I did it.
I said the absolutely worst thing. The exact opposite of what you should say – when you get a parking ticket.
I'd parked on Santa Fe, just south of Solano in Albany at around 4 p.m. on a weekday. The signs allow you 90 minutes, but I didn't expect any problem. It would take about 90 minutes to smoke a cigar, read a magazine, or perhaps chat with others at The Pub. At 6, the parking laws disappear so there'd only be twenty or so minutes where I might get a ticket.
I figured that the restriction was so people didn't park there all day. After two or three, I didn't think the Meter People checked.
But when I came out about 5:30, the meter man was writing me up. I yelled out, "Hey, I counted only 89 minutes."
It was worth a try.
"No, the man said calmly from his three-wheeled cab (an Interceptor III!). "It's over 90. I marked it."
"Hey, C'mon. Give me a break."
He stared at me like I'd stolen food from his mother. "That's the worst thing you can say."
"Wow," I said. "The worst thing."
I was almost proud of my indiscretion until I realized he'd heard it before. Maybe several times that day.
Still, to be graded on the inappropriateness of my plea! How great was that!
I wondered what was so terrible about it. I was just hoping for a little leniency. Groveling-lite.
I'm very careful about tickets, averaging about one every two years. But a couple of weeks ago, I had gotten nicked in Montclair because I didn't see the sign that said you had to pay the meter. These days those signs can be a half-mile ahead or behind your car. I was on the wrong side. The other side of Mountain Blvd. is free.
Asking for a break didn't seem so bad to me. But if this guy who had my life in his hands said I had broken the most important rule of parking ticket etiquette, then I guess it was.
But if I had said the worst thing, I needed to know – for future reference – what the best thing was. What was the phrase that would get you out of ticket and put you in good stead with meter maid society?
Was it, "I have always admired the Metering Armed Forces. You give order to our chaotic society. Now will you tear up that ticket so we can get on with our lives?"
Or, "I've been writing a novel based on Metered People. I've had some interest from Spielberg. I could see you, kind Metering Man, with a fairly meaty role in it. Now if you'll just..."
Or perhaps the politicians favorite, "If I've offended any other would-be parkers on Santa Fe Avenue by taking up more than my allotted 90 minutes, then I apologize from the bottom of my apology."
Okay, I give up.
"What's the best thing to say?"
"I made a mistake," he said.
"I made a mistake," I repeated dumbly, like I'd never heard the phrase before. There's a new one. Admit my error. Now, I'll grant you I wouldn't have thought of saying that. In my mind, that would have guaranteed me a ticket.
"That's it," he said.
He was waiting for me to say it.
I hesitated for a nanosecond. "Okay, I made a mistake."
He tore up the ticket.
Now, I have the answer. And now, I give it to you.
Before you go to Thailand, learn how to say, "I made a mistake." Over-parked in Podunk?
Use it wisely, my friends. Better yet, don't make mistakes.