


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