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Beat the ticket, then get booted

November 24, 2011|By Sarah Freeman, For RedEye

Chicagoans are really good at complaining about three things: the weather, sports and parking. Currently, I have no gripes about the first two, but the third, that one is a doozy.

To make up for the rats in my kitchen and the crime rate, my new neighborhood has the luxury of free street parking—that is, if you can find a spot. By the time my lease expires, I'm sure I will have spent several days worth of my life driving around Rogers Park in search of parking. There are a few secrets (the lot at the end of my street that is free overnight) as well as a few pitfalls I learned the hard way my first week there.

One night after returning from the suburbs, I did the usual dance around Rogers Park looking for that heavenly gift known as a parking space. As usual, it was not going well, and every time my heart would skip a beat after I'd catch a glimpse of space between two cars, my dreams quickly would be crushed by a fire hydrant or handicapped signs. Then a miracle! A perfect space on Sheridan just steps away from my apartment. I parked my car and left it there for days, afraid of having to go through the pain of finding a new space.

When the time came to return to my car, what was I welcomed with? Not one, not two, but three parking tickets. Seriously, Chicago?! The rookie mistake I made was missing the signs warning drivers that during rush hour Sheridan Road turns into a no-parking zone. Like most recent college grads, I had zero money in my bank account, and suddenly was holding $180 of parking tickets. What is a broke girl to do? Fight!

I arrived nervously for my court date a month later at the administrative hearing office, and sitting beside me were two women whose cars had been booted.

By this time, my part-time job had left me with enough funds to easily pay the tickets and go on with my day. I was fighting on principle. The two women, though, were fighting to save their cars, their careers and their families. One explained that she was going through a divorce and the car was towed while in her soon-to-be ex-husband's possession. She tried to contain her emotions in front of the judge and her children. The other pleaded with the judge not to confiscate her car that she needed to commute from Indiana for her postal service job in Chicago.

Neither woman left with good news.

It was a bittersweet moment when I took the stand, explained my position, and effortlessly got one of the tickets dropped on a technicality (the other I agreed to pay and the third disappeared during the time I requested the hearing).

Did I use the money I saved to help one of the less fortunate offenders? No, I couldn't. I watched them walk away after losing a battle with an unsympathetic system before it was my turn to address the judge. Instead, I bought new boots—the ones for your feet, not for your car wheels.


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