Eric Jenkins , associate professor, architecture and planning, was featured in a Nov. 3 Washington Post article about his collection of notes people leave on broken parking meters to avoid being ticketed. See the article below.

Seeking Justice (and Mercy) From the Meter Reader

From: The Washington Post Date: Nov. 3, 2008 Author: John KellyThe note was eloquent in its simplicity. "No god" was all it said.

The person who wrote it had meant to write "No good" -- as in out of order, busted, kaput-- but "No god" was perhaps closer to the point: Would a just and loving god allow broken parking meters?

That is the sort of existential thought that went through my mind as I perused a unique collection assembled by Eric Jenkins. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Eric has the world's foremost collection of notes left by motorists on broken parking meters: those desperate missives hurriedly scribbled to an unseen meter reader in the hope of a little mercy.

"Hey," the notes seem to argue, "I'm not the sort of person who wouldn't pay for parking. I tried -- Lord knows I tried -- but this meter is broken. Give me a break, will you?"

That's the subtext of the notes, but the text is usually a little terser:

"Won't take money."

"BROAKEN."

"It is out of services!"

"Takes Money Does Not Give Time!!"

"You see a lot of exclamation points," Eric, the connoisseur, pointed out as he lifted notes from an overstuffed box. "There's a lot of fear and anxiety."

Eric is an associate professor of architecture at Catholic University, and he has an architect's fascination with the engineering required to produce and affix these notes. It's a creative challenge: Using just the materials found somewhere on your person or in your car, can you persuade a ticket-dispensing bureaucrat to cut you some slack?

Man, the toolmaking animal, resorts to envelopes, napkins, paper bags, Rolodex cards, Post-Its. One note is scrawled on the back of a Superior Court detention list (meters near courthouses are prime collecting territory). Another is on the back of a bib from the Fairfax pediatric practice of Drs. Kacedan and Wolf.

"This is on a CVS receipt," said Eric, reading the message. " 'I put money in the meter. It would not take. I am calling the appropriate office.' "

It is signed "Citizen."

Then once you've written the note, how do you attach it to the meter? Perhaps you use a rubber band from the glove compartment or some string from the trunk. Eric has an example that used tape from an in-car first-aid kit and another that used an "Air Mail" sticker from the Post Office.

"This is a good one," he said, holding up a note stuffed inside a long, thin, plastic Washington Post newspaper bag that had been wrapped around a meter. "This is Christo gone nuts."

A common method is to fold up the note and shove it in the coin slot, where it resembles a prayer stuffed in a crack of Jerusalem's Western Wall.

Which brings up an important point: Are these notes, well, sacred? And if so, is it right to snatch them?

"There are ethical questions," Eric admitted. "Can you take this note, which is a prayer? Can you intervene between god and a citizen in this prayer?" God in this case being the metermaid, a figure from the Old Testament if ever there was one.

Eric decided the answer was no. Intervening was like plucking a wild bird from the jungle, like violating the "Star Trek" prime directive. He used to harvest the notes only after the parking restrictions for that particular spot were lifted -- after 6:30 p.m., for example -- but now he doesn't take them at all. "I decided I would only photograph them," he said.

Friends across the country who know of Eric's interest also send him examples. He has about 75, gathered over the last 10 years.

The fact is, a note alone probably won't do any good. In the District, you're allowed to park at a broken meter, but you have to report it right away by calling 202-541-6030 and providing the number printed on a little decal on the meter.

But that doesn't stop us from trying to reason, argue and cajole an unseen arbitrator:

"Meter is broken!!! No ticket please!"

"This [meter] does not register quarters. I put in $1.70 in this at 12 noon. Please do NOT give me a ticket. I put this same complaint on another broken meter last week and you STILL gave me a ticket."

"I put 2 hours worth of quarters in this meter and it jammed on the last one. There were plenty of witnesses that saw me struggle to twist the knob back, as God is my witness."

There they are, bringing Him into it again.

Related News