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Show captures life of a city parking enforcer

Parking enforcement officer Bonnie Brown remembers walking down Thayer Street one day when a woman across the street yelled at her, "Thanks a lot, you f- b­-!"

Bonnie Brown is on the receiving end of insults like this all the time, but they don't bother her, she said. As a parking enforcement officer with the Providence Police Department, she issues tickets for illegally parked cars, and said encountering angry drivers is just part of the job.

Parking enforcers like Bonnie Brown are the stars of "Parking Wars," an A&E series, which is featuring Providence's ticketing crew for the first time this season. The show, now in its sixth year, portrays life on the streets for the people who ticket, tow and boot the cars of problem parkers. The show also films in Detroit and has previously filmed in Philadelphia. 

Parking in Providence is unique because it's "an older city - it wasn't designed with automobiles in mind," said Andrew Dunn, the series producer.

"Parking Wars" is not another drama-obsessed reality show ­- instead, it's "a walk in the day of the lives of parking enforcers," Dunn said. Parking enforcement is a tough job that requires patience and scrutiny. "It takes a certain personality to do that every day," he said.

"America's a place where we all love our cars," Dunn said. On the show, drivers get emotional when their cars are towed, and some channel their frustration into verbal abuse toward the officials. The show "holds a mirror up" to the audience, Dunn said. "Most of us don't realize what we're like when we're angry."

"I've been called everything," said Bonnie Brown, who has worked in parking enforcement for three years. "The first two weeks I was up here, I was in tears," she said. "They park illegally, and I'm the asshole."

But now, she shrugs off the trash talk, she said. "They don't know if I'm a whore," she quipped. 

Bonnie Brown's stretch is Thayer Street, covering Prospect to Hope streets and Waterman to Lloyd streets. She said she likes the freedom of being outside all day­ - she walks a total of about 10 miles, as she once calculated on a pedometer.

In a new episode that premiered last Saturday night, Bonnie Brown battled a rebellious parker while many familiar Thayer Street sights appeared in the background, such as the CVS mural and Pleasant Surprise's front window.

On average, Bonnie Brown gives out about 60 tickets a day during the week and 80 on Fridays. She said there are three cars she gives a ticket to every single day. Though she does not know who the owners are, she knows their plate numbers by heart and said she thinks they probably work for the University.

"Parking is very difficult all year round" on College Hill, Bonnie Brown said. Since many spaces are two-hour parking only, "it's just like musical cars"­­ - every two hours people move their cars to another spot. "Brown employees know the game. ... If you work for Brown, you're good at parking," she said.

"It's definitely really difficult to find parking around campus," said Caitlin Brisson '12. Dealing with time-limited parking spaces is a hassle, she said, because "you have to move your car or you get ticketed pretty immediately." Finding parking around campus in the middle of the day is especially difficult because the area is so busy. Brisson said there have been times when she searched for a parking space for 20 minutes before finally finding one. 

Brisson, who lives close to Thayer Street, said she often sees Bonnie Brown patrolling and cars parking at her house have received tickets for being on the sidewalk or being parked at night. Though Brisson said she doesn't watch "Parking Wars," she and her housemates looked up the show online after seeing Bonnie Brown with "a pack of film people" around campus several times. 

Bonnie Brown said the "Parking Wars" film crew spent about four weeks last year following her around her post. Filming the show was more difficult than she expected, she said, because she is not used to stopping to explain out loud the violation for every ticket she issues.

"I don't want to stand there and get chewed out" by drivers, she said. "I hit and run and get out of there."

Dunn said filming the show has changed the way he sees the streets. Many people assume that if they park illegally for just a few minutes, it is unlikely that any danger will come of it. But parking enforcers have seen everything, Dunn said. Once, while the film crew was working, "a blind man literally walked into a car" parked on the sidewalk, he said.

One thing he has noticed that "amazes" him is that "more people park for two minutes to go to ATMs in Providence than I've seen anywhere else," he said. He has seen people park illegally, walk right past a parking enforcer and come back from the ATM with a $30 ticket, which he calls "the most expensive ATM fee ever." 

Sergeant Paul Zienowicz, commanding officer of the traffic bureau of the Providence Police Department, said it is "not the case" that parking is difficult to find in Providence. But he added, "people don't like to be inconvenienced" - often drivers will choose to double-park than to park half a block away from a store they are hoping to get in and out of quickly. 

Though irritated car owners sometimes claim enforcers don't have real jobs, Zienowicz and Dunn disagreed. Dunn pointed out that Bonnie Brown keeps traffic flowing on Thayer Street while still allowing trucks to supply its businesses. "Without that, I don't know what would happen" to activity on Thayer Street, Dunn said.

Since Brisson has had her car on College Hill for a few years, she said she has learned "to navigate parking better," but added that the ability to find parking "definitely varies every day." She said she knows many people who have cars on campus, and that the overall consensus is that "there is a lack of student parking at Brown."

Other students echoed Brisson's outlook on parking on College Hill. Dmitry Vagner '12 said he knows several people who have gotten parking tickets, both from Providence's and from the University's parking enforcement, and said the parking situation causes "lots of strife." Michelle Graff '13 said she might bring a car to campus this summer and is already nervous about finding parking. "I think it might be a disaster to park," she said.


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