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The Nose

Spaced Out

Posted 7/18/2001

The Nose is going to skip our usual digressive thousand-word lead here and just start with a picture:

Photo by City Paper Digi-Cam

Notice anything? Here, have another look:

Photo by City Paper Digi-Cam

When an anonymous civic-minded tipster let us know about this piece of municipal conceptual art--located on the northbound side of Eutaw Street at the end of downtown--we had our doubts. We imagined our dime-dropper might have meant that someone had installed a parking meter somewhere close to a fire hydrant, so a supposedly legal parking space impinged on that hard-to-judge 30-foot no-parking penumbra around the fireplug.

But the City Paper Digi-Cam does not lie, dear readers. This meter, installed next to a freshly paved stretch of curb is--well, check the picture. This meter is so thoroughly in the heart of hydrant-space that it seems whoever dug and set the post had to be careful not to stub a toe on the damn thing. ("Hey, look out for the fire hydrant," the Nose pictures the Department of Public Works crew saying as they maneuvered their meter-planting equipment.) It's completely unambiguous. The City of Baltimore is inviting you to park for up to four hours, at 20 minutes per quarter, smack-dab next to a fire hydrant.

As it happens, we had already been grappling with philosophical questions about the nature of parking. Two days earlier, we happened to be sitting in our car on North Calvert Street, while a colleague ran an errand inside the Sun building. We slid the Nosemobile into a roomy space that happened to be between two occupied meters--and a bystander came over to warn us that cars parked in the interstices between oversized meter-spaces can and do get ticketed.

So: A parking space is not a space where you can park your car; a parking space is the space commanded by a parking meter. The parking meter defines and authenticates what counts as legal parking. Which raises the question, What does Lovely Rita do if a car parks next to a meter and a hydrant?

An initial call to Public Works failed to illuminate things (though it did confirm that the obnoxious and wasteful one-car-per-meter rule is for real). The folks we spoke to guessed that if the hydrant-side meter was fed, the car would be OK. Having lost several pounds of flesh over the years to the City That Writes Tickets First and Asks Questions Later, we doubt it, but our regard for public safety kept us from parking there in order to find out.

After getting passed around Public Works for while, we got through to department spokesperson Kurt Kocher. "Theoretically, it sounds like somebody put something there by mistake," he said. "If we made a mistake, we're going to correct it." At which point the Public Works spokesperson began pleading with the Nose to reveal where Public Works had put its hydrant-meter combo. Out of the usual journalistic protectiveness--not to mention curiosity about how long it would take the department to solve the problem on its own--we resisted at first. But Kocher finally appealed, successfully, to our sense of pity. Without the address, he admonished, "We're going to waste a lot of the city's time looking for it."

O, the power of information: Within an hour, Kocher rang us back, triumphant. The meter had been removed. Moreover, the Nose had imagined everything all wrong: It's not that a crew planted a meter next to a hydrant. Oh, no. It turned out, Kocher said, that a crew had planted a hydrant next to a meter.

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