I find a seat along the wall. There's a black woman next to me holding her baby with cornrows and her little pink number. Her number reads '098.'
"Go on up there," she cries. "They passed you!"
But they didn't pass me. I know it. I'm gonna have to wait till they come round again. I just got here, and she's been waiting forty-five minutes already.
What I want are Caregiver Parking Passes. All the passes expire June 30th and then I'll be paying parking tickets for 5 alternating caregivers, unless they keep moving their cars all day every day. And that's not what we're paying them for, right? My pass expires on the 30th as well.
They've just clicked number '062.' I've now been here 8 minutes (not counting the two block walk).
Okay, let's see. There are 62 people in front of me and 50 minutes left of the meter. There are three bureaucrats in the windows. Oops. No. There're only two. One just closed up shop and is sitting there taking a break.
I'm trying to figure out if this is worth a parking ticket. I think it is.
I give up my seat so the black woman can settle her other kid on the seat and keep track of him. There's an empty chair across the room.
Yoga woman is on the floor stretching. Her posture is immaculate. She's got her number on the floor in front of her. She's number '044.' She's the picture of equanimity.
A guy 8 seats down from me shouts, "This is bureaucracy at it's very best. Guess I'm just gonna pick my nose!"
Nobody reacts. Not even a nervous giggle.
Yoga woman chooses another pose. And holds it for a while, breathing. Stretching.
There's a woman with a great T-shirt. It's of a woman with long dark braids, red lipstick, and a shitload of Southwest jewelry, all turquoise and silver. I look up at her. She's got long dark braids, red lipstick, and a shitload of Southwest jewelry on. And a blue baseball cap. And a bicycle helmet above that.
Don't you just love the Republic of Berkeley?
This 9-month+ pregnant Hispanic woman is listening to her little boy. "What flavor is this?" he asks, as she's cleaning his hands with a Wipe.
"You mean, what smell is this?" she replied. I'm vaguely pleased at her correction.
"Yes, momma, what smell is this?"
"Just regular," she answers.
A silver -haired academic type just sat down next to me. He's brought a book of chess strategems — with diagrams of chess boards and moves. He's number '099.' He's holding a Wells Fargo checkbook register in his hand, ready to write a check when his number's finally called. There's a sticker with big red block letters on his checkbook. It reads:
9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB
The natives are getting restless. Except for yoga woman —
Another woman has joined yoga woman on the floor. They're not yoga women after all. They're ballet. More poses and stretches. Happy as clams. But thinner.
Chess man gets up when his number's been called. I've been here 25 minutes.
Bike helmet woman with the braids comes and takes chess man's seat.
I see not one but three old geezers wearing Bob Dylan caps on their heads. One of them has a big bushy black beard, the other two are graying. My generation, think. There's two old leftie women (don't ask me how I know), and a squeekie clean young Asian couple — grad students, I surmise. God I love Berkeley. Eye candy for eccentrics.
Bike helmet braid woman smiles at me. I take that as permission to ask if she painted her T-shirt as a self-portrait.
"No," she answers, pleased as punch. "I was at the Stanford Pow Wow and this guy had a booth. He painted it. Of course I had to have it..."
She's struggling with something. Oh. She's got a question for me, it seems.
"Your tattoos," she begins — "are they —"
Right. Of course. No wonder I love Berkeley so much. I'm right at home here. Just as odd as anybody else. I give her some of my tattoo spiel.
"'024,'" they call. And I'm up at the window asking my question.
"We're running late," the bureaucrat says. "We haven't sent the new stickers out yet. And yes, I know, we've cashed your checks already. We won't be giving out parking citations until the end of August, so just don't worry. Just about everybody's asking the same question," she says observantly.
How about a sign. Large. Where everyone who walks in can see it. A simple sign that says:
RESIDENTIAL PARKING STICKERS WILL BE LATE THIS YEAR. NO PARKING TICKETS WILL BE ISSUED UNTIL AUGUST 30, 2011 — REMINDER: RESIDENTIAL PARKING STICKERS ARE LATE EVERY YEAR
This isn't brain surgery.
Or maybe it is.