“We don’t even write tickets anymore!” Kemper Williams says, then punches a few buttons on his handheld AutoCite computer and prints me a fictional parking ticket. Had I owned a pea-colored Ford, license QXK, I’d be out $35.
By request, he’s showing off his $80,000 three-wheeled parking-enforcement scooter, nicknamed the Battlestar. It’s pretty much an underpowered motorcycle in black and white muumuu. Davis has four scooters, says Williams, although at the moment his is the only Big Bro model, equipped with four cameras and a Global Positioning System. The rest rely on chalk sticks and sweat. (As the living is easier aboard the Battlestar, it rotates between personnel; this is Williams’ month at the helm).
When a parking violator starts to argue, Williams simply shows them two time-stamped images of their car on his flat screen. End of discussion. If they’ve re-parked (moved their car to a new position on the same block), the computer knows that, too. If they’ve got five or more overdue parking fines, the screen will flash red as Williams drives by, and he’ll clamp a boot around their tire. In 72 hours, the car will be towed. Beyond that, I’m reminded of a Simpsons moment, when Homer briefly functions as Mr. Burns’ assistant:
Homer to Burns: Here are your messages:
“You have 30 minutes to move your car.”
“You have 10 minutes.”
“Your car has been impounded.”
“Your car has been crushed into a cube.”
“You have 30 minutes to move your cube.”
Homer: [answers] Yello, Mr. Burns’ office.
Burns: Is it about my cube?
Williams doesn’t have to move too many cubes, but wielding the chalk stick—actually a golf club modified to hold a cylinder of yellow chalk—all day can be tiresome.
“Your socket gets sore, your arm. There is definitely a technique to it. You just want to use an easy swing. When you first start out, your biggest thing is you want to put a mark on that tire. Well, by the end of the day you’re done. You are done.”
A lefty, it took him a little while to smooth out the right-handed motion. Mudflaps and rain, he learned, are murder on chalk sticks. His arm hurt constantly. Then he realized a light swipe would do, just enough so that only he could see it.
“They know they’re supposed to leave the vehicle for a certain length of time,” he says of car owners. “You’re marking for you.”
Nonetheless, motorists still find ways to beat the rock. Says Williams, “People have their ‘mark rag’ and squirt bottle, and they will literally wash their tires off as you go by.”
I watch as he directs a young gal on a bicycle to Ace Hardware. Parking enforcement folks do a lot more than slap fines around.
“Customer service,” he calls it.
As the face of the city for many, Williams looks a bit like Stanley from The Office. His personality—“I like people,” he told me—is all positive energy and good cheer, though.
He also likes his new beat, having transferred from the same job in Sacramento about a year ago.
“I love working in Davis,” he says. “People are a lot nicer and easier to deal with.”