Minneapolis will be upgrading its parking meters, also known as "anxiety poles," and we'll be better off for it. You will be able to use your phone to pay, a phrase that would make as much sense 20 years ago as "take pictures with your wallet." If you're wondering how it works, it's simple: You get out your smartphone, call up the app, take a picture of a quarter (both sides) and press SEND to get more minutes. Then you mail them the quarter, attaching the 15-character code generated when you uploaded the picture.
I know, I know — what about plastic? Don't worry. Soon you'll be able to take a picture of your credit card, and they will send you a slip to sign and mail back.
Ha ha! Just kidding. Oh, what fun we have here. Actually, it's like this: 7,000 parking meters will eventually be connected to a network that lets you pay right on your phone, thanks to an app called Parkmobile. "Parking made simple," says their motto, reminding you how hard it is now, what with smelting your own coins and finding that the meter only takes pigs in barter.
It's just the start. In 10 years you'll be able to pay telepathically, by staring at the City Hall clock tower, pressing your temple, and thinking of the number of the spot.
And half the time you'll get it wrong. Every time I use the fancy new system I'm convinced I have forgotten the number, because it's presented vertically.
The brain does not like numbers standing on tiptoe. You walk to the machine, telling yourself over and over, "683917," and when you get to the touch pad all you can remember is 6,8, Pi, Ampersand, Zed, then a fraction? That can't be right.
If you want to be really cruel, just walk past a person entering the numbers and shout out random integers; it'll be like turning on the Cuisinart in his memory.
Even if you do remember the number, you're not entirely sure it isn't for another slot. So you take a picture of the number with your phone, which is like someone going to Southdale in 1956, taking an Instamatic picture of the Giraffe Lot sign, dropping off the film on the way in and picking up the pictures on the way out. Huh! Could've sworn we were in the Bunny Lot.
Remember the old way of paying? You would put in a quarter, and the meter would either give you some time or blink FAIL because it had lost the will to do its job. Woo-hoo! Free parking. Except you suspected that the minute you walked away, FAIL would stand for Fetching An Imminent Lawman, who would swoop down, reset the meter and ticket you, cackling all the while.
Nothing sums up the petty power of the state like a ticket for overstaying a meter. You know the person who writes the tickets does not care about you at all. There's no counselor's office to help the meter readers who were overcome with the burdens of the job.
"I, I know I'm just doing my job, and it has to be done, but I just imagine all the people who come to their car and see a ticket — that I left, me! — and they swear and throw it in the car and drive away mad. I go to bed at night, I see their faces in an endless parade of dismay. Please transfer me to homicide."
Probably not. It takes a cold heart to write that ticket, knowing someone could appear any second and plead. "I just had to run into the building! I was — my baby — uh, my baby was on fire!"
Mm-hmm. Number for the appeal's on the back.
Every ticket I ever got I deserved. Alas. Just once it would have been fun to appeal it, because you imagine a Parking Judge in a black robe with a big gavel, a jury, a chance for an opening statement. We will prove that the meter has not been synchronized with the nation's Atomic Clock, and in fact has been known to gain up to a second every six hours. And you spring a surprise witness — say, my wife — who swears she saw me put a euro in the slot, which may not have added any time, but was worth $1.75. Thank you. YOUR WITNESS.
The district attorney steps up. "Officer Reade, when you observed the meter, what did it say?"
"It said 'Expired.' "
"No further questions."
Down goes the gavel before someone in the spectator gallery can leap up like they did in the "Perry Mason" episodes, and shout "I did it! I killed him! He deserved it, and I'd do it again!" requiring the judge to say, "You want felonies. That's upstairs."
All these possibilities will vanish once we're fully digital. I'm already signed up for Parkmobile. There's a variety of payment options, but you'll always pay a 10-cent "convenience fee." (Which is WRONG, it should be FREE and how DARE they profit from this.) You have to come up with a password, because it is the 21st century and of course you have to enter a password to PARK AT A METER. In the 1940s it was the same; you had to lean close to the meter and say "The eagle flies at midnight" before the meter would let you add time.
I also set up an account to drain money directly from my bank and send me whoop-whoop alerts if the meter is 15 minutes away from expiring, so I can jump up from a meeting or a boring conversation and say "gotta feed the meter." Once I'm down the hall I can add time from the app, and not go back to the boring meeting.
If that's not worth 10 cents, what is?