In Montreal, the only thing that falls on your car more frequently than snow is parking tickets. On Monday, the car I’ve depended on for business, pleasure and moving friends for many years was sitting on my street during the restricted time of 1-2pm. When I realized this, I rushed home, only to find that I was a couple of minutes too late. The parking police had already busted me at 1:09pm.

A couple of days later, I drove down to rue Clark to help my friend move some belongings. There was nowhere available on the street except for a zone reserved for residents. “Not to worry,” I told myself. “I will only be absent from my car for about four minutes. It’ll be OK.” Not even seven minutes later, I exited the building, and already the parking police had left another red and white present.

Then this morning, at about 9:30am, I received a visit from Canada Post. It was registered mail, requiring my signature. I was excited because I thought maybe it was a cheque. I’ve never received a cheque by registered mail but I thought, “there’s a first time for everything.” And after all, I was owed a cheque… Ah, but what a fool I was to think positive! It was, in fact, a letter from the municipal court of Montreal, telling me that I’d failed to pay a parking ticket from last September. They were threatening to suspend my driver’s license, prohibit registration of my car, and moreover, they informed me that to drive prior to paying the fines would be illegal. Immediate payment of $153 was required to clear my name and keep me from becoming an outlaw.

parking fines

Such banal-looking pieces of paper, yet they unleash a half-day's worth of rage and grief

Eager to resolve this terrible oversight of mine (I really didn’t know you had to pay within 30 days) I called up the municipal court. An answering machine told me that all customer service agents were busy and that I should try again later. “That is very odd,” I said to myself. “How can it be that Montreal is so swift to give tickets but so ill-equipped to arrange for their collection?”

I worked for a short while and then tried calling the municipal court again. Same answering machine message. So I called la Societé de l’assurance de Québec instead. After my third try with their bizarro phone menu, I got through to a human being. I explained to the human being my frustration at being unable to pay my fine to the court. She put me on hold and about two minutes later said, “I got through to the court just fine. Try again.”

Maybe she had a special bureaucrat’s phone, because lo and behold, when I tried to call again, I got exactly the same response as before. And fifteen minutes later, the same thing. It was only on my sixth time that I got through. And then, my sole reward of a human-to-human conversation was being told to go to Outrement in person and pay my tickets.

I promptly jumped into my car (driving illegally, I suppose) and headed straight to the municipal court in Outremont. I arrived at 11:54am. There was a sign on the door saying that the court cashier would be closed from 12pm to 1pm.

“So I got here just in the nick of time,” I thought to myself, with a small amount of jubilation.

But my satisfaction was short lived. I ascended by elevator to the second floor, only to find out that in government land, lunch breaks start early. Not only were they not taking any new fine-payers, the little take-a-number machine was fresh out of numbers. I objected about this to a bureaucrat in the vicinity. She told me, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, that they deliberately remove the numbers before their lunch break. I would have to come back at 1pm.

I had an hour to kill in Outremont. I was hungry, but people of my income don’t eat in Outremont. That’s a fact. I walked around instead. When at last I returned to the court, I had the privilege of getting number 58. They were at that moment serving lucky delinquent driver number 47. I waited, waited, and waited.

It seems that many other roadway infractions can occur – cyclists cycle against traffic, skateboards also flagrantly go the wrong way on one-way streets, meanwhile, you’ll often find a car sitting in a lane of traffic, stopping the flow for minutes on end, while somebody who believes himself to be the centre of the universe has his hatchback open for loading up something he just purchased from Rona. None of those things merit fines; I’ve never seen or heard of anybody receiving one.

But if you park in the wrong spot at the wrong time, the wrath of Montreal is one you. Pay your fines on time, everyone. Heaven help you if you don’t.