Guilty Pleasure No. 40: Parking Wars


Strange show, Parking Wars.

Between 2008 and 2012, A&E aired 104 episodes of Parking Wars.  Even though the show’s no longer in production, episodes still seem to air on nearly a daily basis.  If you can’t find it on A&E, check on FYI.  If you can’t find it on FYI, check WGN or TBS or any of the true crime networks.  Nearly seven years after it stopped producing new episodes, Parking Wars airs so frequently that one could be forgiven for thinking that it had never been canceled.

It was an odd show.  It was a reality show, one that allowed viewers a chance to see what it was like to be a part of the parking authority.  You read that correctly.  This show was devoted to perhaps the least useful members of law enforcement.  The first two seasons focused exclusively on the employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.  Since the members of the PPA were all municipal employees, I’m going to assume that the show’s producers had to get permission from the city to follow them as they worked.  One assumes that the hope was that the show would improve Philadelphia’s image.  That’s why it’s interesting that the main lesson to be learned from those first two seasons of Parking Wars appears to be that everyone should stay the Hell out of Philadelphia.

Seriously, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would book a flight to Philly after watching an episode of Parking Wars.  Not only do all of the traffic cops come across as being assholes but so do most of the citizens that they meet over the course of their day.  Everyone comes across as being a jerk.  On the one hand, you have the motorists who regularly ignore posted signs and who often have no hesitation about double parking or blocking traffic.  At the same time, the show’s parking cops tend to the biggest bunch of self-important pricks that I’ve ever seen.

Each episode is usually divided into three sections.  In Ticketing, we follow some civil servant in a uniform while they walk up and down the street, looking for anyone to whom they can give a ticket.  While they do this, they talk to the camera about why their job is important and why people shouldn’t hate them.  It usually only takes a minute or so to realize that we’re not exactly dealing with the most eloquent or witty group of people here.  Typical words of wisdom: “People think I’m picking on them but ….. I’m just doing my job.  If they hadn’t broken the rules, I would not be writing them a ticket.”  Never mind that, half the time, the parking meters are broken or that the “No Parking” sign has weathered so much abuse that it can barely be read.  Whenever someone asks a legitimate question about why they’re getting a ticket, the show responds with a silly sound effect.  “Only dummies question authority,” the show is saying.  On those occasions when someone actually proves that they’ve been wrongly ticketed (and it happens more than a few times), they’re told to call a number or go to court and get it dismissed.  “Once I start writing the ticket, I can’t take it back,” the parking cop explains, as if that somehow excuses any inconvenience that anyone else might suffer.

The 2nd section of each episode often took place at the impound lot, where the citizens of Philadelphia would go to get their cars after they had been towed.  The impound lot sequences basically highlight everything that intelligent people hate about bureaucracy.  I’ll always remember the woman from Delaware whose car was impounded in Philadelphia, due to a mistake made by the Delaware Highway Patrol.  Even after the woman got a signed letter from a judge in Delaware exonerating her and saying that her car shouldn’t have been impounded, the lot supervisor said that the car couldn’t be released because the state of Pennsylvania still had her on its impound list.  When the woman was told that she could hire a tow truck (at her own expense) and have the car towed to Delaware, the lot workers were shocked when the woman angrily announced that she wasn’t going to pay any more money just because of someone else’s bureaucratic snafu.  When Pennsylvania finally did get its act together and announced that the woman could have her car back, one of the lot workers had the nerve to say, “Y’know, my supervisor went to a lot of trouble for you.”  (From what we saw on the program, it appeared that the supervisor made one phone call, mostly to get confirmation that she should refuse to release the woman’s car.)  The look the woman from Delaware gave that worker pretty much said it all.

Finally, an episode would usually wrap up with a sequence about booting.  The booting sequences dealt with the people who drive around and randomly search for people with multiple unpaid tickets, so that they can put those big yellow locks on people’s tires.  On the one hand, the booting sequences were a bit less annoying that the ticketing and impound sequences because most of the people getting booted did owe several thousands of dollars in parking tickets.  On the other hand, it wasn’t hard to notice that the boot crew usually only seemed to search for cars in lower-class neighborhoods.  It was rare you ever heard anyone suggest maybe going to a rich neighborhood and seeing if anyone there needed a boot.  Instead the people being booted were often the very people who would need a car if they were ever actually going to get the money necessary to pay their tickets.

Throughout it all, the show punctuated every action or comment with a combination of zoom lenses and silly sound effects.  If someone declared that they needed their car for work, we’d hear someone dramatically go, “DAMN!” on the soundtrack.  If the parking cop pointed out a sign that said no parking, we’d get a zoom to the sign along with a smack-smack sound effect.

Even though the show is less than ten years old, watching it can be strange today.  Parking Wars was clearly made before the era of #MeToo.  If the parking cop is a woman, one can be sure that we’ll get at least a few interviews with the citizens of Philadelphia talking about how cute she is.  If the parking cop’s a man, one can be sure that he’ll take the time to leer at any passing women while the camera zooms in on what part of her body has drawn his attention.

Eventually, it would appear that the city of Philadelphia figured out that being advertised as being one of the worst cities on Earth was perhaps not the boon for tourism that they thought it would be and Parking Wars started to focus on other cities.  When they started to film in Detroit, we were introduced to a parking cop named Pony Tail.  Pony Tail was perhaps the most obnoxious character to ever be unleashed on the brave viewers of A&E.  Pony Tail was the type of creep who would brag about how he was punishing evil doers (because being parked at an expired meter is a sure sign of evil) but who would then spend his entire segment pouting after a random passerby yelled out, “Parking Authority sucks!”

Things got even worse once the show expanded to New York and started to feature “independent” towing companies.  If it could be said that the parking cops were at least enforcing the law, the independent towing people were just straight-up assholes.  Whenever they towed a woman’s car and responded to her complaints by calling her “sweetheart” or “honey,” you just wanted someone to jump in and smack the Hell out of them.

And yet, oddly enough, Parking Wars was (and is) addictive viewing.  I can’t speak for everyone but for me, it’s a show that I almost hatewatch.  It confirms everything negative thing that I’ve ever felt or suspected about the people in authority.  If you believe that most people will let even the slightest bit of power go straight to their head, this is the show for you.  If you distrust the government and think that most bureaucrats are petty tyrants, Parking Wars is a show that will confirm your every suspicion.  The best moments of Parking Wars are the ones that suggest that maybe the show’s producers were secretly poking fun at the parking authority’s delusions of grandeur.  I’m talking about the moments when the ticketed got their chance to yell at the ticketers and the ticketers, for the most part, were reduced to weakly saying, “I’m just doing my job….”  Could it be that Parking Wars was one of the biggest practical jokes in reality show history and perhaps Pony Tail and the folks at the Impound Lot were being punked without even realizing it?

Probably not but it’s fun to think about….

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer

11 responses to “Guilty Pleasure No. 40: Parking Wars

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