COLUMBIA — I feel as if I owe Columbia’s city administrators a big apology for all the badmouthing I’ve done.
I had been upset about the parking ticket I got downtown several weeks ago when I was three minutes late to refill my parking meter. I should have seen the positive side of having a law enforcement agency with so much zeal and efficiency. It certainly does make me feel safer.
It’s just that I didn’t know the parking fines had been doubled. If I had known the city was so serious about dissuading people from going to the downtown area, I could have gone to the mall or a Walmart store.
But I saw the error of my ways over the weekend when I was given a ticket for parking in a row of spaces subtly reserved for taxis. Apparently there were small signs 2 feet off the ground that I could not see because they were blocked by every other car on my side of the street — all non-taxis, wouldn’t you know.
My wife and I had just seen "Midnight in Paris" at Ragtag. It was a great Woody Allen flick. We came out a little more in love and carefree, so of course I didn’t mind seeing the ticket on my window.
I just laughed at how silly I had been earlier for not walking around all the nearby cars to see if the city might have randomly designated prime spots for taxis to haul away drunk people.
Turns out, the whole row of cars on our side of the street had tickets under the windshield wipers. We were all laughing at ourselves.
Selfishly, I had never considered how inconvenient it must be for drunken people to wait 30 seconds for a cab to come eight full blocks to pick them up. We all know that drunken people call for a cab and then count to 30 before they sprint out into traffic and rip off all their clothes. What a mess.
And what’s more, maybe these people are not calling cabs at all, and they just stumble around until they see one; that can’t be good for the city’s image. Plus, it’s part of our civic duty to make it easier for others because we’ve all been there.
I can remember lots of times I have left a bar friendless, phoneless, too drunk to speak, unable to walk more than a few blocks, and thought, “Something tells me I should go to Ragtag Theatre.”
And since the city can’t predict how many people will be stammering around alone at the same time, they have to make as many people as possible park far away and reserve five streets worth of spaces for taxis, all discreetly marked so as to not embarrass anyone. There are now taxi stands on Sixth, Ninth, Tenth, Locust and Cherry streets.
I never saw one taxi, but I’m sure 20 or more were on their way.
As I was watching a policeman educate one of my fellow reprobates about city policies, I began to see that the new strategy is to focus less on catching drunk drivers — which is obviously tedious — and to focus more on catching selfish parkers who are keeping the roadways unsafe by making it too hard for responsible drunks to find a taxi.
Most of us parkers were confused at the time since we had never seen anyone being lectured for not being drunk enough, but I get it now.
Since the city has decided that parking is a major priority for our Police Department, I think it could be a modest proposal, then, that we get a police valet service.
The police could take the keys from the patrons and then put the cars in really creative places that only sober drivers could find. It would be safer and put money directly into the Police Department's budget instead of the court system.
For people who are put off by the recently doubled meter rates, tipping a valet policeman is likely going to cost less than filling the meters anyway.
I feel so sheepish now that all these years I thought Columbia’s parking scheme was driving local businesses and patrons away from downtown. I never thought of the plan as a means to corner the excessive drinking market. It shows how little we know about making money after thousands of years.
You know, if critics search their hearts, maybe they are jealous that drunks seem to be getting special treatment. There is already free parking late at night, which people should support, but it seems inconsistent.
Now drunks appear to be getting speedy service while sober people walk great distances. One could think the town was being run by … wait a minute.
Now that I think about it, Columbia Municipal Parking Utility is only two blocks from a new taxi stand and only one block from Tropical Liqueurs – the only place I know of in Columbia where a person can get an alcoholic drink in a to-go cup.
I’ll get back to you on this later. I have to make some phone calls.
Brad Clemons lives in Columbia and won’t go down without some spite.