Providence parking meter madness



“This is going to sound like a strange request, but I’m not sure what to do at this point,” I said over the phone to a Providence Police officer last Tuesday night.

As we spoke, I recalled some bizarre things that have happened to me during the short time in which I’ve been a journalist. I’ve been stuck in a historical graveyard with a broken camera in the pouring rain, nearly kicked out of an airport, and forced to interview a drunk man who was aggressively hitting on me in the Boston Common. But Tuesday topped my list of nutty reporting experiences.

A few hours prior, I arrived at the State House for the first session of Rhode Island’s General Assembly. I huddled under my umbrella, safe from the rain as I inserted my debit card into the parking meter.

Then, my card got stuck…really stuck.

My cold, numb fingers worked unsuccessfully to pry it out. I wondered how crazy I looked as I fought with the meter, my already broken umbrella turned inside-out from the wind and the rain pelting my face.

I soon had no choice but to leave the card if I didn’t want to be late. So I left, feeling incredibly stupid.

“Glad I did my hair today,” I grumbled as I speed-walked, noticing that my shoulder length curls had wilted from the rain.

I stumbled into the State House, still very flustered, only to be met with another obstacle seconds later.

“TESSA!!!” I heard a woman yell. Once I realized she was someone I knew, I returned the hug she immediately enveloped me in and tried to muster a greeting. Then, like the whirlwind of a human she is, she turned around and started introducing me to the man she’d been talking to, excitedly telling him what a “great young reporter” I am. I shook the man’s hand, mumbled something about having to get to the session, and bolted.

I scurried to the House Chamber, hoping he wasn’t someone important. But much to my chagrin, I later discovered he was, in fact, a rather important member of a U.S. senator’s staff. Oops.

I finally relaxed when I got to the Chamber. I spoke with Barry Tedder from Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson’s campaign and then ran into Representative Evan Shanley, who excitedly introduced me to his newborn son, Maxwell. I forgot about my card abandoned on the streets of Providence as the session went on. It wasn’t until after I’d pulled a few legislators aside for some post-session comments that I remembered.

“I have to go dig my debit card out of a parking meter,” I texted one of my Beacon colleagues. If it was still there – I expected it would be stolen and that I’d have to cancel it.

Thankfully, the card was still there. I started wrestling the meter, again to no avail. Tedder even tried to help – I held my umbrella over his head, which proved difficult as he’s at least a foot taller than me, as he battled the meter. We tried using my small pocket tool to wedge it out, but the tool broke. After finding a couple numbers to try (there didn’t seem to be one on the meter), I thanked and apologized for his help and told him I’d manage. As I couldn’t reach anyone else, and since State House security could only recommend I call my bank, my last resort was calling the Providence Police. They sounded unsurprised by my debacle.

“Yeah, that happens a lot. Usually by the time we send someone out, people have gotten the card out,” the person on the phone told me.

I emphasized that I’d exhausted my efforts; this thing was not coming out. They agreed to send someone, and two officers showed up a while later.

“It’s not you, it’s the meter,” one said as I began apologizing. He stuck another card below mine and pulled. My card didn’t budge.

“This trick usually gets them right out. But this one, I don’t know,” he laughed.

I called my dad to let him know what was happening; both of us struggled to breathe as we laughed. This would certainly only happen to me.

The officers eventually managed to free my card after about 20 minutes. Elated, I thanked them profusely and cranked the heat in my car as I began my journey home. As soon as I got home, I jumped into a hot shower, which I’m not sure I’d ever been so thankful for – I was freezing and totally drenched.

I can’t say I have any solutions; I’ve heard the meters are fairly new. For now, all I can say is thank goodness for the Providence Police. I recommend keeping quarters on you if you need to park in the city; you might spend two hours in the rain, inconvenience the police, or embarrass yourself in front of a senator’s staff member if you don’t.


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Maybe based on comments about this being a regular occurrence, an inquisitive reporter can make some ARPA requests and find out who makes the meters, how often cards get trapped, if other cities use them and what are the numbers there for stuck card calls, you know, do some background. Maybe find out that these meters are flawed and under-performing, maybe other cities had to replace that model (maybe we got theirs!) and expose that story if there is one, so they can be replaced.

Sunday, January 15

Meters around the RI State House which won't give your debit card back- what a perfect metaphor for RI's financial mess and attitude towards its citizens' money...

Monday, January 16