I live in downtown Brattleboro. I love this town and all the vibrant characters I get to see every day. I do not love the parking situation. I can't afford to spend $120 every three months for a parking pass. I am scraping by, and like many other young people trying to survive, I live paycheck to paycheck with a chunk of each automatically taken out to chip away at loans.
The purpose of this letter is not to try and justify not paying what is required for public parking downtown, but to suggest an alternative method of paying for parking or paying off parking tickets. Here is my story. I have gotten a lot of parking tickets. Every time I thought I could just run up to my apartment to grab something and return moments later, there was usually a ticket. Every time I parked in Harmony over night and mistakenly slept past 9 a.m. I'd run down frantically and sure enough, they'd get me. Those ladies are good at what they do.
So after a period of being unable to keep up with paying my tickets off, one day I found myself with a bright yellow boot on my car. The note on my windshield informed me that the late fines added to my unpaid tickets left me owing $300 to the town plus $100 for the boot. One hundred dollars for a boot I don't even get to keep after I pay for it? Where does a fine like that even come from? Its not like they have to go buy the boot before they can immobilize someone's vehicle. Absurd. I don't have an extra $400 laying around. Nowhere close to that. And yes, I have a full-time job. Which in fact requires me to drive. Which I couldn't do while my vehicle was booted, so I had a very small paycheck the following week.
I panicked. I had no wealthy friends, no family around, no hidden trust fund, no valuables. Oh yeah, and if the fines are not paid within 24 hours the vehicle will be towed at the cost of $150 plus $100 for each day the vehicle remains at the lot it was towed to. As someone who relies on the Drop In Center in order to have food to eat, those kinds of dollar signs are incomprehensible to me at this stage of my life. No car equals no job equals no income.
I exercised my right to a meeting with the town manager and a representative from the parking authority before my car was to be towed. I shared my story and pleaded for the opportunity to do community service work as a payment for some of my fines. I could only admit that I knew that I had indeed committed those parking violations and I would really like to make my restitution to the town that I love. In any way but financially. I believe they understood my situation and did feel sorry for me, but the answer was already written in black and white in our towns lawbook. Pay the $400 before the end of the day or your car will be towed. Period. No negotiations.
As I walked from the town managers' office crying, two friends spotted me and asked what happened. I told them and they offered to let me borrow the money. I declined, knowing I would be unable to pay it back in any timely manner. As the feeling of impending doom came over me a little later, I called the two men I had run into earlier. I changed my mind, I said. I Need the money. Right before the parking ladies were leaving for the day, I delivered the cash and freed my vehicle from it's doom. Even though I knew it would be a struggle to pay back my friends, at least I knew I was paid up and square with the parking authority. I vowed to never get another ticket. And I haven't.
Fast forward three weeks later. At just a little before 7 p.m. I go to the parking garage to get my car for work and what do I see greeting me? Another boot on my car. I called the police station and they had to make phone calls to try and get a hold of someone from parking to ask if this was indeed an error, like I claimed. I sat in the cold for over an hour waiting for an officer to arrive and remove the boot. I felt violated and traumatized.
As a direct result of paying the last boot I can't afford to live downtown anymore. I will be moving out of town next month. I would like to see this town stand up for hard-working tax-paying citizens who just can't afford outrageous fines. Why must we only be held accountable by emptying our bank accounts? Why don't citizens have the option of giving their time to a community service project instead of just handing over money? For some people in this town that boot would be a minor annoyance. They don't want to pay the $400 fine, but they do have it in the bank so they fork it over and get on with life. For people in my economic circumstance that boot represents the loss of work, loan defaults, not paying my rent on time, fear of losing my place to live, fear of being fired from my job. And that is what would have happened, if I had not run into the two generous friends that got together to loan me $400. It's a hefty price to pay for a few unpaid parking tickets.
I will miss living here in this special little community, but I sure won't miss all the stress and hassle that comes with just trying to park my vehicle somewhere safe and legal when I go home.