Today we had to visit Staten Island. Have you ever been to Staten Island? I guess it's better if I start at the beginning.
On Friday, May 22, 2008, I was driving the venerable wagon out of the city with Miss B. and the Husband in tow. It was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. I was trying to get to the Lincoln Tunnel by going across town on 37th Street. I had been good, at each light I stopped even if it was green if it looked like I would "block the box" if I went out into the intersection. Finally, when I got to the intersection of 37th and 8th, I saw that there was room across the street to fit the car, so I drove into the intersection-- but by the time I got across there was a horde of pedestrians crossing against their light. As I'm getting ready to blow the horn at the pedestrian mob I see a police officer stepping off of the curb into the crowd. Silly me, I think, "Oh, good, he's going to stop the pedestrians and let the cars through!" WRONG! He pulls me over and proceeds to give me a ticket for obstructing the intersection. I asked the officer-- what am I supposed to do if there's room for my car, and I have a green light but I'm blocked by pedestrians? His response-- the pedestrians aren't his responsibility and I should blow the horn. What does this mean to you and me? $115 ticket! But, since it's technically a "parking" ticket and not a moving violation, no points on your license. Basically, this is an incentive to just pay it.
Needless to say I was not happy. But, when I got home I checked out the Department of Finance's website and saw that I could challenge my ticket either by mail or through a hearing via web. I thought the hearing via web sounded like a great option-- but, of course, my ticket wasn't input into the system so I couldn't do the hearing by web. The Department of Finance advised that the tickets are typically input into the system one week from the date of issue. So for the past month I have periodically been checking on the status of the ticket (both by ticket number and by my plate number). I even called 311 to see if they could help. (They couldn't, but they did, quite efficiently, email me a brochure on how to challenge a ticket by mail.)
I ended up forgetting to mail in my ticket and as today was the one-month mark from my ticket date I figured what the heck-- let's go to one of the Department of Finance Business Centers and see if we can get an immediate hearing.
This is what brought us to Staten Island.
The Department of Finance has business centers in each of the boroughs and I mistakenly assumed that heading to SI would be the closest/fastest. Not so much when you factor in Goethals Bridge traffic and just the fact that Staten Island is kind of like driving through Linden, New Jersey but with rush hour Long Island Expressway traffic, even at 1:30 in the afternoon.
My Map Quest directions had me getting off on Todt Hill Road (or thereabouts) and then had me driving through the wilds of this place until I hit the St. George municipal area (which is really no where near the place I exited the highway). The St. George area is on a hilltop and is a warren of one-way streets. My map quest directions were useless and I had to use the force to find this place. Luckily there was a giant municipal parking lot right across from the "Business Center" (which is actually a large, green brick building in the style of Soviet Block Apartment House Chic). I saw a great space that a man in a large pick-up truck was vacating. I pulled in, and as I stepped out of the car to get the stroller, Pick-Up Truck Man rolls down his window and proceeds to tell me that unless I have a special permit I can't park there-- as he did and got an $80 ticket.
Apparently, the large municipal parking lot is intended to give out additional parking tickets to those poor lost souls visiting the municipal building to fight existing parking tickets. Very Existential if you ask me. I think you could also use the phrase "Mayor Bloomberg's Money Making Scheme", but it's up to you.
Then I see a police officer (who just happened to be the man doling out the tickets) and asked where could I park? He said, vaguely, "in the middle". Thanks, that's helpful. So I move the car a bit to what appears to be the "middle" and then I happen upon a girl in a foreign sedan who is waving at me--- then I notice that she's holding out a pre-paid Muni-Meter pass. It turns out she still had an hour paid up and was leaving and was giving it to me! How cool is that? Especially since I had no change and was going to have to try and break a $20 at the Sabrett hotdog stand conveniently placed outside of the parking facility just to be able to actually pay to park.
Once settled in to our parking spot, we headed inside and it was actually quite an orderly and well organized experience. You get in line regardless of whether you plan to pay or contest your ticket and are then routed into another line depending on what you're looking to do. After about 20 minutes or so I got in to see an Administrative Law judge. It was me and Miss B. and the judge all in a small office. Once I started testifying, Miss B. wanted to throw in her two cents (which mostly had to do with Hello Kitty Stickers and the Cookie Monster stuffed animal we had with us).
So, while I'm explaining my side of the story, I'm also talking to Miss B. and alternately sticking small stickers on her, on me and on Cookie.
Happily, after a few minutes the Judge advised that she was persuaded by my testimony and she had decided to dismiss the ticket (Oh, happy day!). After this news I thanked her. And I asked if she wanted a sticker.
She didn't, but she did laugh.
Between the free parking and the dismissed ticket, it seemed to be my lucky day. On top of that when I got home I had a coupon in my mailbox from the folks at Tasty Cake for a free box of Tasty Cake goodies (to make up for the box I had bought that came with the wrong product packed inside!) Score!