Ah, autumn. The days are shorter, the air is cooler, the leaves are falling and the hubcaps have turned orange.
But wait, those aren't orange hubcaps. They're Denver boots.
And while they may be as common as multi-colored leaves on city streets, they don't just dry up and blow away.
Ask anybody who has had enough unpaid parking tickets to get the boot: They're popping up with greater frequency than ever before. And it's turned out to be a big moneymaker for Baltimore.
Department of Public Works records show that from July of last year to September of this year, the city earned $1,788,607 from boots, and their best months have come since March: Revenues are up 45 percent over 1991.
The city makes few bones about it -- they've become more aggressive about all aspects of parking, from writing citations to towing cars.
"I wouldn't use the term, 'aggressive,' but we've beefed up enforcement, yes," said Vanessa Pyatt, the department's spokeswoman. "We have an obligation to enforce parking laws, and it's a safety concern."
Here's how booting works. The city maintains three two-person teams that cruise around six days a week with computer print-outs listing the vehicles and tag numbers of people who have three or more outstanding parking tickets.
When they find a car on the list, the heavy metal boot gets attached to a wheel, immobilizing your car. It doesn't come off until you do something about the tickets.
That means paying them off at $17 to $102 each, plus any penalties of $8 per month after the first 30 days, and a $24 administration fee to top it off.
After you pay off the tickets at the Abel Wolman Municipal Building, someone comes around and removes the boot. Don't pay, and they'll come back and impound your car. Still don't pay, and the car is eventually sold at auction.
Give me Liberty
Intrepid Commuter has noted more than once that the logic behind Baltimore Beltway signage occasionally mystifies us.
Dr. Leon Reinstein of Pikesville thinks he's found yet another example of questionable logic at Exit 18.
For the uninitiated, he is referring to the Liberty Road exit. At least he knows it as the Liberty Road exit.
Signs leading up to it call it the Liberty Road exit, too, but the sign at the exit doesn't call it Liberty Road. It says: Route 26 East or West/Lochearn or Randallstown.
"Many people looking for Liberty Road become confused," Dr. Reinstein writes. "The length of the word can't be a problem as farther down the beltway the sign for Exit 20 includes 'Reisterstown Road.' "
We forwarded Dr. Reinstein's observations to the State Highway Administration, which was not sympathetic.
SHA spokesman Chuck Brown says engineers believe that it is more important to put the two destinations on the exit sign and that the same holds true on Reisterstown Road where the actual exit sign lists the destinations, Garrison and Pikesville.
On the other hand, the exit for nearby Park Heights Avenue does not because there are "no major destinations" in the vicinity, Mr. Brown says.
"We haven't received a lot of calls and complaints about Exit 18, and we have no plans to change," he adds.
Intrepid Commuter leaves it to our readers to decide. If you feel strongly about it, write a letter to Hal Kassoff at the State Highway Administration, 707 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21202.
Scratch and dent
We couldn't let the week pass without sharing a letter from Pat Blackwell of Carney, who believes the biggest problem with commuters today is not their behavior on the highways, but their behavior in parking facilities.
She owns a "shiny red car" that has suffered more dents and scratches over the past year than any car she has ever owned. She theorizes that this is due to two things: the death of parallel parking, and the loss of respect for other people's property.
"These aren't even scratches from opening doors, but from misjudging distance and scraping the car while pulling into and/or out of the spaces," she writes. "And, of course, no one bothers to leave notes or offer to pay for the repairs."
KEEP IN TOUCH
Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.
Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.