I’ve got a golden ticket
I’ve got a golden chance to make my way
And with a golden ticket, it’s a golden day …
OK, so the ticket wasn’t golden. It was orange.
And it wasn’t a free ride to the Chocolate Factory. It was a $40 ride to the poorhouse.
I drove up to Boston recently, to take part in a celebration dinner for a graduating class of opticians I’d taught as a guest lecturer back in the fall.
Driving in the city doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s the parking that gets me. I’d only ever been to the location with my best friend, Dib, who drove each time. And even with her knowledge of the area, parking had never been easy. So I’d set out two hours before the event, to give myself more than adequate time to find street parking or a nearby garage.
To my surprise, I found an open spot by a meter, not even a block from the school.
The digital message on the meter informed me that operational hours were 6:00AM to 6:00PM. It was 6:05. Kismet!
Still, ever the conscientious sort, I inquired of a passerby who said he lived in the area. “This meter says it’s only operational until 6:00. Is there any reason you can think of that I shouldn’t park here?” The man assured me that I was good to go.
However, when I returned to the car after the event, there it was: the bright orange ticket, placed under a wiper.
I was aware of my pulse rising, feeling it in my throat, just under my Adam’s apple. I unfolded the citation: Resident Parking Only. $40.
Resident Parking Only? With furrowed brow, I looked both ways along the sidewalk. Nothing to the rear. Ahead, perhaps 30 feet or so, was the metallic back of some kind of sign. I walked to it and read the other side: Metered parking 6:00AM – 6:00PM. Resident Parking Only 6:00PM – 6:00AM.
I’d done my due diligence. I’d even asked a resident. How could I have guessed that a back-to sign way up the sidewalk applied to a metered area … or that the metered parking became resident parking after a certain hour?
Here, I faced a choice.
I could give in to negativity, ruminating on the unfairness of it all until my mood soured. I could get angry, decrying the City of Boston as thieves who think nothing of deception and robbing people to make a buck. I could picture that rotten police officer smirking while glibly writing out my ticket — just like every other person in authority, getting high on their own sense of self-importance. They know that people aren’t going to appeal these things, because of the time and inconvenience of driving back into the city and spending all day in court, only to have them stick you with it anyway. And all so they can pad the tills to overpay some fat, lazy cop to stand around on construction detail eating donuts …
Isn’t this how things go if we let them?
In other words, I could play the part of the victim, the oppressed.
I could start by telling myself, “You always have a choice.”
I could choose to remain positive.
I could choose to see this as an opportunity to practice patience.
I could choose go through my worry checklist, making note of what I could do about the situation if anything, and when I could do it.
I could choose to view the unseen people involved as people and not as problems.
These choices combined into a decision to visit the website listed on the ticket. That led to learning there was an online appeal process, which surprised me, having believed that live appeals were the only option.
The appeal form only allowed 500 characters — not words — with which to explain why you felt the ticket had been given in error — a fact which certainly put my skills as a writer (and problem solver) to the test. But I finally managed it and sent it off, with the promise that I’d receive an answer within 10 business days.
Let me point out that appealing the ticket could still have been done with victim mentality, assuming that the police department only offers such appeals as a technicality, and that the whole thing was just an automated process that churns out GUILTY with an email bot. Or that any actual person would be no better, not even reading what anyone has to say, just clicking “No … no … no … no …”
Honestly, I went in picturing that a reasonable person would be on the other end, or I’d never have bothered.
Sure enough, about two weeks later, I got the email reply. A decision had been made: the ticket had been repealed.
Even at this point, choices existed. Would I feel entitled, thinking, Darned right, you appealed it, ‘cause your whole stupid ticket was a scam in the first place! (You know this to be true about human nature.)
After a little digging, I was able to find a contact email address for the appeals office. I sent them a quick email:
THU 5/18/17 3:04PM
Today, I received a letter from your office informing me that, in response to my appeal, you have administratively dismissed my ticket. I just wanted to say thank you. I’m sure much of your day is spent ameliorating tense situations and receiving negative feedback. I felt it was in order to acknowledge appreciation as well.
Enjoy our early summer!
Within a half-hour, I received a reply from a real person — Jacquelynne — who expressed her thanks and appreciation for the email, confessing that, yes, it can get wearing with all the negative, while they seldom hear the positive.
I know what you’re thinking: Yes, well, that’s all fine and dandy. But what if they hadn’t decided to repeal the ticket? Then what would you have done?
And the truth is that then … I’d have had yet more choices to make.
Appeal in person, claiming that 500 characters hadn’t been enough to adequately state my case? I could have. Likely, I would have returned to my worry checklist, paired with my go-to stress question: “Will this matter in a year?” And I would have quickly come to the conclusion (rightly so) that, no, it won’t matter in a year, and so it’s not worth another moment’s thought or happiness.
We seem to think that the course of life is determined by the big decisions we make. And I suppose to some degree, that’s true. But how can we expect to handle weightier decisions well, if we’ve made a habit of giving in to negativity and self-indulgence with regard to the hundreds of choices that came before?
The little choices we make each day have a cumulative and exponential effect. Positivity becomes easier with practice. Unfortunately, so does negativity.
For better or worse, the past is the past. We can learn from it, but we can’t change it.
The future, however, begins with one choice — the next one.