Earlier this week I had to bid goodbye to a good friend. You see, for the past couple of months there was a parking meter - not too far from Minute Maid Park - that was particularly generous.
After it went haywire one morning and couldn't figure out the correct parking rate, someone went to adjust it. Afterward it worked like a dream - except for one little thing. Its internal clock was wrong. I first noticed it when I parked one morning and put $2.50 into the machine. When I got the receipt I had an additional two hours I hadn't paid for.
For those of y'all who don't have to deal with the parking meters in downtown Houston they are computerized and one machine can serve an entire block. The meter has an internal clock and calculates the time until your ticket expires based on the amount of money you pump into it. This particular meter's clock was set to Atlantic time -- that is, two hours later -- not Central time.
Now there are a couple of things y'all need to know about parking in downtown Houston. When I was in law school we could park two blocks down from the campus on the street for a dime an hour. We could park for up to 10 hours. I was taking night classes so I'd pop in a quarter every afternoon. It was the best deal in the city. And parking was free on the weekends.
Then Bill White decided the city needed to raise more revenue and he didn't feel like ticking off business leaders by cutting their tax breaks so he decided to start making folks pay to park downtown on Saturdays. Then they started putting in new parking meters and they raised the rates. It now costs about $1.50 an hour to park by the law school and you are limited to four hours in one spot.
So, most weekdays I would pull into an open spot, take out a dime, put it in the machine and, like magic, I had two hours and a couple of minutes of parking time. More importantly, I didn't have to worry about moving the car because there was no way to calculate how long I had been parked in the spot.
It was perfect.
It was so perfect I would stop by the meter on Saturday mornings taking my girls to the weekly writers' workshop at Discovery Green. I'd put in my dime and then drive down the street till we got by the park.
On Monday I drove downtown and parked in my usual spot but the parking meter wasn't working. I had to walk down the block and use another machine. And, worse yet, I actually had to pay for my two hours of parking. Wednesday afternoon I drove back downtown to visit a client in the Harris County Jail and parked in my usual spot. This time the machine was working - but, when I looked at the time, the internal clock had been fixed.
I have no idea how many people knew the machine was screwed up. I know I never told a soul. Until now.