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Park now, pay later


The whole thing started when Diane Zidek parked her car on a street in Baltimore. A simple maneuver; thousands do it every day. But little did Ms. Zidek know how such a simple, even mundane thing as parking her car could lead to a three-day headache.

Ms. Zidek strikes me as a bright, efficient and conscientious person. She had an idea to leave her car parked in midtown, near her office, while she took a bus to a convention downtown.

She did all the right things toward that end, too. She parked her 1983 Nissan at a meter on the south side of East Eager Street, between St. Paul and Calvert, about a block from her business, International Marketing Group. She examined the meter to determine when it was in effect. She looked around for signs that might have restricted her use of the parking space.

After a complete review of the situation, it was Ms. Zidek's judgment that she had legally parked her car. In fact, she had every reason to believe she could leave the car in the same spot throughout the weekend, which fit Ms. Zidek's plans perfectly. So she locked the doors and went off to the convention via MTA. That was last Friday night.

She returned to the car Saturday afternoon. There was still no sign of trouble.

"I didn't see any of those red hoods they put over the parking meters," Ms. Zidek reported, "nor did I see any signs saying I couldn't park in that block that day."

Her last check of the car was about 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

That night, Ms. Zidek again stayed at a girlfriend's house down the street.

"I woke up Sunday morning and looked out to check on my car and all the meters on the south side of Eager Street were hooded and my car was gone. I assumed it had been towed."

Circumstantial evidence indicates that a city crew had come along overnight, hooded the meters and towed Ms. Zidek's car. Triathletes were to be running through Eager Street on Sunday and the city must have decided to ban on-street parking at the last minute.

After making phone calls to city government, all to frustration, Ms. Zidek deduced that there was nothing she could do about getting her car back until Monday morning.

On Monday morning, at 7 o'clock sharp, Ms. Zidek called the city impoundment yard on the Fallsway. Was her car there?


She called the abandoned-vehicle yard on Pulaski Highway. Was the Nissan there?


So Ms. Zidek, fearing that her car had not been towed but stolen, called the city police. An officer came out and took a report. Ms. Zidek says the officer checked with the city's traffic bureaucracy to determine whether the Nissan merely had been towed off Eager to a nearby side street, which is a common practice.

Nope, that hadn't happened, either.

Therefore, the car must have been stolen. Ms. Zidek felt foolish for not reporting it earlier. The officer finished the report and left saying he would look for Ms. Zidek's car. Ms. Zidek went home.

Next morning, about 8 o'clock, Ms. Zidek heard the voice of a city police officer on her answering machine. The message had been recorded at 5 a.m. It said police had recovered Ms. Zidek's car; if she wanted it back pronto, she should show up at Central District tout de suite.

By the time Ms. Zidek got the message, it was too late. The car already had been towed to the abandoned vehicle lot on Pulaski Highway. Ms. Zidek went out there. And found her car.

"They had it listed as a 'possible stolen,' " Ms. Zidek said. "They wanted a $48 fee for it." (Your car is stolen in Baltimore and you pay the city $48 for recovering it. Beautiful.)

Ms. Zidek was set to pay and go, when the clerk asked for an additional $32 to cover the ticket that was placed on Ms. Zidek's car after a hood was placed on the parking meter next to it.

There's more, folks. It turns out the car was not stolen, after all. The city had towed it from Eager Street to the 500 block of the Fallsway. Meter maids came by and slapped two $17 parking tickets on it, one on Sunday evening, the other on Monday evening.

Ms. Zidek paid all these fees to get her car back. And $25 for "storage." And $30 for "administration charge." That made a total of $169.

Absolutely nutty stuff. The city created this mess, then made Diane Zidek pay for it. The only thing she didn't pay for was the long, new scratch across the right rear quarter panel of her car. The city threw that in, free of charge.

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