If I am wakeful on Tuesday nights at ten o’clock, I will watch “Parking Wars” (on A&E), but if I’m already sleepy, it is not designed to keep me up. Last night, I fell asleep waiting for the premiere to start (the cats have been getting me up at five in the morning), and also dozed during the show itself. It was a relief to finally go to bed when it was over.
These parking wars, set in Philadelphia, are between the parkers and the enforcers; I was hoping for civil wars among the parkers themselves. There was a segment in the auto pound, with deranged people trying to get their cars back. It features a frustration meter, which is good, and another graphic shows how long the person spends trying to get her car out of the pound. None of the victims come off very well, and the bureaucrats seem cool and rational in comparison. Mostly what this did was bring back unpleasant memories of the Thanksgiving weekend when I was in graduate school, in Vermont, and visited my brother (at the time), who had a loft next to the Hotel Chelsea, from in front of which my 1965 Plymouth Fury II got towed. In those days, it was no mean feat to scare up a hundred dollars, and to complicate matters my wallet had just been stolen, so I don’t know what I was using for I.D. A classic catch 22: the registration was in the car, and I couldn’t have the car until I produced the registration. I did what any girl would do under the circumstances: I cried. A certain Sergeant McEvilly scolded me, shaking his finger in my face and saying, “You can’t get through life by crying.” But he did give me my car back. And Hillary Clinton did win in New Hampshire.
There was also a segment where they followed the booters around. The boot is a medieval-looking contraption that clamps over a front wheel and disables your car. The booters drive around in teams, one of them tapping license-plate numbers into a computer to see who has unpaid parking tickets. If the scofflaw owes hundreds and hundreds of dollars, he gets booted and then towed. One of the booters always has to watch the other’s back, so she doesn’t get clubbed while attaching the boot. The drama lies in seeing the Philadelphians emerge from their houses and beg not to have their cars towed, or curse the booters. People scrawl obscenities on the boots, pee on them. (The booters wear gloves.) The best was when a little kid watching with her father as a shiny yellow boot was being applied (NOT to her father's car) asserted her desire to become a booter when she grew up.
Obviously, these parking wars are going to be weighted in favor of the law. The producers will be hanging around with the enforcers, developing relationships with them. The booters and meter maids and tow-truck drivers will be the steady cast, and the parkers will be at a disadvantage, like guests on "Candid Camera." Maybe in one episode the producers’ cars should get booted or ticketed or towed. Or the cops could lose their parking permits. That would shake things up. Otherwise, "Parking Wars" reminded me of why I don't watch reality shows: too much like real life.