Do you have your balls on you? You do? Then charge ’em and slap ’em on because you’ll need them powered up for this parking adventure.
There are few things that happened to me since I returned home that have made me as mad as this. It happened twice last week when I was cruising the streets of the capital with Andrei, looking for food. We were looking for a parking spot one night, when this guy suddenly starts pointing to a spot he was sitting in. He was not working for the city and was not an employee of a private company handling parking either. He was just this random dude holding a parking spot.
Andrei said we need to give him 1 RON (30 cents). I was hungry and tired and didn’t think much of it, although it did seem strange we’d pay a guy for a public parking spot.
The next day, it all became clear. We were going out for lunch and suddently a relatively large mean-looking man jumps out of a parking spot. He motions towards the spot, which had a plastic crate in the middle of it to prevent drivers from just pulling in. We’re again talking public parking, probably paid parking, but this guy was obviously his own master.
Andrei says we have to give him 1 RON.
“Why?” I ask. “Isn’t this public parking?”
“Yeah,” Andrei says. “But he’ll likely scratch your car if you leave it here without paying.”
I was getting mad. The guy approaches the car and Andrei hands him 1 RON.
“How long will you be staying?” he asks.
“30 minutes,” Andrei replies.
“Then I want 3 RON ($1),” he says.
Andrei starts laughing. He’s done this countless times and knows that if he found a parking agent it wouldn’t be more than 1,5 RON. He says he won’t pay that much and the guy gets mad and starts waving his plastic crate around demanding we move the car. We take the 1 RON back and move out of his zone.
Apparently he was just one of many angry-looking dudes all around downtown Bucharest that block parking spots with crates, chairs or their own bodies. Parking is scarce and this is how they make money. They take over the spot and demand cash. Andrei and other people told me that if you don’t pay them or if you argue your right to park with them, they’ll scratch your car, or slash your tires.
It wasn’t the amount of money I was angry over. It was the idea that someone would claim public space and demand money from you if you wanted to use it.
“What about police?” I asked. “Can’t they just take these dudes out in one day?”
My lunch companions stared at me as if I had just fallen off the moon. Didn’t I know police doesn’t deal with small nuissances? Besides, cops probably get kicksbacks from these individuals, they said. Sure you can fight them, they added. But if you don’t come off as more threatening than they are (as in “If I find a scratch on my car, I will find you and bust you open and then I’ll bust open the rest of your f’n family”) then you don’t really want to take a chance.
So if you really need to park, you’ll park. And when the dude walks over to your window, make a decision. Strap on those balls and take charge, pay or move the car to a place he hasn’t occupied and curse the hell out of the situation. We chose door number 3.