Residents of Union Bridge instinctively dip a hand into their pocket for change when they spot Ellen R. Leppo ambling up the street.
She's in no hurry, stopping often to chat with friends. But if the red flag's up on the parking meter when she gets to your car, you can bet your last dollar she'll leave her calling card on your windshield.
"Nobody's safe," declares Mrs. Leppo, 66, the meter maid in this staid Carroll County town, population 910.
Mrs. Leppo's purview isn't great; the town's 63 parking meters line a mere three streets. She's hardly ever out of sight of the one stoplight.
And the economics of parking meters here is nickel-and-dime, literally. A nickel buys one hour; a dime two. Most parking fines are $1.
But Mrs. Leppo, clutching her blue ticket book with fingers
adorned by rings -- turquoise in summer, Black Hills gold in winter -- has monitored these meters nearly 14 years.
She has written tickets indiscriminately -- to people who've never met her, people who've known her all their lives, even people who share her home and call her Mom.
She has ticketed her husband and three of her children. She's nabbed the mayor and all the council members but one.
"I have four children," says Mrs. Leppo, taking a break between rounds at the town office. "I've ticketed two daughters, but I could never get the third one. And I've ticketed my son."
Her son is Sam R. Leppo, police chief of Westminster, the county seat. She laughs heartily recounting the tale.
She came across a car parked on Main Street at a meter flaunting its red flag. She circled around to the back and wrote a ticket.
See METER, 2B
She normally doesn't pay any attention to cars, she says; she just looks at the meters. But she noticed, in the back of this particular Ford station wagon, a child's toys -- and not just any toys. These she had seen inside her home. She had even bought some herself -- for her grandson.
"Oh no," she remembers thinking. "This is Sam's car."
He laughs about it, too. That day, he recalls, he was in the drug store getting a prescription filled. The druggist wanted to talk, but Mr. Leppo kept saying, "I've got to go. I've really got to go. I only put a penny in the meter."
By the time he finally got to his car, he was too late. The meter maid had gotten there first.
"You know," he says now, "that's the only ticket I ever got."
Union Bridge doesn't have penny parking meters anymore. But tickets are still $1, as long as you pay within a month -- most tickets anyway. Tickets for parking in alleys, at yellow curbs and in metered spaces longer than two hours are $10.
"I'm accused of standing on the street, in doorways, hiding in alleyways, just waiting for people's meters to go up," Mrs. Leppo says. "I don't do that. I'm only part-time."
She is officially part-time. Her pay is definitely part-time. But for a part-timer, she does seem to be on the street a good deal of the time.
She makes rounds three, four, five times a day in all kinds of weather -- six days a week. Parking is free on Sundays.
Kathy Kreimer, town clerk and treasurer, who's been ticketed "at least twice," says that Mrs. Leppo makes money for the town. In the 12 months ending June 30, the treasurer says, the town collected $1,487 in coins from meters and $3,641 in fines and penalties. That totals $5,128.
Mrs. Leppo was paid $3,080 in 1992 -- and received no benefits.
"I'm not in it, honey, for the money," she says. "I guarantee you."
She's in it, she says, because it gives her something to do. It'd be awfully easy, she says, to vegetate at home.
"And I figure this is my town," she says. "I grew up here. I can donate a little."
She retired as meter maid once already, when she turned 62. But nobody wanted the job. So after six months she went back to work, and this time plans to work as long as she can.
Mrs. Leppo, who has lived in Union Bridge since she was a girl, says she practices her father's philosophy toward public service. Her father, Israel Rinehart, was the town policeman until the day he died after a heart attack.
"My father always said, when you're facing the public, you have no friends," she says. "You treat everybody the same. There's no partiality.
"What would people say if I ticketed their car, and my daughter's car was right there and I didn't ticket her?"
Some manage to say quite a bit, regardless of equity. Mrs. Leppo has encountered abuse on the street. Twice she has had drivers arrested for disorderly conduct after cursing and threatening her -- over a $1 ticket.
One man, after detailing what he'd do if only she were a man, yelled in her face: Your son, the police chief, should teach you something about the law!
Standing her ground, Mrs. Leppo sternly replied: "I know a little about the law, sir. Your meter's red."