My Space

32a

In a perfect world, Vince Ceravolo would be out of a job. In a perfect world, there would be one space for every car, only one car in every space, and no one would dream of blocking a fire lane. In a perfect world, you would never get a ticket. Welcome to the real world; that will be $15.

32bVince Ceravolo didn’t want to be a parking enforcement officer when he grew up. Neither did anyone else on his six-person crew. There’s nothing cushy about this job—no big money or glamor, although there is a little power. It’s tiring work, hard on the feet and the ego. Consider the numbers: Including decks, lots, and metered areas, there are 90-odd designated parking zones at UAB, with a grand total of 12,996 spaces, shared among roughly 15,000 valid permit holders and, seemingly, at least that many scofflaws. Divide those figures by six, and you get an idea of the staggering loneliness of the men and women who write UAB’s parking tickets.

Doing the math used to be Ceravolo’s job. He ran a Birmingham investment firm called Ceravolo and Associates until he quit in his early fifties to take it easy. But he quickly grew bored (“I didn’t have fun retired,” he says) and eventually took a job driving for the university’s Campus Ride system. That led to a spot on the MARS motorist assistance unit and to a part-time gig fixing parking gates. “Then I had free time on my hands,” he recalls, “so I started writing tickets.”

7:30 a.m. - Chevron Building

Each day’s ticket-writing starts with a team meeting at Parking and Transportation Services headquarters out on the extreme western edge of campus. As the sun rises over thousands of temptingly empty parking spaces back east, Ceravolo distributes routes, reminds the crew of upcoming special events, and warns of potential trouble spots. (The large student lot near the Ullman Building is often the scene of parking shenanigans.) This particular day will be a scorcher, in more ways than one. It’s the first week of fall semester, and after several weeks of handing out warnings, today the team will start writing tickets for real.

8:33 a.m. - Hill University Center

The first ticket of the day goes to a green Infiniti SUV caught in a textbook 03A—expired meter, $10. It’s all over in a matter of seconds: Ceravolo’s practiced hands fly over the keys of his Radix FW700 parking computer, the machine spits out a ticket, he slides it under the driver’s-side windshield wiper, and he’s off down the row. On a busy day, he may repeat this 80 times.

9:08 a.m. - Lot 15-B

Across from the new Campus Recreation Center, a late-model Acura sedan is about to get an 04A—illegal parking, $15. But before Ceravolo can enter all his data, the young owner bounces across the lot. “Are you trying to give me a ticket?” she asks, using a teasing pout to mask a hopeful grin. Ceravolo and his crew have the authority to be lenient when they see fit: “Once we hit ‘Print,’ there’s nothing we can do,” he explains. “But before that, we’ll always stop if they come out when we’re writing a ticket.” True to his word, Ceravolo stops writing and leaves behind another satisfied customer.

9:58 a.m. - Lot 15-T

Not everyone is happy to find a ticket writer at work in front of his or her car. “You’ll have days when you get cursed out 10 times, and then there are days when everyone’s nice,” says Clyde Fields, baking in the sun behind Denman Hall with fellow parking services specialist Terry Primous. “You have to grow a thick skin, because nobody’s ever wrong.”

On a day like today the asphalt temperature can reach 150 degrees, but Fields has been acclimating to the heat his whole life. He worked in Birmingham’s steel mills for 25 years and served a tour of duty as a radio operator in Vietnam. “It was 110 degrees year-round over there,” he says. “That’s one of the perks of going to Vietnam—hot weather doesn’t bother me now.”

Fields thinks the best part of his job is the exercise, and he’s about to get it in UAB’s newest parking facility—the massive, five-level 16th Street Parking Deck. Fields stops and gazes apprehensively across the way: “Looks like we’ll have to go to the monstrosity.”

10:40 a.m. - 16th Street Deck

The Dollars and Cents of Parking

While Vince Ceravolo and his enforcement officers ride herd on violators, UAB parking director Kim Fort is responsible for making the system pay. Strange as it may seem, parking lots and decks need a lot of upkeep. “There’s lighting, utility bills, cleaning, security, and maintenance,” she explains. “We can’t use state funds for parking, so we have to live off what we make.” The money comes from permits sold to students, faculty, and staff. (Fort says that fines account for only a small percentage of revenue.)

“The new 16th Street Parking Deck cost about $17 million to build, or $13,000 a space,” Fort says. “You can’t pay that off in a year, especially when annual permits sell for a hundred dollars.” To make the most of their investment, administrators use a technique familiar to airline passengers: overbooking. Hospital decks, which see a lot of turnover, may be oversold by 25 percent; faculty and staff lots are more stable, but there’s still leeway. “On average, 8 percent of your workforce is either out sick or on vacation on any given day,” Fort explains. “So we start with that 8 percent figure, then shift things around if problems develop.” Indeed, she says, for such a stationary bunch, parking lots never rest easy. “They’re living, breathing things that have to be maintained.”

The monstrosity is an object lesson in this former commuter school’s growing geographic diversity: A quick inspection turns up cars with license plates from 22 different states and 27 Alabama counties. From a parking enforcement point of view, the new deck is a challenge. It will take Fields and Primous nearly two hours to go from top to bottom, checking each car, and they’ll be back once or twice before the end of the day.

Beginning on the roof, Fields casts a suspicious glance at a brand-new SUV huddled by itself at the far end of the lot. The owner soon has a brand-new ticket: 02-A—no valid permit, $15. Fields knew it: “He gave himself away, parking like that.”

11:43 a.m. - Lot 34

It’s lunchtime, but before his troops can rest, Ceravolo drives them over to the Sparks Center for a lightning raid. He’s heard rumors that construction workers have found a way to trick his gates into opening, giving them free parking. The culprits have vanished by the time they arrive, so there’s time for enforcement officer Betty Thomas to fill the crew in on her morning, spent around the Ullman Building. This is Thomas’s regular territory, and she’s become a student favorite. “I saw [UAB football star] Larry McSwain coming out of 15G,” she recounts. “He gave me a hug and asked me if I was going to the game.”

1:23 p.m. - Deck 6A

As Thomas, Fields, Primous, and Annie Williams walk the campus interior, John Hassell spends his days making a circuit of the 35 lots and decks around UAB’s perimeter. For nearly three decades, Hassell ran a billiards business; he’s now retired from that line of work, but he’s still playing the angles. Here in Deck 6A, which is attached to UAB Hospital, Hassell comes across a black Honda Accord that’s 45 degrees from legality as it sits astride the end of a lane. He stops the truck and hops out for a quick 05A—improper parking, $15. But there is much bigger game on the second floor, where the spaces reserved for labor patients often prove too tempting for staff and visitors to pass up. Side by side, a massive green Ford Expedition and tiny red Kia Sephia are both guilty—each collects a $100 fine.

In his eight years on the job, Hassell has seen plenty of handwritten notes on windshields, pleading the case for parking transgressions in progress. Many writers are hoping their words will help them avoid the dreaded boot, a metal clamp placed on the left rear tire of vehicular repeat offenders to prevent owners from going anywhere until all fines are paid. This is a strong incentive, but sometimes not strong enough. “Last year, there was a guy whose daughter had racked up more money in fines than the car was worth,” Hassell recalls. “He told us to go ahead and keep it.”

From now until the end of the day, Ceravolo and his crew are in for more of the same: a lot of heat, a few smiles, and plenty of exercise. Back in old, narrow Deck 6A, cars are parked in fire lanes, handicapped areas, and phantom spots out in the aisles. “This is a pretty important job,” Hassell confides. “Without us, it would be mass confusion.”

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