Freedom: just another word for nowhere left to park

Andy Stone
Aspen, CO Colorado

A couple of weeks ago, I sent my old friend Mayor Mick Ireland lunging to the end of his tether of self-control ” teeth gnashing, specks of spittle flying. Mayor Mick’s Irish ire was aroused when I poked him with a sharp stick on the subject of the city’s paid parking system.

Now, I’m almost (repeat: almost) sorry I did that, because I’m going to have to poke him again. And this time, I can only hope that shredded tether of self-control can hold him back from sinking those fangs into my too tender flesh.

And this time I might really send the spittle flying because I am going to begin with parking and broad-jump directly to the subject of our headlong descent into something distinctly resembling a police state.


Yes, I know I’m overreacting ” but what else can you do when you read descriptions of the new parking plan? One newspaper reports that drivers might wind up with electronic devices in their cars that would allow the city to track them and “charge them according to their movements.” The other paper explains that the city’s “existing parking meters … could be modified to signal whenever a car crosses into the boundaries of the commercial core” triggering a “congestion pricing” charge.

Your movements will be monitored. You will be charged for crossing the boundaries. How does that sound?

And, by the way, the parking police will be using the electronic “License Plate Recognition system,” which will allow them to “track motorists and issue citations with ease.”

Am I hysterical? Damn right.

Now I know Mayor Mick doesn’t have a Junior Gestapo Kommando Kit hidden in his sock drawer. Indeed, he spoke clearly on the need to protect sensitive personal information from being abused after the city rakes it all in.

And yet … I loathe every syllable of this new plan. So please stop and think ” and join me in loathing.

In recent years, our once gloriously free nation has been gleefully creating the fully functioning apparatus of a genuine police state.

We all have been conspiring against ourselves, conspiring to allow the omnipresent government and even more omnipresent corporations to track our movements, our deeds, our words and probably our thoughts.

We leave little trails of digital bread crumbs behind us, not so we can find our way home, but so the birds of prey can track us down, swoop in and peck out our eyes when we cross whatever boundaries have been ruled inviolable on any particular day.

Our credit card transactions. Our cell phone calls. Our GPS homing devices. Our cars with built-in satellite signaling systems. Our paths through life are littered with gleaming digital bits.

Big-city toll bridges provide numerous high-speed lanes where those who are willing to electronically signal their passage don’t even slow down as they zip through (with the bill, of course, to follow). Meanwhile, those who want to maintain their privacy are forced into a few endless, slow-moving lines so they can pay with cash.

I just got my new passport. It has a chip embedded in it that will allow authorized government representatives to track my every move and strip me naked (electronically speaking) whenever they deem it appropriate.

And then there’s the federal government’s insistence that it has the right to eavesdrop on our phone calls and intercept our e-mails without a warrant.

This is not a left-wing, right-wing political issue. The political horizon, from left to right, is not a straight line. It’s a circle, maybe even a sphere. And while left and right might meet in the moderate middle in front of us, they loop around behind our backs to overlap in totalitarianism on the far side of the merry-go-round.

The liberals want to wrap us in cotton batting to protect us from the bad guys within our society, and the conservatives want to bind us in steel cables to protect us from the bad guys who threaten us from outside. But cotton or steel, once they tie you up and tie you down … well, there you are.

And yet, we all are calmly certain that it can’t happen here, that the United States could never turn into a police state because we all are so doggone stubborn and determined to be free.

That’s cute.

Except that it already is happening here ” and it’s the rock-ribbed freedom-first conservative types who are leading the charge away from freedom.

What does all this have to do with parking in Aspen?

On one hand, obviously not much. But on the other hand, well, it’s obvious.

I’m very clear that Mick Ireland is not a would-be dictator. But the danger is that we work with determination ” and with the best tools that come to hand ” to achieve our commendable goals, whether we’re working for national security or reduced commuter traffic.

And in this case, the tools that have come to hand just happen to be despicable.

Now then, forgive me if I lower the hysterical tone a little bit.

The city seems to be claiming that these draconian measures are needed because 1,000 cars a day are parking in residential neighborhoods and then being moved every two hours, creating a major traffic problem.

So they want to eliminate that extra driving in search of parking spaces by eliminating the two-hour parking.

Of course, the extra driving could be eliminated completely if people didn’t have to move the cars at all ” just parked them for the full day.

And, according to the city’s revenue projections, they expect that maybe 300 of those 1,000 cars will pay $7 a day to park in the same places where they now park for free.

That will leave about 700 parking spaces open. For what? For other cars. Which means the same amount of traffic. What’s the point? Or maybe the spaces will just stay open ” call it “urban open space.”

Meanwhile, the people who rode in those 700 other cars ” the ones that have been driven out of town by totalitarian parking measures ” will still have to get to town. By bus we assume.

Let’s see … 700 cars. Maybe 900 people. That’s 30 extra bus trips a day in the morning and 30 more at night.

Are we ready for that? Do we have the buses? The drivers?