Opinion » Bill Cope

Ticket to Ride Back

Might meter maids make your day?

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Now and then, I get this feeling I'm writing about something everyone already knows. And to make matters worse, I suspect nobody's willing to clue me in when I'm going over well-hashed ground. It's like being the last one to hear a joke, but you let me go ahead and tell it anyway. Only ... after I leave, you meet one another down at Flying M or somewhere, and you say, "Can you believe that dumb-ass Cope just found out about _____?!" (Fill in blank with whatever you're all hip to, but I--obviously--am not.)

The information I am about to share may be exactly that sort of thing. I may be the last person in the Idaho to know it. You may have learned about it years ago, but nevertheless, I'm going to tell you anyway. It concerns a situation I believe would make life a smidgen easier for law-abiding citizens, if it weren't the way it is. And if you already know about it, you should be ashamed you haven't done something about it yourself, Mister "I'm Waaaay Ahead Of You!"

What brought this situation to my attention was my stolen pickup. Remember? Back in October? Yes, my truck was stolen. Boosted. Jacked. Pilfered away in the dead of night by lowlife or lowlives unknown. I know good and well I told you about it. I distinctly remember the embarrassment of having to admit the truck was so easily pilfered because I'd left the key in the ignition. That's another thing I was among the last to learn ... that people aren't supposed to leave their key in the ignition. Particularly if they don't want their car stolen. I attribute my naivete and dumbness to having grown up here in rural, isolated Idaho, long before you Californians moved up here and started stealing stuff from us. See, back then, we could get away with leaving the key in the ignition now and then because, well ... because you hadn't gotten here to tell us how naive and dumb we were. And were you ever right! No lie, if we old Idaho rubes had of had a lick of sense, we would have taken the keys out of our ignitions the minute we saw you coming. But darnit ... we just didn't know.

But that's not the point. The point is, the truck came back. Yessir, it's outside right now, as I write, and I can assure you the key is nowhere near to its ignition. Other than being out of gas, it was in the same shape as it was the night it was taken. Even had the same license plates. The rotten bastard/bastards who took it abandoned it down by Boise State and there it sat for four days. We know it was there at least four days because it had three parking tickets on it. (On the fourth day, it was towed.) So we're happy, my family and I. It's good to have the ol' family truck back. I'd personally be a lot happier had a local police agency come across it running a red light or speeding on the freeway, then chased it down, sirens screaming and lights flashing like you see in video clips from California. Sure, it might have rolled over a few times or run head-long into a concrete abutment and been utterly destroyed. But that way, the police might have had the opportunity to shoot the bum who stole it.

Oh, jeez! Forget I said that. Seriously, no pickup truck is worth a human life. Even if it is the life of some bum bastard who will never contribute anything to the world other than crime statistics. Please forgive me for such an illiberal outburst. I'm pretty sure it was only a lingering symptom of something I call "Post-Stolen Pickup Truck Trauma" (PSPTT), and I won't let it happen again.

But that's not the point, either. The point has to do with those parking tickets. See, I started to wonder how a stolen vehicle could be ticketed without its "stolen-ness" being discovered. Now, we can't expect every officer to pop the hood of every vehicle they ticket and compare VINs with what's in the stolen vehicle data bank. But license plates? Shouldn't that have clanged an alert gong somewhere? Is this not the promise of computers? Of a wired-up society? Of our brave, new, instant-access, internetted world? ... that when the same vital information pops up in two like-interested venues, it may mean something important?

I called the number on the tickets and reached an outfit called Boise City Parking Services (BCPS). What I learned--and this is what you may already know and I just found out--is that BCPS, those diligent foot-soldiers who patrol the streets of Boise with a chalk stick in one hand and a mini-computer in the other, keeping us safe from parking hogs and meter scofflaws, are not part of the Boise Police Department. They're a separate entity entirely. And when they suck your license plate number into their little hand-held ticket printers, it never crosses paths with the records in the stolen vehicle data bank.

So, did you know that? Huh? Well, I didn't.

On the great list of society's failings, this may be a lesser issue. But having your vehicle stolen--with or without your complicity in the matter of ignition keys--is no damn fun. And as I understand it, car theft is a problem growing here in the Treasure Valley like some noxious weed introduced from, oh, say, California. To double our misfortune, the police agencies are so over-burdened by more serious concerns, they have little time to go sniffing about for purloined vehicles. The best hope for recovery is that they stumble across one in the pursuit of other duties.

But listen, how tough would it be to compare a meter maid's daily harvest with the list of stolen rigs? After all, these people are the front line of parking compliance. The Marine Corps of No Parking zones. The Shock and Awe of expired meters. I'm guessing here, but I would suppose a parking officer comes in contact with a far greater number of vehicles than regular cops, and would that not multiply the chances of stumbling across that missing Lexus of yours by several factors?

OK, I suppose you and your coffee klatsch friends know a reason it can't be done--a reason I will become aware of sometime later, well after you've had your little laugh at my dumb Idaho rube expense. But if it can be done, I thought of it first. Me. And if you get your Lexus back because a meter maid tripped over it, then I'm not such a rube after all, am I?

Oh, and by the way, if I have offended any Californians here-in, I apologize. I haven't been my usual considerate self lately. It's more of that lingering PSPTT, I'm pretty sure.