Ever since I began taking part in the weekly Saturday meetings of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective in Scranton I have been faced with the question: to pay, or not to pay?
The streets of Scranton are lined with parking meters, decades-old pieces of hardware with fancy new electronic displays for letting you (and parking enforcement officials) know when your time is up. Times and dates of operation are printed inside the half-domes enclosing the parking meter head, but these are usually too clouded by pollutants and ultraviolet radiation to be able to see clearly. When I first began attending meetings at the old location of the Vintage (then the Vintage Theater) the proprietor advised me after I had dropped a fistful of quarters into the meter that parking was free on Saturdays. That would have been in October 2011. Since then the Vintage has relocated to 326 Spruce Street in Scranton, the Scranton Parking Authority has been dissolved and parking meter management has been placed in the hands of outside vendors, and there has been some discussion of changing the hours of operation of meters in Scranton to include Saturdays.
The thing is, according to little slips of paper helpfully inserted into the half-domes of parking meters, those hours are already in effect.
It's hard to see in the original, but in this enhanced view you can read the two inch long slip of paper:
There's a website helpfully included at the bottom of the slip of paper for those seeking more information, scrantonparking.com. Anyone visiting that URL is helpfully informed that the website may be available for purchase, but is otherwise inactive.
I've only ever received one ticket of any sort in my entire life so far, and that was a parking ticket for being at a meter too long. It was when I was parked at the Pennsylvania CareerLink in Wilkes-Barre, also known as the unemployment office. As I was unemployed, I had carefully doled out my coins for the typical length of one of our weekly Job Club meetings, plus a fifteen minute buffer. I did not realize that the guest speaker we had for our meeting that week was going to go on at great length with whatever it was she was presenting. I nervously checked my watch as the minutes dragged by, watching the time when my meter would run out approach, arrive, and pass by. As soon as the speaker finished I leaped out of my chair and gathered my stuff to head for the door. "Oh, am I keeping you from something?" she said sarcastically. "No, I need to feed the meter," I replied. "Don't want to get a ticket." But by then it was too late. The Wilkes-Barre meter attendants are particularly predatory when it comes to the meters outside of the CareerLink office, and will wait to watch a meter expire so they can ticket the offending vehicle immediately. Several other people at that Job Club meeting received tickets that day - including the guest speaker.
That was a sore spot for me, and I wound up giving the City of Wilkes-Barre ten dollars I could have used otherwise, ten dollars which I am sure did not go to any good use. I'd really rather not be paying money to the City of Scranton, either. Yet week after week as I arrive in downtown Scranton for our Saturday meeting, I notice cars sitting at meters that show remaining minutes - meters which have been fed. On a Saturday. Do these people know something I don't? I've been reasoning that they might, and the past few weeks I've been dropping two hours' worth of quarters into the coin slot. Better to waste two dollars than get fined ten, or twenty, or whatever the going rate in Scranton is.
The City of Scranton has not really done anything to clear up this matter officially. The city website is silent on the matter of parking (and does not have a search function built in to make things easier), and the scrantonparking.com website, as previously noted, does not exist at the time of this writing.
So what is the official position on the matter of parking in Scranton on a Saturday? The local newspaper says that parking is free on Saturdays, but articles in local newspapers are rarely seen as having the force of law. The little slip of paper inside the meter says parking meters are in effect on Saturday, but that slip of paper may be a relic of a bygone era - or a foretaste of things to come. Short of having an official, current, published pronouncement, it's anybody's guess. An officer of the law who chose to write tickets for vehicles parked at expired meters on a Saturday meed only poke a thumb at the little slips of paper in the meters to make his case for giving you a ticket.
I think Scranton has decided to have it all ways by officially keeping things vague and confusing. Without an official declaration that the meters are in effect on Saturdays, no one has cause to complain. Any ignorant fools who choose to feed the meters on Saturdays are providing the city with a little extra revenue. And anyone a police officer doesn't like the looks of may very well find himself on the receiving end of a fine for not putting coins in the meter during clearly posted hours of operation. It's a win-win-win situation - for the City of Scranton, at least.