“You have got to be kidding!”
If it had been a different morning, things might have gone a different way, but here she was, once again, taking a pile of abuse from another driver who did not put enough change into the parking meter before heading in to buy something in what looked like a very upscale store. She noted that the woman staring daggers at her had two very large bags in her hands and was driving an SUV. And was this a zone for only handicapped parking? No, that was not under her jurisdiction. She only covered what the city demanded as payment for the privilege of parking.
And she was receiving all the damage her pride could take.
“Hey, Earth to meter maid? You hear me? I said, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’”
“Ma’am, you have not added any money to the meter in the last fifteen minutes. You cannot let…”
“I make more than you do in an hour than what you make in a day.”
Weird construction for a retort, but she understood what the lady was saying: I have money and I have extra rights because of it. She always hated it when they mentioned money. And she really hated being called a meter maid (how many of the men on the staff get that thrown at them).
“Shit! Just let me get this crap in the car.”
She smelled the perfume and something unique about the materials in the bag as the woman stomped by in her heels to open the back of her vehicle. Some pedestrians were watching and one man she noticed in the park across the street was no longer feeding popcorn to the birds gathered at his feet. He was staring at the scene, munching away at the performance.
“Ten minutes and just…”
She did not correct her. After the ticket was written, she placed it gently under one of the dirty wipers. And it was at that moment that the woman decided to start her engine by remote control.
“Where’s the ticket?”
She seemed surprisingly agile with her weight and the ridiculous heels. Her clothes were pricy, as was the necklace and rings on both hands.
“It is just…”
The woman yanked away at it, almost ripping off the wiper in her anger.
“You couldn’t even hand it to me.”
Oh, my dear, you have no idea. They were taught never to make direct contact with anyone who became angry or distraught after writing the ticket. Always best to let them deal with the ticket afterwards and let them get the bile out when you were able to walk away.
“Hello, Earth to…?”
But she was already walking down the street, eyeing a motorcycle that had been left well over the twenty-minute time limit on the corner.
That was typical of a Monday morning. Later, she would deal with a single mother – her assumption – who had one snarling brat in what looked like a harness as she berated herself and the meter reader for her own clumsiness (“Just ten minutes…”), a couple of college kids who were very worried about their parents finding out about a ticket on a nice-looking Saturn (“Please…!”), and four tourists who seemed delighted to see her perform her duties as she wrote up the ticket, and then become quite agitated when they were left with it (was that Korean or Chinese, she wondered). But for most of the job, she was able to just keep a record of who was not feeding the meter or had underfed it and leave them with the chance to donate to the city’s budget. And all that was fine for the rest of the day. But Tuesday played a little trick on her.
“So, I can pay this online, right?”
Now, falling in love can be a difficult business when the weather is just a little too miserable (grey on top of the cold and wet), the number of tickets you are forced to write are higher than usual (one driver gave her the finger as she just missed writing it up; the police car ahead of it did not lose the chase), and you note that your uniform is probably not going to be presentable by the end of the shift (a concern that she always had; not always certain why).
But here it was, in its ugly and uncomfortable stance: love.
“Sorry, I saw the web address on it and thought that I could play for things with that. Is that acceptable?”
The man was well-dressed, of course. Clearly, he did take care of his clothes, and his body. There was a hint of a cologne that she recognized from her father’s shelf (something that she bought him for a birthday a very long time ago, and he insisted on using from then on; something that did not burn the nose), and the lingering odor of fabrics from a well-spoken of store or tailor. All that was in play here, but it was not enough. There was no ring on the hand that showed her the ticket she just wrote up (easy to notice). He did not have on a stupid pair of sunglasses that reflected the world back at her, or bracelets and a watch that could act like a private weight testing his arm strength. No, it was not any of those things.
The man was actually smiling at her, beautifully, blindingly. His teeth seemed perfect and she lost some control over her speech when she stared back at a pair of eyes that reminded her of polished marbles caught in the sun.
“Oh, um, yes, you can pay it all online…sir.”
“Great. And I want to say that I am sorry about this. I went in very quickly to pick up something and…”
Was he explaining himself politely? Was he not blaming her and the rest of the world for what happened? A part of her did wonder if it was a prank, but there were no lights or celebs coming around the corner to disabuse her. No, this man was real; really, really real. Maybe it was too much of something real? Maybe…
“Anyway, again, I’m sorry.”
She did not say a thing as he stepped into his convertible and started the engine.
“Take care of yourself.”
He was well over two blocks away when she found herself able to focus on what she wanted to say.
“Any time. Any time, sir.”
It was a dumb thought, but the only one that she could carry with her. There were only a few more cars to check for the day and she managed to skip a lot more abuse for the day. Her mind was on something else.
Another week was down. One thing she did notice was that there was less abuse around her after the encounter with that man. Or maybe that was not what happened. Maybe the thing that did happen was that she was ignoring the moms who tried to talk themselves out of a ticket, the teenagers who thought their parents’ money would work wonders with her, or the men with large cars and nothing between their ears except their noise and anger. She felt like she was floating through the end of the week. Her co-workers noted her good mood and decided to not really question it (it was rare for any of them to be truly smiling unless they were sharing a particularly nasty story).
By the next Monday, she was back working in her same district, dealing with the same sort of people, but now wondering if she was going to see him again.
Lo and behold…
Okay, it was not him. It was the car. He owned a blue convertible that was now up and covered on the same street. She noted the time as well and thought about how lucky she was to have that particular shift. Some of the other meters were just about to tap out and she was getting ready to hand out tickets. And then she looked at the meter of the man whose smile made her dreams vivid.
His time was up.
Now, this was one of those moments when usually a character in a film has to make a very important decision about what to do. Should they follow the rules and stay the course? Should they ignore and abide by one little infraction that no one would really notice, anyway?
Well, the decision was taken out of her hands by the most unexpected means.
It was taken by a dog.
Now, she actually liked dogs. She had her own golden retriever that was allowed to roam around the backyard while she was at work, and which also got along well with the neighbourhood cats that somehow always found her animal sleeping on the back porch. But the dog that sank its teeth into her leg did not really care about her love of pets. It seemed wanted to assert itself and mark territory.
A mix of pain, confusion and dizziness hit her as she felt agony head up her leg and through her mix of thoughts. A woman with a small dog (Pomeranian, she would soon know) was staring at her, the dog, the dropped ticket pad and trying to apologize for everything the meter reader was going through.
“I am so sorry about all this. I just thought that I would let him out for a walk and that he… Sorry, please, sit here.”
She had not noticed that one of the doors of the convertible had been opened. It had the same white seats she remembered from the previous week; the same steering wheel and dashboard.
It was the same car.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“For what, letting my dog mutilate you? No, you should be upset.” The woman reached in the back seat and found a first-aid box. “This might sting.”
It did, but it was all right.
“No, I mean, you are a kind person. Most people see me writing out a ticket and they get upset.”
“Yeah, I know. They think they are owed something because they just want to head inside a store for a few minutes without being harassed.” She took out a large bandage and rolled up the reader’s pant leg to apply it.
“Or, ‘Hey, it was just a few minutes! Don’t be so uptight!’ I get something like that a lot.”
“Maybe not so polite?”
Now they were both laughing, drawing the attention of a man who was intrigued by the positions of both women until he saw the uniform of the one in the car. His car was just up the street and he fled without being noticed.
“My husband would say that you should just not let the small things in your head. They can grow into big things that can’t get out.”
The bandage was pretty tight and the iodine was still stinging.
“Yeah, he told me to take that little brat in.” She pointed at the dog now in the back seat. “I wish he could see this. All his fault.”
“Not really. I have a dog, too.”
“Oh, what kind?” She seemed genuinely interested.
“Retriever! I love those! Very loyal animals. Always watching your back. Never biting anything unless it needs to be bit.”
“Okay. That should do it.” She rolled down the pant leg for her and stared at it. “Are you okay for walking?”
“I think so.” She took a few steps and did feel as though she was not too damaged. “Thank you again.”
“No problem.” The woman closed the passenger door and walked over to the driver’s side. “I did my good deed for the day.”
It was only after she drove off that the meter reader realized that she had not written up the ticket. The pad was still on the ground next to a now broken pen. That feels like a sign, she thought. The other cars were going to be spared today. Was that what they called “paying it forward,” she wondered? She walked on her newly-repaired leg feeling like it was a special day.
It was quite a day.
She managed to check the bandage and iodine mix on her leg as she rested in her living room. Her co-workers, when she called in to explain why she would be taking a few days off, were quite sympathetic, arguing that this sort of thing was bound to happen to all of us “if we continued to mix with the common herd”. This was her boss’s phrase and she was still smiling over it as she leaned back on her sofa and propped up her foot. A mug of hot peppermint was near her left, along with chocolate chip cookies she bought from a local baker who threw in an extra pair of salted caramel ones when she explained her limp. It really was a good day.
Quite a day…
And it would have been an even better day if she had decided to take her chances by heading straight to the hospital instead of booking an appointment with a doctor next week to inspect the bite (she doubted that she would contract rabies from such an animal, but still…) It would have been wonderful if she could have stayed away from any media for at least the rest of the day.
But no, this was not to be.
At first, she wondered why their faces were on her screen. Turning the volume up, she had a thought that they might have been celebrities that she simply did not recognize. This would not be unusual on her regular run (she had once put a ticket on a car with an Academy Award card on the dashboard – never understood why it was there and did not try to learn more about the owner). But no, the day was still laughing at her. It was a way of kidding her out of the thought that she would be allowed to enjoy the smiling faces, the lovely manners, and even the dog’s sweet malice:
“Police are on the lookout for a blue convertible in the F________ area. Witnesses claim that the pair of robbers was posing as a couple as they robbed several stores in the area. One witnessed noticed a meter reader being treated for an unknown injury by one of the suspects. At this point, she is the only one on the scene that has been identified as an eyewitness. From the information taken on the scene, it is believed that she may know more about the events in question. There is some question as to why she was in the area and why she was receiving medical treatment from one of the suspects.”