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In Hanover, Parking Meter Officer Sees Best and Worst of People

  • Photographed through a car window Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen puts a ticket on a car on Friday.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Photographed through a car window Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen puts a ticket on a car on Friday.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen talks yesterday with Hanover business owner Bryan Smith. Smith thanked McEwen for the work he and his colleagues do and said he said they make a real difference in town. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen talks yesterday with Hanover business owner Bryan Smith. Smith thanked McEwen for the work he and his colleagues do and said he said they make a real difference in town. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen writes a parking ticket at an expired parking meter. (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen writes a parking ticket at an expired parking meter. (
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Photographed through a car window Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen puts a ticket on a car on Friday.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen talks yesterday with Hanover business owner Bryan Smith. Smith thanked McEwen for the work he and his colleagues do and said he said they make a real difference in town. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Hanover meter reader Chris McEwen writes a parking ticket at an expired parking meter. (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Chris McEwen wrote a parking ticket a few weeks ago for an expired meter and slid it under the wiper blade of a pick-up truck. As he turned to walk away, the driver of the truck walked up, examined the piece of paper and yelled across the parking lot, “Thanks, (expletive).”

As one of Hanover’s parking meter officers, it’s the kind of reception McEwen’s heard before — and for which he’s ready with a reply. McEwen faced the man and told him that if he had approached him with better manners, he might have voided the ticket, which he often does for drivers who walk up to their vehicle as he is writing.

“But when you want to give me an attitude like that, you can have the ticket and you can have a nice day,” McEwen told the man.

McEwen has been writing parking tickets in Hanover for 20 years, and his profession, in terms of esteem it’s safe to say, may rank even below that of congressmen and journalists. Carrying a pad of pink and white parking slips and a pencil, McEwen has the ability to ruin someone’s day or provoke a stream of profanity.

He’s accused of lurking around nearly expired parking meters and then jumping out of the bushes to write a ticket. He even gave his own mother a ticket — unknowingly.

The 44-year-old just lets the insults, curses and accusations to roll off.

“I don’t enjoy writing tickets,” McEwen said Thursday afternoon while monitoring meters on Wheelock Street. “I don’t get any self enjoyment out of it. It’s nothing personal. It’s my job, and I’m going to give the town an honest eight hours of work.”

McEwen came across a car parked in front of the Hopkins Center whose meter was flashing “expired,” so he took out his pad and began to write down the car’s license plate number. Before he could place the ticket on the cars windshield, however, Paula Rogers came jogging up behind and let out a slight laugh.

She lives in Concord and had stopped for lunch at Canoe Club on her way to Killington.

“Is this you,” McEwen asked?

Rogers nodded.

“I didn’t put it on the windshield yet, so you’re all set,” McEwen said as he walked away with the ticket still in his hand.

“Aren’t you nice,” Rogers said. “Thank you. They don’t do that in Concord.”

“No?” McEwen said as he walked away.

A few minutes later, he said that when people read about his encounter with Rogers in the paper, they will think it was staged.

“Most of them think we don’t give breaks. And if you didn’t see it, you probably wouldn’t believe it because there are so many tickets that we give out during the day,” he said.

McEwen writes 40 to 50 tickets daily, and the parking department collected $441,000 from parking meters during the last fiscal year, and generated another $405,000 from enforcement.

McEwen said he could easily write more than 50 tickets a day if he viewed his job in black and white. McEwen is one of two-full time parking enforcement officers, but he has the discretion to decide when it’s fair not to write a ticket.

For example, he was writing a ticket on Thursday for a silver Chrysler in the 10-hour parking lot on Maple Street when he saw that the meter next to him had just begun to flash its expired warning. But instead of writing a ticket, he let it go and walked on past.

“You treat them right, they treat you right,” McEwen said. “You give people a break when you can, it’s not the end of the world.”

Much of the ticketing in Hanover, especially in the downtown area, where parking is scarce, is meant to encourage turnover and open up spaces for shoppers. The parking department doesn’t approve of so-called meter feeders — drivers overusing the two-hour time limit of parking spaces by feeding the meter all day.

McEwen and his colleagues spend time each week writing down license plate numbers and trying to find problematic parkers where people are staying in their spots for too long.

Jim Rubens, who owns the Hanover Park building on Lebanon Street, said he understands why Hanover needs metered parking and said that if parking was free, then drivers would never find a spot. But he worries that customers are deterred from shopping in Hanover because of parking fines.

“We have for the past two or three decades basically punished our customers for shopping in downtown Hanover,” Rubens said. “They get a parking ticket for shopping in our stores.”

That is why all the stores within the Hanover Park building offer to validate their customers for free parking in the garage.

For Rubens, the bigger issue is parking for employees. The town offers free parking at Thompson Arena for downtown workers, but Rubens said many employees don’t want to walk that far, especially at night. And many can’t afford long-term parking permits.

Instead, he would like to see the town subsidize parking for employees in parklots that are closer to the downtown area.

When it comes to parking his own car in Hanover — yes, even a parking meter officer has to pay for parking — McEwen chooses to pay for parking at the 10-hour lot on Maple Street and said he’s never received a ticket.

He hit his 20-year mark as a parking officer in December, and he has followed the career path of his father, who worked for Dartmouth College’s Safety and Security for 36 years.

During his career, the parking department has seen a lot of rebellious behavior. For instance, a person tried to pay their parking ticket once by presenting a bag full of coins, grease and hair to the department at Town Hall. After that instance, the department began requiring people to roll their coins, Parking Supervisor Patrick O’Neill said.

And about five years ago, someone created a key that could unlock the meters and began stealing money in the early morning hours. McEwen sensed something was amiss when noticed that a significant chunk of change was missing when he emptied the meters each week, and the Hanover Police Department eventually caught the suspect by placing cameras on Main Street.

McEwen has also met celebrities while on the clock. He once walked by Family Ties star Michael J. Fox, who chuckled as he said, “Don’t give me a ticket, will you?”

And he even gave late tough guy actor Charles Bronson — a one-time Upper Valley resident — a number of tickets. One time he wrote Bronson a ticket for parking in a permitted space, and Bronson drove up beside McEwen, pulled his sunglasses down and said, “Do you know who I am?” McEwen said he did, but he didn’t void the ticket.

“He didn’t like getting tickets, I’ll put it that way,” McEwen said.

Hanover could hire someone who views the job inflexibly and would never give drivers a break, but McEwen said he doesn’t think that would go over well in Hanover.

“You have to have some give and take and a lot of common sense. And a good sense of humor,” said McEwen, who added that he’d like to stay on the job until he retires in 16 to 18 years.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.