Maine Stories Volume II: Slaves to the Meter

State Street, Portland
State St. Church

We were NOT prepared for life as car owners.

On moving to Portland in 2002, after nine months without a car in Boston, we were gifted a slightly worn white 1996 Hyundai Elantra from my parents. At 100,000 miles plus, our new car was an elderly Maine gentleman, so we named him Chester, because that sounded like the name of an elderly Maine gentleman. Parking for our new ride was not included in our rent, but we were so excited to be home, we figured we’d make due as meter slaves.

State Street is a one-way heading east. Both sides have meters, but for every three meters on the north side, the south side only has one. Often, trying to snag a meter was like trying to get on the last chopper out of Saigon. Many nights we would literally drive in a square for upwards of half an hour, spying for abandoned meters, cars that looked like they might be backing out or people walking in the general direction of a meter.

Wednesday nights meant street-sweeping on the south side, and this meant a mad scramble for north side meters between 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM. This is how we ended up getting towed on our first week in residence. I guess we should have been a bit surprised at landing such a prime meter almost in front of the apartment on the south side. We were even more surprised in the morning when Chester was gone, and we had to take a bus and walk a few miles through some godforsaken industrial park to pay $50 to get him sprung. We thought he looked scared, and he hiccupped a bit when we started him up.

But the height of our virgin-car-ownership brilliance came on Christmas 2002. The day was clear, but overnight brought 12 ½” of fresh snow. Because the City of Portland did not call a Snow Ban, nobody was forced to park in a city garage. We parked on the street as usual. In the morning, poor Chester was buried up to his windows in snow.

Did we have a shovel inside? Nope. We spent three hours of the day after Christmas 2002 digging our car out of four feet of packed snow with a cookie sheet and two expired debit cards.

I choose to look back at this experience and see my native Yankee ingenuity kicking into gear, but it was really my big-city ignorance putting us in a hole of unpreparedness. And now, needless to say, we have a shovel, along with expired debit cards, in the house and in the trunk at all times.

I miss the apartment somewhat, and I greatly miss the neighborhood, the wisteria vine and the proximity to everything that comes with living in town. But I don’t miss the parking situation at all. No man is an island, and this man is no meter slave.



  1. I would HATE the pressure of having to beat others to the meters in order to get a place to park…but very funny about having to shovel your car out with cookie sheets and expired debit cards.. 😛

    • Yeah, there’s no way I could script that shoveling scene. Shudder…

      It’s certainly Darwin-on-Display every night out there!

  2. True tales of the city. High on my list of requirements when we get a house is a driveway.

    • Our driveway is two cars long and we have two cars. Perfrigginfection.

      • Okay, I have a photo I took when I was in college, that is my favorite. The hard part is going to be finding it, but when I do, I’ll email it to you.

  3. Poor Chester likely felt he was a burden his whole life. There is a different feel to your words. It must be because of actual events. This is my favorite so far!

  4. ahhhHAH! Wifey just reminded me that we also had a dust pan! The debit cards were mostly used to scrape the windshield. So, lesson learned: always have a cookie sheet AND a dust pan in the house and car.

  5. Here’s just an fyi, the dollar store sells ACTUAL windshield scrappers with brush for $1.00. Cookie sheets are around $10.00 It just would have saved you coin for the meters 😉

  6. metan said:

    A cookie sheet and plastic cards…chuckle….Just think, if it wasn’t for the unexpected snow fall, christmas 2002 would have just gone by like any other. The digging burned it into your brain and gave you and the wife one of those ‘remember when’ stories. Of course it would have been better if the story was ‘remember when we spent christmas on a tropical island’…..

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