Shelly Reuben’s new novel is about … well, we’ll let you find out for yourself as we weekly serialize the chapters. If you miss one, get back up to speed with our article archive. Now, welcome to:
Parking Space: A Love Story!
Chapter 20 - The Joy of Ticketing
At the time that Rosemary Thigpen sought employment with The Big City’s Department of Transportation, the job she applied for was called “Meter Maid.”
Never had an occupation and an applicant been more suited to each other.
The requirements for the position were minimal: The candidate had to be at least 18 years old, have a high school education, have a valid driver’s license, and be able to count to 100 without requiring five friends to hold up their fingers and toes. All new hires were issued quasi-military style brown uniforms with lots of pockets and a white cap with an official-looking badge over the visor.
The primary function of a meter maid was to enforce local parking laws, issue citations, direct traffic (if a real police officer was not available), and assist with crowd control at special events. Since men were subsequently hired to do the same job, its title was eventually changed to Traffic Enforcement Agent.
For several years, these civil service employees strutted their stuff in brown uniforms and were universally referred to as “brownies.” As such, they ventured forth to protect The Big City from secretaries, bank tellers, interior decorators, lawyers, dentists, doctors, nurses, housewives, and babysitters who failed to pop a quarter into a parking meter before the word expired (white on a red background) appeared in the meter’s crescent window.
For years, these Traffic Enforcement Agents went about their business, occasionally incurring wrath but otherwise going unnoticed. However (this was before Mayor Chiquita Bamberger) after their powerful union demanded that in order to properly intimidate car owners, they should look like real cops – even though they had no police power and did not carry weapons – the color of their uniforms was changed from brown to blue.
In response, the local citizenry, which had no recourse for their resentment except to indulge in militant pettiness, once again began to refer to those who issue traffic citations, both male and female, as meter maids.
That tradition continues to this day.
Rosemary Thigpen loved her job.
She had piggy little black eyes, a thick neck, a pudgy body, and a predatory grin with same-size teeth that looked like tombstones on tiny graves.
Her greatest joy and the act from which she derived the most professional satisfaction was slipping parking tickets under the windshield wipers of luxury cars. If it was a Lincoln, Cadillac, BMW, Lexus, or Audi, her heart did a drumroll.
And because writing such citations always made her feel as if she had won a battle and vanquished a foe, she dreamed about ticketing a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari, or a Lamborghini. In those dreams, all of the cars had similar drivers: Wealthy people. Happy people. Pretty people. Thin people. Married people. People who had friends.
Suffice it to say that Rosemary Thigpen never worked in poor communities where people owned unregistered and uninsured junkers and parked them in front of fire hydrants or double-parked them in the street. She derived no joy from issuing tickets to drivers who would just tear them in half and laugh in her face. But she loved to roam middle and upper class neighborhoods within which dwelt drivers who paid their bills and paid their taxes.
They also paid their parking tickets.
Rosemary Thigpen’s second greatest pleasure was watching a car owner run from a barber shop or a beauty parlor with shaving cream on his chin or curlers in her hair, frantically waving at her with a roll of quarters in his or her hand. She reveled in ticketing cars parked at expired meters, cars parked over 12 inches from the curb, cars with outdated registrations, cars with fenders extending a quarter-of-an-inch into a pedestrian crossing, or cars with license plates partially obscured on rainy days because the driver hadn’t yet had time to wash off the mud.
But she derived her greatest pleasure from provoking cars owner to lose their temper.
Whenever she could, she would try to bait them into taking a swing at her, and in those twilight moments at night before she fell asleep, she imagined arresting belligerent motorists for assault.
That was power.
That was control.
Although this had always been a secret longing, it became more so after the state assembly passed legislation “elevating any physical contact for which a meter maid can claim an injury to a Class D felony carrying a prison sentence of up to seven years.”
She took boxing lessons at a gym, and she choreographed pugilistic encounters in front of her mirror at home, knowing that after a ticketed driver had taken the first punch she was legally entitled to defend herself.
As such, Rosemary Thigpen was a simple woman, and she enjoyed simple things.
During her senior year of high school, she grinned from ear to ear after she made the newly crowned prom queen cry in the ladies room: “You think you’re so great, but girls like you are always barefoot and pregnant before they hit nineteen.”
She laughed when she ruined her brother’s interview with a Fortune 500 company by spilling cranberry juice on his new Brooks Brother suit: “You? A stock broker? Ha! Like you were ever going to get that job in the first place!”
And she had relished telling her niece, who longed to be a cabaret singer: “Great idea. I’ll send chrysanthemums to your funeral, because you’ll get addicted to drugs and die young.”
Rosemary was a bully before bullying became popular, and she loved watching movies where she could root for the playground thug instead of the eyeglass-wearing nerd who took piano lessons and played chess.
Yes. Rosemary Thigpen loved her job.
She was happy being a meter maid.
Or, at least, she happy until that snowy Wednesday morning on January 10th.
The first time she walked down the sidewalk on Chestnut Avenue checking meters, she noticed an empty parking space in front of 1582. She remarked to herself that this was unusual since that space was never empty. It was particularly unusual on that day, because during snow storms, cars occupy every available space and don’t move again until the snow has melted and normal parking regulations are back in force.
When Rosemary walked past the same space at midday, she noted that it was still empty, but let her curiosity end there. When she passed it for a third time late that afternoon and it was still unoccupied, she decided to check it out.
Confrontational as always, Rosemary Thigpen jutted out her jaw, stepped off the curb and strode forward.
Incredibly…unbelievably…implausibly…she crashed into an imperceptible barricade. One that was not and could not have been there.
Mere seconds later, Hector Van Hooft threw his snowball at that very same empty space. And from where Rosemary stood, still dazed from her collision, she saw a snowball sail in one side of the parking space, out the other, and then plop in the middle of the street. She also observed that the man who had thrown the snowball tried to follow its path, only to bump into the same invisible something that had first knocked her, and next knocked him off his feet.
It was then that Rosemary rushed forward to help Hector.
And it was then, fatefully, that the two of them met.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2021. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com