Bagel Petard

There are global issues people need to think about, but I also believe an issue that needs to be addressed is when a perfectly law-abiding citizen pulls up in front of a certain bagel shop to park his car in order to go next door to a certain cafe, and the owner of the bagel shop runs out and starts pointing to some totally bogus hand-painted parking sign and threatens to have the good citizen's car towed because supposedly you can't park there unless you're going into the bagel shop.

Please don't take this as a petty or self-serving complaint. It is true that I did happen to be a victim of such a bagel-shop incident myself, but that experience was significant only because it opened my eyes to a form of suffering and oppression that I believe is widespread.

I speak for the others.

And here's the thing: I knew for sure at the time when I was coming under attack that the Dallas City Code does not allow property owners to restrict parking spaces where you park right at the curb.

You know what I mean about these dumb signs. You see them all over town now. "Parking for Subway Only, Towing Enforced." "Reserved Centennial Parking, Enforzamento de Gru'a." "Parking for Aunt Bitsy's Baby Togs Only: Four Flats if you think Bitsy's kidding."

Well, I made up the last one, but you know what I'm talking about. I said to the bagel guy: "This is public parking, and you can't reserve it for your own customers."

He said: "My lease says I can."

I said: "Your lease says wrong."

He said, "Does not," and I said, "Does too," and does-not and does-too and so on, and finally he said, "Try it, and I'll have you towed."

I turned sharply on my heel to show this man my utter contempt, and I marched into the cafe, where I stood guard watching my car from behind a movie poster in the front window, while the bagel person stood out on the curb dialing his cell phone as if he were Leonard Bernstein conducting The New York Philharmonic in Schumann's "Manfred" Overture.

Give me a break.

So I went back out and got in my car. It's a fairly new one. I didn't want the tow morons wrecking it. He sneered at me because he thought he had defeated me, but I silently vowed that this would not be the end of the matter. I would go straight home, forget about anything else I was supposed to be doing and look up the city code.

OK, if you don't mind, I would like to refer us all to Volume I of the Dallas City Code, Chapter 28, because I think this is where Monsieur Le Bagelette is hoist with his own petard, under the heading "Unauthorized reserving of parking spaces."

"A person commits an offense if without lawful authority, he places, maintains, or displays upon or in view of a public sidewalk, curb, or street, a sign, signal, marking, or device which indicates reserved parking space for adjoining owners or for customers of the adjoining owners upon the street or in areas recessed from the street which require use of the street for maneuvering."

Now, that was just Section a. If you don't mind, I would also like to refer us to Section b, which I think could be aptly titled the special "Leonard Bernstein Impersonator Clause":

"Verbal statement or gesture.

"A person commits an offense if without lawful authority, he attempts to reserve a parking space upon a street for an adjoining owner by statement or gesture."

This is huge.

I called James Murphy, one of the best municipal-issues lawyers I know (he sued the city over the trees at Tenison Park), and I asked him if he knew of any lawyers who specialize in suing the socks off bagel-shop owners who wrongly harass good citizens. I was kind of hoping he might say, "Oh, I love those cases; please let me represent you without fee," only because of the larger principle such a response would have affirmed.

Murphy, as always, was very nice, and he gave me an interesting history of recent court battles over parking enforcement and towing. He suggested, however, that normally in the specific type of case I described, in a bagel-shop situation where there actually has been no towing and only emotional and psychological damage and possible harm to a way of life, there is not, as he put it, "much recovery."

I didn't fall off a turnip truck. I know what that means. No moolah for the lawyers. Nobody takes it on a contingency.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze