Archive for Monday, May 14, 2007

Parking ticket prompts cross-country relocation

May 14, 2007


When people ask why I moved to Lawrence, I say: "Because I got a parking ticket."

It's true. It happened on April 4, 2006, near the corner of Seventh and Massachusetts streets.

By way of background, I grew up in the southwest corner of the state and briefly called Lawrence home while at Kansas University. I left town in 1968 and headed for Chicago. After 15 years there, and a brief sojourn in Jerusalem, I ended up for the next two decades in Rockville, Md. Though I regularly came back to Kansas to see my parents, I never once, during the 38 intervening years, drove through Lawrence.

So there were plenty of surprises waiting for me when I drove into town last April. Sidewalk cafes, art galleries, bookstores, boutiques, coffee houses, antique shops, bakeries, and yes, some old-time stalwarts: Weaver's Department Store and Ernst & Son Hardware.

I was here to have lunch at the Eldridge Hotel with a table full of total strangers - soon to become my friends. I found an empty spot on Seventh Street in front of a bookstore with a curious name, The Raven. I was in town to meet some "fans," as a certain professor from KU described them. I had written a novel, "Buffalo Spirits," that drew on my experiences growing up in western Kansas, and this professor, whom I'd never met, e-mailed and said that if I ever came through town, he would arrange for me to meet some of my readers. So after a book appearance in the central part of the state, I headed to Lawrence, which was only slightly off my route back to the Kansas City airport.

I fed two quarters into the meter - enough to get me through a long lunch. And then a series of events caused me to totally forget about my rental car sitting at an expired meter.

At lunch, I met people who told me what they loved about Lawrence. When I mentioned that I'd begun collecting buffalos, someone told me I must visit the Merc and pick up their T-shirt - the one with the friendly buffalo on the front reminding you to eat your greens and the menacing message on the back saying, "Cooperate and no one gets hurt."

On the way back to my car, I stopped at The Raven to browse. When I showed my book, hoping the store would order it, the clerk looked at the cover and said, "Oh, that's a Stan Herd buffalo." Surprised, I asked how he could so quickly identify the artist used for the cover, and he told me Herd lived in Lawrence. I knew the artist only through e-mail - I'd requested to use his sketch of a buffalo I'd seen on a Web site. Now I was being told that a gallery on Massachusetts Street was displaying several of his paintings. So I headed over and asked the gallery for Herd's phone number, and was told to look in the phone book. "Everyone in Lawrence lists in the phone book."

Sure enough, he was in the book. Herd informed me he was one block away, so we met for coffee. After finding out about all of Herd's exciting projects and securing his permission to use his "Running Buffalo #9" for the book's paperback cover, I moved down the street, browsing.

And that's how the afternoon continued to unfold, one interesting chance discovery after another. Wonderful places. Wonderful people.

I decided to get over to KU in time to hear the carillon bells. That's when I headed back to the car and discovered the parking ticket. I let out a series of (quiet) expletives, as I always do when I pluck a parking ticket off of my car windshield.

"Two dollars!" I may have actually shouted it. "Two dollars!" I was so delighted, I had to report it to someone. When I pointed it out to some random passerby, saying, "I can't believe this parking ticket," he answered. "Yeah, everybody's pretty upset about those. It used to be one dollar." (A ticket in D.C. can cost $85 or more.)

I didn't drop my $2 parking fine in one of the yellow boxes on Massachusetts Street. I took it home. Nobody was going to believe this back in D.C. unless I showed proof.

Eventually, sometime in May, I stuffed $2 into the yellow envelope and mailed it to Lawrence City Hall, enclosing a scribbled note saying that because of this ticket I was going to move to Lawrence. If anybody saw it, they probably dismissed it as sarcasm.

By August, I had rented an 1860s-era stone house a few miles outside of town and began moving my books and papers to Lawrence. By now, my move is complete. It wasn't easy extricating myself from an overly complicated life on the East Coast. But now, every morning, whether I wake up to the sound of songbirds or howling wind in the trees, I breathe a sigh of relief. I look out my windows across the valley at an exquisite view of the university, and I thank God and the City of Lawrence for that parking ticket.

- Elizabeth Black is a freelance writer living in Lawrence. A southwest Kansas native who attended Kansas University, she recently returned to Lawrence after living in Chicago and then on the East Coast for more than 30 years.


Crossfire 11 years, 1 month ago

Just a guess. I'll bet the good folks at City Hall forgave the late fee (fine). If not EB owes traffic about 3&a/quarter.

lunacydetector 11 years, 1 month ago

ummm, miss black, if you pay your parking ticket 10 days late i believe the fine increases to $10.00. so, if you received the ticket april 4th, and paid the $2.00 fine sometime in may, you still owe the city $8.00. i wonder....if you get a speeding ticket, does the unpaid fine show up when the p-o-l-i-c-e runs a background check?

compmd 11 years, 1 month ago

the city has a tendency to "forget" one parking ticket if you just have one.

sourpuss 11 years, 1 month ago

I think that is a really great story and it should make people remember what Lawrence has to offer. I recently got a parking ticket in Toronto, ON for $135... I'm not sure I'd move just for cheap parking, but Lawrence does have a lot of interesting people and fun things to do if you are the sort that wishes to take part. Thanks for the story, Elizabeth, and welcome to Lawrence!!

justthefacts 11 years, 1 month ago

Welcome to town Ms. Black. I hope you are enjoying your new home and new neighbors!

For those who imply that Lawrence is not all sweetness and light - you are correct. There is more here then meets the eye. No place on earth is perfection. Ever. There is more then meets the eye anywhere you may live.

For those who see doom and gloom, evil and greed, stupidity or worse, in Lawrence - may I suggest you (a) read what she wrote about conditions here as compared elsewhere and thank your lucky stars for the things ARE right about Lawrence and/or (b) move to somewhere you like better!!

We have it a TON better in Lawrence (in my opinion - and Ms. Black's it appears). It's a matter of "picking your poison."

lawrencechick 11 years, 1 month ago

Nice story! A lot of Lawrence residents tend to forget how good they have it.

roger_o_thornhill 11 years, 1 month ago

Meter violations are $2. Other parking tickets can be much higher. One just outside campus will cost you $30.

blackwalnut 11 years, 1 month ago

"So there were plenty of surprises waiting for me when I drove into town last April. Sidewalk cafes, art galleries, bookstores, boutiques, coffee houses, antique shops, bakeries, and yes, some old-time stalwarts: Weaver's Department Store and Ernst & Son Hardware."

Lawrence does positively glitter, doesn't it?

I think people who have lived here for many years sometimes don't appreciate it enough. It's all very easy to take for granted. I came most recently from a small town that didn't have all this, or the intellectual life, or public transportation, or people who cared enough about all this to try to preserve it. I am grateful to be there. I choose where to spend my money and what to participate in carefully so that it will all still be here next year, and the next...


laurebelle24 11 years, 1 month ago

I would like to say I agree with Ms. Black and my husband and I are moving back to lawrence after a year and a half hiatus in Silver Spring, MD. We miss everything mentioned above and then some. For the people who are negative you have probably never experienced the ridiculousness of East Coast prices or its people. Don't get me wrong. I was born and raised in Maryland but I realized on this last trip back that my heart is in Lawrence. In just about 2 weeks we will be back in town to stay. I never thought I would fall in love with a small town being from a large city, but I'm happy to say I came to my senses.

DaveR 11 years, 1 month ago

I had the same experience last month. I came with family to visit folks in Iola. We had planned to spend a day at Wolfcreek in KC, but one of my daughter's eardrums burst the day after the flight, so water sports were a no-no. (And so was the flight back home to, as it happens, Maryland. We drove.)

So, for a diversion, I took wife & kid to Lawrence. Drove up Iowa, turned right on 15th, snaked my way around to the Student Union, found a parking place, fumed at the fact that I had no quarters (whereupon I was "rescued" by a passer-by) & strolled about the campus for the better part of two hours. Bloody cold that sunny day in April. Bamboozled some hapless students in the Union over the scale model of KU as it used to be, now stuck in some obscure corner on a lower floor. That used to be front & center on the main floor. Was also amused at "Dyche" hall. Does the auditorium on its ground floor still function as a camera obscura?

We went back to my mom's house. I may be 55 & she 73, but it's still mom's place. About 3 am the next morning I woke up & thought, why not move back to Lawrence? A damn nicer town than the corner of Maryland we live in now.

So we went back the next day, for a better look. Banged into Target, went up to the first employee I could find, and asked him where the Indian restaurant was. He replied, which one? We were sailing after that.

I grew up all over the state, including a few years out in Meade. I came to the University in 1972. Sure, I left in 1979, never to return, but I was young & foolish. Now I am old & foolish. We can't leave here until next summer, but we will spend the time well. Moving to Lawrence may be the best idea I've had in a decade or so, but, for me, it's loaded with emotional landmines. Hopefully I will have most of them safely defused before we get here. In preparation, I've been reading the Journal-World.

oldgoof 11 years, 1 month ago

Now if we could just get Marion to move here so he would be interested enough to share with us how to improve the city.


karensisson 11 years, 1 month ago

Elizabeth Black, thank you for your letter and welcome to Lawrence.

I urge you to get involved in local politics or at least become an educated voter because all the things you mention - the things we love about Lawrence - are threatened. Doug Compton, local fat cat and owner of half the town's real estate, has managed to buy a city commission and all bets are off when it comes to preserving the quality of life and the health of the businesses here.

The issues are the land use at 6th and Wakarusa, a proposed new $30 million library and maybe a new post office too, a new ice hockey rink, a second Wal-Mart in our town, overdevelopment everywhere, and more.

Doug Compton views this town as a giant game of Monopoly. It's up to we, the citizens who love this town, to save as much as we can.

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