Ticket Master

Nina Mandell

My job is basically customer service, helping people,” Kerry-Serge Deslaurier says as we’re driving slowly past a line of parked Audis, Hondas, and the occasional Nissan. He’s wearing a blue Evanston parking patrol jacket in a reverse-driver side white Evanston, Ill., Office of Parking Enforcement-issued Jeep, writing $15 parking tickets to approximately every fifth car in the perfectly-parked line. “I understand people might not think I’m helping them when I’m giving them a citation, but in general I’m helping them.”

Officer Deslaurier is a parking enforcer. At 30, he’s been on the force for almost a decade, writing tickets without remorse to anyone who breaks his parking laws. His Jeep is filled with cool toys like a walkie-talkie so he can talk to police in case of emergency, to other people on patrol or to his dispatchers. He gets a bullhorn that he uses to warn people of snow emergencies being declared.

He doesn’t, however, get a gun or even pepper spray, and he doesn’t understand why he would need one. He is vaguely aware that his car might be the most hated one in the suburban Chicago, but doesn’t really think it’s him that people hate at all. He likes to point out the parts of his job that make people like him, like giving directions, filling in for crosswalk guards, and “informing people how they can be in compliance with the parking regulations and directing them to parking garages.”

After only a few minutes in the Jeep I realize Deslaurier’s just developed really thick skin. He’s driving slowly through Library Place when a man in a suit comes up to the side door and knocks on the window.

“Excuse me, how long is it OK to park here?” he asks Deslaurier.

“Two hours, man, and then you get a ticket,” Deslaurier replies.

“How much is a ticket?”

“$15, but there’s a parking garage two blocks away.”

“But I have a three-hour orientation in five minutes and I don’t have time to run back-I can only get one ticket, right?”

“No, we can ticket you every hour we drive around if you don’t move your car,” Deslaurier says.

He then proceeds to go to through a list of Evanston parking laws and parking garages. The man rolls his eyes in frustration and walks back towards his car to move it.

“That’s the part of my job I like,” he says to me. “Informing people of where they can park so that they don’t get tickets.”

Deslaurier is a genuinely nice guy, I think. Which begs the question, why would anyone want to be a parking enforcer?

Reason One: $40,000 a year and benefits minus the desk job

Deslaurier isn’t like most of the college students and upper-middle class citizens he tickets every day. He grew up and lives on the south side of Chicago. He graduated from high school and then worked at Best Buy for two years before working in the parking enforcement. He sees higher meaning in parking enforcement in the form of a starting salary of $40,000 a year and benefits. Like anyone who doesn’t have a desk job, he says he was never meant for one.

“I like Evanston,” he says. “It’s a nice town and it’s nice to get to know the town.”

Reason Two: You can be a people person

Surprisingly enough, Deslaurier enjoys his interactions with people all day. Even the ones who argue with him, or flick him off as he drives by, or just give him that look on the street. His favorite of the day is a 20-something girl who runs out to see her car getting ticketed.

“Oh no. Am I getting a ticket?” she says, opening her eyes wide.

“You didn’t feed your meter. Feed your meter,” Deslaurier responds.

“Awww-Can’t you let me off?” she asks.

“No-gotta feed your meter,” he says handing her the ticket as she laughs and shakes her head.

“She’s a good-natured ticket receiver,” he says, shaking his head and smiling.

Reason Three: The rumors aren’t true

From the minute I climb into the Jeep, there are some myths Deslaurier needs to debunk about parking patrol. First, there is no quota. And if he did have a quota, his day would be done after spending a few hours around the Starbucks in south Evanston between 6 and 9 in the morning. He has what he calls “repeat customers,” people that he has begun to recognize, and he truly considers leaving notes on their cars.

“It’s like, ‘Here’s your ticket of the day, it’s like your coffee of the day’,” he says. “I want to be like, ‘What are you doing? I want to do what you’re doing [to have that much money to spend on tickets]’. And what’s funny is there’s meters available a block away. I don’t understand it.”

Second, the parking enforcement officials are actually all very nice. “I mean, we have different personalities,” Deslaurier says, “but everyone’s nice. The girls all went on a cruise together last year.”

Third, there’s no way to get out of tickets, even if you catch the parking enforcement giving them to you.

The one time he can recall taking back a ticket is his first week on the job when a 16-year-old girl sobbed about getting a ticket. Two minutes later he drove by to see her laughing with friends and pointing at him.

“I got burned,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m never falling for that again.”

The only person who claims that they got away without a ticket was one delivery guy outside of Potbelly’s. “Come on man,” he says to Deslaurier. “We give you guys free sandwiches so that you don’t ticket us-you’re messing with my business.” Deslaurier denies it, calmly handing the guy his ticket and glancing nervously at me as the delivery guy goes on to describe one of the parking enforcement officials perfectly.

Reason Four: “People are funny sometimes,” and you learn how to deal with them

We’re driving around the north side of Deslaurier’s route and going about the usual ticket business, chatting about the interesting people he meets along his route (and gives parking tickets to), like opera singers. Two minutes later, we meet one of the Evanston celebrities, the Northwestern University soccer coach.

Tim Lenahan is mad. He has just been alerted that he is getting a parking ticket. At first he turns on the recruiting-trip charm, trying to negotiate his way out.

“I was in the laundromat for two hours and two minutes. I put two hours in the meter. Can’t you just let it go this time?” he asks.

When Deslaurier doesn’t relent, Lenahan argues some more, and then looks to his assistant for help. Three minutes later, he’s grabbing the yellow slip from Deslaurier and backs away yelling, “Have a nice freakin’ day.”

Deslaurier is completely unfazed. Since his first month on the job when a woman smacked him for not taking away her ticket, his patience has been tested by angry ticket victims everywhere. He can get police assistance by alerting them through his walkie talkie, but he’s never had to since that first incident. And he didn’t even get that woman arrested.

Reason Five: Your boss is way more hated than you are.

The Evanston Parking Enforcement employs 13 total workers: 11 drivers and two supervisors. In a town that has been expanding exponentially for the past 10 years, the parking enforcement division consults with city planners on where to put parking garages, meters and other solutions to the growing problem of parking in,what Deslaurier terms a “21st-century city built in the 19th century.”

The head of the department, Rick Foss, has been with the Evanston Parking Enforcement for a little less than year, his first job after being a police officer. He’s 57, with a gap in the middle of his teeth, a buzz cut and a remarkable resemblance to a stereotypical high-school gym teacher.

He says friends don’t judge him for being the head of the parking enforcement department because, as traffic cops, they’re not popular either.

And yes, his family has received parking tickets. A large part of his day is spent dealing with irate citizens, but it’s rare that he has to discipline a parking enforcement official for behavior. But the people who call in can g
o on for hours.

“They just want to vent,” he says. “They don’t hate us, they just only see us in a negative role.”

Reason Six: Civil service is hot and can land you on a TV commercial

“Have you ever seen the infamous cable commercial with me on it?” Rick asks me, rather excitedly, when I ask him about the department’s public relations efforts. “I’m the guy on there talking about street cleaning. I guess I’m like a local celebrity for that.”

Rick would have done the job without the television fame though. After 25 years, he was done with the force but didn’t want to leave the city of Evanston that “treated me very well.”

Whether Evanston businesses deny it or not, the parking enforcement is a huge help to the Evanston economy, according to Deslaurier’s counter-intuitive logic that assumes it’s always employees getting parking tickets downtown.

“If someone is parked in front of your store all day, customers don’t have any place to park,” he says. “That hurts business.”

Reason Seven: People are lazy and stubborn, might as well give them a ticket for it

“I don’t understand why people can’t keep tabs on their permits,” Deslaurier says as he tickets a red Dakota pickup truck with about $105 in permit expiration and expired plates. “I mean, if you didn’t keep up your car insurance, it would be $500 the first time.”

As for the two-hour zones? There’s no excuse, he says, not to walk from the parking garage to class or wherever you’re going. Because, yes, your car can be repeatedly ticketed until it’s moved, and the city garages don’t cost even close to what that will cost you.

Repeated parking offenders can get their cars booted or towed. Besides that being a pain, it can cost upwards of $200 to get the boot off and you still have to pay the outstanding tickets. And Deslaurier really doesn’t have patience for people like that.

But then again, when it comes to parking enforcement, Deslaurier really just looks to enforce the law. And if he needs support, he finds it in the walkie talkie, as well as the other enforcement workers who proudly sport the blue Evanston parking patrol jacket.

“We have to be together because people might not have the correct opinion of us,” he tells me. “It’s us against irate citizens.”

Medill junior Nina Mandell is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected]