A Quarter For Your Thoughts
Published: January 11th, 2017
By: Jim Mullen

Wow! An empty parking spot right in front of the restaurant where I'm meeting a friend for lunch. This only happens in the movies.

In the movies, the hero's car pulls up in front of a Manhattan restaurant, office building or brownstone, and there's always an empty spot right where he needs it. And not just any empty spot, but a long, luxurious one that's so big, he doesn't even have to parallel park. He just glides in nose-first and then jumps out of the car without even locking it.

The reality is that there are no empty parking spots like this in Manhattan. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Even in a shopping mall, people will cruise around for ten minutes trying to find a spot that is closer to the entrance than a 10-minute walk. I can count the times in my life where I have found an empty parking spot near my destination on the fingers of one hand -- and this was one of them. Talk about luck!

No gliding nose-first into it like a movie star, I had to parallel park, but even if I say so myself, it looked as if I knew what I was doing. This was entirely too easy. I looked around to see if I had strayed accidentally into a TV production. Maybe they were filming something here today and I had accidentally parked in a space reserved for the star of "It Came to Eat Our Teenage Brains" or something. But no, the street was empty -- probably because of the minus-5 windchill.

Hopping out of the car, I jauntily strode toward the restaurant entrance when I realized I was in a spot with a parking meter. It's been a long time since I was in the old downtown; I'd forgotten all about parking meters. Do cities still use those? They don't have them at the mall or at the doctor's office. The metal stanchions seem like something you'd find in a ghost town -- like a horse trough or a hitching post. This is how they still pay for things downtown? With parking meters? They still send someone out to collect quarters? Come on, it's 2017! Get with the times. If E-Z Pass can collect money from a moving car on the interstate, surely there must be a simple way to electronically collect money from a parked car.

The meter wants me to feed it a quarter for a half-hour. How long am I going to be? Better make it two quarters. I fished around in my pocket but couldn't find one quarter, much less two. Not in the car, not in my pants pocket. Not in my coat pocket. At home, I have jars of change. I empty my pockets into one every night. But on me, right now? Nothing.

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Then I saw a note on the meter that said I could download an app on my smartphone and pay that way. Now we're talking. What could be easier?

As it turned out, a lot of things could have been easier. Knitting a cable-knit sweater with one hand tied behind my back would have been easier. Shoveling snow from my driveway with a teaspoon would have been easier. Teaching a cat to tango, remodeling a kitchen, watching an entire episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" -- all would have been easier than standing out in the cold, waiting for the app to load on my phone. Then creating a username and password, signing into the app and answering three security questions -- "What was your mother's mother's mother's first name?" -- and then entering my credit card information, all so the app could charge me 50 cents for each quarter it digitally put in the meter.

The days of horse troughs and hitching posts are starting to look good, and I suddenly understood why it was so easy to park so close to this restaurant. It wasn't because they were filming a Western.

I will never put loose change in a jar again. It's all staying in my car from now on.