WITHIN DAYS of my move back to L.A., an assistant location production assistant came knocking on my door. One of Silver Lake's many public stairways passes by my new (very old) house, and this quaint, gang-tagged, open-air saloon and mattress-disposal site had been chosen to be a setting for an NBC pilot called "Life." The filming would be a quiet affair; "no stunts." No fun.
We negotiated, and I failed to get a dollar figure for my promised compensation. As a result, I got no compensation. But I still had to find street parking for the family automobiles on a Friday, when my street is already subject to street cleaning and the expensive tickets that go along with it. (My tiny, 1920s single-car garage is filled with dozens of moving boxes holding all of our broken plates and glasses so a "claims inspector" can visit one day and bravely rule in favor of the movers.)
On filming day eve, there was much excitement in the neighborhood as everybody — even those with a driveway — scrambled to park a block or two away. Total street closure.
I scoped out a spot down the hill, but there's a fire hydrant with no red curb or anything to help a conscientious parker know how far to legally park from the thing. My wife had already gotten a ticket for parking too close to this very fireplug the day we moved in; she was too frazzled to ask the parking cop for details of the crime.
"The Internet is your friend," I said as I tried a few Los Angeles government sites. Surely parking regulations would be one of the main things anybody cares about in this town, as far as municipal services go. Surely a city that proudly unveiled a 24-hour 311 city services hotline would offer Web tips for the Angeleno who didn't want another $80 ticket for no reason at all.
(Then again, I've called that 311 thing several times in the last eight weeks, and no matter what my question — and no matter how jauntily the robot mayor welcomes me in two of the main local languages — 311 is a joke. Could they pick up a couch dumped in the middle of the street? Maybe later, if I call seven other offices during business hours in April. Connect me with whoever licenses dogs around here? No, because I need to call a county or federal authority, but nobody knows the number, and the website is secret.)
The street closure loomed. I Googled as fast as possible: "Parking regulations Los Angeles," "fire hydrant parking LAMC," "Parking violations fire hydrants Los Angeles," etc. Nothing. I went generic, searching for "Los Angeles parking enforcement" and "L.A. parking rules" and "How to beat lousy L.A. parking tickets." Nope.
Eventually, search terms led me to LADOT, which is apparently the secret Department of Transportation for Los Angeles in charge of making giant potholes and Dr. Seussian tree-root speed bumps on every residential street. But no parking code could be found. There's a handy site where you can pay your many tickets and foolishly try to fight them, but it's out of the question to just list the parking laws in this town. I called 311 again and was cheerfully transferred to a parking office where nobody answered. Back to the Interwebs .
Finally, a long-abandoned, 10-year-old emergency services home page for the Los Angeles Air Force Base gave me the closest thing to an answer — it was so old there was even a little animated police car light thing just like on the Drudge Report. According to the LAAFB, we should park 15 feet away from a fire hydrant.
I called the L.A. Times. Back when I was a newspaper reporter, my city desk received a steady stream of queries by telephone. We were the Google of the day, if Google only had some old news clippings, phone books and an outdated World Almanac for a database. It took a few minutes, but eventually someone on the copy desk said the magic words: "15 feet from the hydrant." It matched the LAAFB information. I had no choice but to follow the advice.
Was it correct? I still don't know. But we were spared another ticket.
At least I was smart enough to ignore the advice from my last call to 311. "Please just ask somebody," I pleaded. "How far does my car have to be from the hydrant to avoid another ticket?" She mumbled to others for a moment and then offered, "I think it's 100 meters." I glanced up the hill and tried to guess where a U.S. football field would end. Somewhere up there, we were safe from the tickets.
It's a good thing this is a walking neighborhood. Once that garage is clear of forensic evidence, I may never drive again because driving equals parking, and parking is murder.