Monday, April 11

SAVE ME...from Greek Parking Tickets

I've made the mistake of parking in a disabled zone.

Returning to the car one night I found I had a ticket. Because my car has UK plates, I made my second mistake by tossing the ticket away, reasoning they wouldn't get me at my UK registered address, and drove home.

Next morning a colleague asked where my number plates were. Dumb question? Wrong, because it was then I noticed they weren't any longer on my car.
For some parking offences get you a ticket and the removal of plates. And you can't drive without plates. And you can only get the plates back by paying the fine. And you cant' do that for 20 days, and so you can't drive for 20 days.

I was planning to travel across Europe in my car, so this presented a serious problem.
But I have been learning the Greek ways of things. It's called The Shortcut. Visiting the local Police Station I explained the problem, reasoning a Brit, in trouble, polite, and showing some ignorance and a lot of foolishness, would win the day.
The senior Officer was understanding. There are ways to resolve this, he told me. Then he asked if I wanted to be his friend.
Now, where I come from you are friends, or you're not. One doesn't ask. It sounded more like a proposition than an invitation to coffee and beer. But I agreed, carefully, and without trying to show undue enthusiasm.
He opened his drawer to show a pile of Euro notes, and asked me how much exactly I wanted to be his friend. Cheap at the price, and after some haggling as to how much exactly our new friendship was worth (€40 in the end) we shook hands, finished our coffees, and the appropriate papers to get my plates back and pay the fine early were given to me a few minutes later.

To pay the fine I had to visit another office in the nearby town. But the Officer would allow me to drive my car there, without plates, to get them.

After carefully parking beside this office, I entered a small room with 3 cashier's windows in front of me, and 3 clerks sitting behind each of them.
Each had a pc, all were reading newspapers, all were smoking, and all had still warm coffee's in front of them. All ignored me.
Choosing the middle window I presented my papers and asked to pay my fine. I was told to do this at the first window, which I did. After repeating my request, this man sighed, turned on his pc, sipped his coffee and while waiting for the computer to boot up studiously studied the papers.
Entering some details onto his pc, he then tore a corner off his newspaper, wrote a reference number down on it, and handed the slip to me. He returned to reading his newspaper, but not before motioning me to move on to the middle window.
The 2nd clerk sighed, booted his pc, closed his newspaper, took my slip of paper, and entered the number from it into his pc. Typing in some more information in from my passport, he then tore a strip from a notepad, wrote a new reference number on it, gave it to me, and returned to his coffee and reading.
By now I had the hang of this. I moved eastwards towards the 3rd window, thrusting my slip of paper in front of the face of the man behind it. He looked at it, looked at me, looked at it, frowned, booted his pc, took out his mobile 'phone and called a friend. 8 minutes passed before he completed the call and my drumming fingers were wearing dents in the wood of the counter.

Closing the call, he looked at the pc screen, banged some keys, tabbed a few spaces and asked for the money for the fine. We swapped my money for another piece of paper, but this time given to me from a printer, so we were getting formal. He returned to his newspaper. I looked at him. I looked around the room but there were no other windows or clerks.
Panic was enveloping me. 'Where do I go now' I asked?
To the Police Station, was the reply. The Police 'where idiots like you can collect your plates' Station was the deserved reply.

So a n ew Police Station and a new car park. But this was proverbial the port in a storm, the oasis in the desert, the winning lottery number, the safe landing in the jumbo after the engines had fallen off. Calm and efficiency, politeness and smiles.
Had I been transported into another country without realising it, I wondered? Here I was, in a public office and not only not being treated like a moron but also being treated with civility and a decency. My papers were taken from me, and within minutes not only were my plates returned to me, they were also nicely wrapped up and sealed in a plastic bag.

I returned to my car to fix the plates on. Unwrapping the bag, and retrieving my screwdriver, I then found the plates hadn't been removed from my car by unscrewing them. They had been removed from my car by sawing them off. There were no holes left on the car which I could screw my plates back onto.

Then I made my 3rd mistake. I called my local and friendly garage and asked them to come out to fix the plates on for me, there and they did, arriving quickly, driving into the car park up to my car, and beginning the work.
An officer on a cigarette break strolled over to politely explain we couldn't do this in the compound of the station, and that we should go outside onto the street to finish it.

I drove my car onto the street, the mechanic following in his van, we parked outside, and offering to go get us both coffee's whilst the mechanic worked, I wondered off in search of a cafe'. Within a few minutes I was back. I could see the plates were back on. I could see the mechanic was very agitated. I could see the smoking policeman standing my our vehicles, a book in hand. And I could see 2 new parking tickets affixed to each of our windscreens.

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