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The man who writes the tickets

by Arik Forsman

Mike quickly weaves between the cars, in the middle of the rows. His grey UMD sweatshirt bounces to his quick pace. The red bill of his UMD hat flicks from side-to-side, as he glances through the windshields of cars for permits and at the parking meters nearby.

Mike is a UMD parking enforcement officer. His boss insisted that he go by only his first name for this story. On the job, Mike's been called a lot of things.

“People have offered to fight,�? he says.

Every semester, UMD Parking Services is responsible for handing out thousands of dollars worth of parking tickets to help keep the university’s traffic flowing. There is no average day for how many tickets are written, as there is no quota, according to Parking Services Director Cheryl Love.

One of only three parking enforcement officers here at UMD, Mike is that guy who drives around in the green “Parking Services�? truck. Two more employees also work the toll booth in the pay lot, and Love is the lone supervisor.

The department’s small size doesn’t translate to a small reputation on campus. Despite the occasional offer to brawl, Mike said most of the students he bumps into are very cordial. However, he doesn’t blame the students who get upset when they get a ticket.

“They have a right to get pissed,�? he says. “Personally I don’t think anybody’s happy about it.�?

He works from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. Besides monitoring the meters, the parking monitors check permit lots, help people who have questions, call the cops for someone if they lock their keys in, and monitor handicap spots on campus.

The three monitors usually divvy up the lots so that they can effectively patrol the area. There is no schedule or pattern for where the monitors have to go, just as long as they keep moving.

His gear includes a handheld computer, which runs a Windows program that writes the automated tickets, and a ticket printer, which is strapped on to his belt. Before getting his current gig, Mike worked in housing at UMD. He got two parking tickets on campus, one for parking in a Maroon lot and one meter violation.

�?I didn’t think they were that ruthless here,�? he says with a laugh. �?They forced me to buy a permit when I came here so I wouldn’t get tagged.�?

Mike, 49, has only been working in parking services for about a year. He quit his time-consuming office job as a quality assurance manager after 25 years. Mike took a huge pay cut to start something new, but says the time he got back from not dragging work home with him is worth it.

Now, he gets to work outside, be around the college atmosphere, and has time to catch a Twins game at home with his family.

He feels, despite the bad reputation of his job, he is actually trying to do the students a service.

�?Hey man, we’re not out here to try and cut you on the tuition,�? he says. “Just to keep the university flowing.�?

On this day, a Tuesday, Mike said many students would probably think all the lots were full. However, in the Maroon lots off the west side of Oakland, there are a sea empty, dirt spaces. He said he has seen those lots used, but never full. According to parking services, UMD has not been at full capacity yet this spring, even though they sell three Maroon passes for every space.

As he strolls along the meters near the School of Medicine on Kirby Drive, Mike notes one of the misconceptions people have is that parking monitors will wait until a meter runs out to give a ticket.

�?We walk behind the meters just looking for the red flashing,�? he says. “So if there’s a minute left, and we walk by, we just keep on rolling.�?

If Mike is in the process of writing a ticket, and sees the owner of the car he is writing up come running up to him, he stops writing the ticket and rips it up. This doesn’t happen more than a few times a week, but as long as the owner will plug the meter or move the car, he has no problem cutting them a break.

�?More than happy to,�? he says.

People like to play jokes on the monitors. Students in housing will park bumper-to-bumper, knowing he walks in between the rows. Some people will also press their panic button when he is near their car.

�?It’s harassment, I swear,�? he says with a grin.

Over in the meters by Griggs Hall, Mike finds one of those “red flashes.�? He slowly gets out of the truck, and pulls out the computer. He punches in the license plate number, color of the vehicle, location of the meter, and any comments about the ticket. He takes a few minutes getting in the information, and then walks back to his truck. He grabs the printer, and saunters back out.

He takes a long look around to see anyone is coming around, but no one is in sight. He hits print, tears the ticket off his belt, puts it in the orange envelope, and places it on the windshield. Once it’s on the windshield, it’s a done deal. By law, monitors can not take back a ticket already on the windshield of a car.

By noon, Mike only gives out three tickets, all parking meter violations. He will head to the pay lot booth for a couple hours, and finish up his shift with a few more hours on the street.

He was happy to keep people moving without giving too many tickets. A perfect day would be no traffic problems and no tickets.

�?Great day for the kids,�? he says. “Everyone goes home and they didn’t get a damn ticket.�?