Louella Gets A Ticket in Downtown Baltimore

by A.C. Cherbonnier
November 2005--The muffler knocked against the bumper of Louella's aging dark green Miata as she rounded the curve of a cobblestone street in Federal Hill, looking for a free parking space in downtown Baltimore on a Sunday afternoon. At the bottom of the tree-lined hill, dead-ending into Key Highway, she pulled in and cut the engine. "Wow! My hard luck's changing!" she said to the bleached-blonde woman next to her. "Somebody must've just left! Guess it's a sign that we really should get some culture at the Science Center today!"

Her sister Candy cracked her gum. "Ya better check for parking signs, Lou, just in case. Those bloodsuckers'll get ya any way they can."

They looked up and down the street. "Looks cool!" said Candy. "Way to go!"

Louella gathered her battered Coach purse and sweater and stepped up from the cobblestone street onto the cobblestone walk, nearly turning her ankle. "That'll teach ya for wearing them high heels!" said Candy. "At your age, tennis shoes are what you oughtta be wearing, like me."

Like you? thought Louella, inwardly wincing at the reminder that she'd soon be 45. That's precisely why I do wear these heels, so I'm not like you!

"Hey, Lou! Why d'ya think people think these dumb stones are so cool? They're, like, dangerous!"

"Well, some people think they've got charm," said Louella in the instructional tone she reserved for family members who didn't have a college education.

"Charm? Yeah, right!" said Candy. "Fall down and break your leg, that's charming all right!"

Two doors down from the car, a realtor's open house sign caught their attention. "Hey, let's go in and have a look!" said Candy. "Don't cost nothin' to look!"

They went inside and signed the real estate agent's guest book. Candy signed her real name, Candace Pryzbylewski, but Louella wrote "Eleanor Preston."

"Would you just stop doing that!" hissed Candy. "You know how Dad hates it that you won't use our name!"

Louella just glared at her. You idiot! she thought. They'll find you easy enough in the phone book even if you did give a fake phone number!

The agent, an attractive brunette, approached them with a broad smile. "Let me know if you have questions!" she said, radiating perkiness. Louella hated her at once.

The house was only two rooms deep, and there was only a tiny back yard that was shielded by an eight-foot stockade fence. "No parking, I see," she observed.

The agent finessed. "You don't really need a car if you live here. Everything's in walking distance--from the train to downtown to Cross Street Market. It's just the best location!"

If you can afford $700,000 for this place, you sure would have a car, Louella groused to herself.

She and Candy climbed the stairs to explore three more levels of rooms, some of which had a nice view of the harbor. Out of earshot of the agent, Candy said, "Ya know, this house isn't any bigger than Mom and Dad's! It's just got a granite countertop and a better view!"

"You know what they say about real estate though, Candy--location, location, location."

"Huh! This location's right close to a four-lane highway! Think about all that soot on your windowsills! And noise! You call this 'location'?"

"But you can invite your friends over to see the fireworks on the Fourth of July!"

"Yeah, yeah. Once a year you've got something special. I just don't get it, I really don't. Sitting up there on that rooftop deck, it'd be hot as blazes!"

"Candy, you've got no sense of what's fun, you know that?"

"Boy, coming from you, that really means something! Miss Fun, that's you!"

They exited the house, and right away Candy noticed a meter maid was sticking a ticket on a car windshield. "Lou! Look! You've got a parking ticket!"

Louella hobbled over the stones to the car and grabbed the paper rectangle. Forty-five dollars! You're kidding me! Waving it at the meter maid, she demanded, "What's this about? We can park here! There's no sign saying we can't!"

The meter maid looked sympathetic. "Sorry, but you must not have noticed that sign at the end of the block."

"I don't see a sign!" said Louella, looking in that direction.

"You would once the leaves all fall," said the meter maid. "Normally it would be okay to park here, but today's a game day, and the sign says you can't park here on a game day unless you've got a resident's permit."

"Game day? How's anybody supposed to know it's a game day?" Louella fumed.

"I think they have signs up on the interstates," was the reply. "I just know because they told me at the start of my shift."

"This isn't fair!"

"You'll know better next time," the meter lady soothed. "And you can always file an appeal. Maybe the judge will take pity on you."

"You can bet I will!"

said Louella. Good thing I'm out of work, so I won't lose money by going to court.

The real estate agent was locking up the house as the open house time came to a close. "Oh, dear," she said, instantly knowing what the problem was. "I'm so sorry! I should've warned you about parking here, but I didn't know it was a game day!"

Louella rolled her eyes. Candy stubbed at a cobblestone, knowing better than to say anything when her sister got into one of her indignant moods.

"You know what, Candy?" said Louella, unlocking the car. "All of a sudden I don't feel much like going to the Science Center after all. I just don't want to spend any more money in this city today!"


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This story was published on November 16, 2005.