Leavitt: An ancient out-of-towner sheds light on Chicago’s parking ticket dilemma

By Irv Leavitt for Chronicle Media

Irv Leavitt

Yonkel Yossel, my oldest cousin, was back in town last week. He stopped at the tavern on Peterson Avenue, where he is always enthusiastically welcomed.

Upon his arrival, Danny the IT Guy and Danny the Plumber both raced toward the diminutive sage, vying for the honor of hoisting him onto a barstool. My cousin tends to mix the two of them up, and they figured the winner, at least, would finally be recognized as a separate individual.

Yonkel, however, shuffled away from both pursuing Daniels to accept an affectionate hug from Sherry the bartender. She embraced the little man and swung him up to a seat all in one motion, his long beard swinging around in a nice arc.

“Sholem Aleichem, Reb Yonkel” rang through the bar, as several of the variously intoxicated patrons saluted my cousin. His traditional greeting seems to have rubbed off on these people from Puerto Rico, Greece, Alabama and Lincoln Square.

“Aleichem sholem, meyn kinder,” he replied. “How about them Cubs?”

My cousin likes the Sox and Cardinals, too, but he knows how to increase the likelihood he’ll be included in the next round in a North Side tavern.

As he has before, he seemed to appear at the front door out of nowhere. In a vain attempt to find out what mode of transport he uses to accomplish this feat, Melissa from around the corner said, “I hope you didn’t park on Maplewood. That’s a Residential Parking Zone. We got the alderman to give us local-only parking after 2 p.m.”

Whispered Tony, “She thinks he parks a car? What would he drive with, a periscope?”

The sage gave away nothing. But he was curious about the Residential Parking Zone. “So people who live a block away can’t park in front your house? Can you park on their street, tatelah?”

Nope, she replied. “Everybody parks on their own street,” she said.

“But when there’s still no place left on your street, you might have to risk getting ticket, yes?”

She allowed that this was the case. “It’s because there aren’t enough places to park.”

“So all the neighbors are sometimes mad on each other?” Yonkel asked. “Even though it’s not their fault so few spaces?

“You have clever government here.”

Melissa looked at him funny. “We get to use all the spaces on our block. That’s good, right?”

Yonkel looked sadly at his empty glass, causing Melissa to nod at Sherry.

He asked another question.

“You all petition government to set some spaces aside, because there aren’t enough. But government never has to make more spaces? So same number spaces, more tickets, but now it’s not government’s fault. So nobody’s mad at election time.”

Tony laughed. “Don’t worry, we get plenty ticked off at the City of Chicago about parking tickets.”

Yonkel smiled. “Especially expensive ones, yes?” Tony nodded, smiling back.

“Do you sometimes get so mad that you don’t pay them?”

Tony nodded, still smiling.

“What does government do if you don’t pay?” Yonkel asked.

“They double the amount.”

Yonkel stroked his beard. “So, maybe, government likes it when you get mad, no?”

Tony laughed again.

Yonkel had another question. How much can these tickets cost?

“Listen to this,” Danny the IT guy said.

“Wait, which one are you?” asked Yonkel.

“It doesn’t matter. Listen: I forgot to buy my city sticker. $140, plus $25 for the Residential Parking Zone. I got a ticket, and it still counts, even though I went right out and got the sticker, and paid a $60 late fee.

“I was broke then, so I put off paying the ticket for a few weeks. Missed the cutoff. Guess what it was when they finished adding fees? $488. Not including the $225 for the sticker itself.”

Yonkel raised his eyebrows, but only a little. Nothing surprises him much.

“I can’t get on the time payment plan, because the down payment is more than the ticket, believe it or not,” Danny the IT guy continued.

“So then I get a meter ticket. I ran over the time. About $75, $80. Now I can’t pay anything. It doubles.

“Then the car gets booted. I can’t pay the boot fee and the tickets, and every day the fees keep going up at the impound lot before I can borrow the money. By then, it’s over $1,000. I didn’t pay much more than that for the car in the first place.

“Trying to dig up the money, and taking so long to get to work in Glenview on two buses and a train, I miss so much time that guess what? I get canned.

“Now I got the car back, but I got no place to go.”

Danny the Plumber breaks in. “I didn’t pay for my sticker in time, either, and it came due on a Friday, when I was at my girlfriend’s house. By Monday, four tickets on the windshield for the same thing. I go to court, they say don’t whine about it, it coulda been more. Pay on time and you won’t have no problem.”

Yonkel  looks at the two Dannys. “Oy, both you guys got the same tsoros. I’ll never be able to tell you apart.”

Just as I was explaining that “tsoros” means “trouble,” Mickey’s got a story.

“I had this Impala, blew the transmission. I limped it back home and parked it on the street until I could get the scratch to fix it.

“It ran enough that I moved it back and forth a little so it would never be in the same place for more than a couple a days, so I wouldn’t tick off the guys who prune their trees and edge their lawns every five minutes.

“But one of the tires went flat. I rolled it over to the used tire shop and got another one. But that one couldn’t hold air very long, either. So I had to keep filling it up, every day and a half, or less, sometimes.

“They got a whole page on the city’s website just to help people rat on guys with old ugly cars. One of the lawn-edgers reports me when the tire goes flat before I can fill it. Three $150 tickets in rapid succession. I figured I better get rid of the car before it ruined me.

“But now, I can’t find the title. I send $90 to Springfield for a new one. I relax a little, but I get another ticket before the title comes in,” Mickey said.

“It sounds like the less money you have, the more you are likely to spend on parking your car,” Yonkel said.

But at least one of the men at the bar disagreed. Patrick, Yonkel could see, was seething as he listened to the stories.

“What is on your mind?” Yonkel asked.

“These guys are a bunch of bums,” Patrick said. “Do the right thing and you won’t have a problem. Don’t park illegally. If you can’t find a place to put your car, rent a garage space.”

Mickey narrowed his eyes at Patrick. “There aren’t any garage spaces for rent in this neighborhood. Everybody keeps their junk in their garages.”

Patrick slapped the bar. “I don’t care. Solve your own problems. That new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, says she’s going to cater to all you criminals this fall and fix some of these exact things you guys are complaining about. She’ll just make it easier to park illegally.

“I’m moving to Kentucky. I’m through paying taxes to support bums who refuse to follow the rules.”

My cousin regarded Patrick from his position three stools down.

“I hope your new home is everything you want it to be,” he said.

“I hope there are plenty of places to park in Kentucky.”