When there's no parking in Santa Monica and you have a comedy gig, what do you do? You pull up to the passenger loading zone right in front, drop off your guitar (yes, comedy sometimes includes silly songs), come back out and then drive off to find parking. Right? Wrong. When I returned to my car - within a minute of parking - I found a Santa Monica Parking Enforcement Officer writing me a ticket. Well, he was typing stuff in to one of those hand held parking-ticket-giving-machines.
"No, no, no! Please don't give me a ticket! I just went in for a minute!"
I really had been in there a minute. OK. A minute and a half.
He kept typing. "Sorry. Passenger loading only." He didn't even bother to look up at me.
"Hey!" One of the other comedians poked her head out. "She was only there a minute! You can't give her a ticket!"
"Yes I can", he replied without missing a tip-typey beat on his machine. "Passenger loading only."
I tried pleading with my eyes but since he refused to look at me, this proved futile.
"Officer, I'm a comedian. I don't make much money. Please don't give me a ticket."
The words tumbled out of me because I felt they had to be there. Someone gives you a ticket, you fight it, right? You try to change their mind!
"Passenger loading only means that as soon as you got out of the car, you were in violation", was his stiff response. I imagined him having to repeat this many times a day.
Alright. I was in violation. I relaxed. I stopped resisting.
"OK. You're giving me a ticket", I said and I leaned against the car and took in the night air.
He looked up at me, confused.
I smiled. "Well, what are you going to do? This is what's happening, so why fight it, right?"
He squinted his eyes at me.
"You know what I mean?" Hmmm...I guess not. I'll just be silent.
He went back to his work, head down. And as he typed away, I marveled at how many things had to take place to make this very moment happen. This man was the officer on duty tonight - no one else. It was uncharacteristically foggy and that probably caused the slow traffic I hit at Santa Monica Blvd. I then took a different route, making me late...and tense. My anxious feelings caused me to not fully take in the meaning of the "passenger loading only" sign as I rushed inside. At that moment, the officer must have rounded the corner and spotted one tall, hurried comedian scurrying in to a building with a guitar over her shoulder.
Once inside, I was introduced to another comedian who was new to this particular comedy show. She seemed nervous. I noticed this and wanted to make her feel welcome, so I asked her a question about herself. She and I laughed over something that was said. I was in there longer than I had planned and by the time I headed out the door again, the officer was busy on his hand held parking-ticket-giving-thinga-ma-bob. Leaning up against my Toyota, I had a deep appreciation at how everything unfolded, an intricate web of causes and conditions creating results that we Buddhists know as karma. It's pretty cool.
The officer finished his typing, the ticket popped out and he handed it to me. As I reached for it, I looked him in the eyes and said:
He laughed and shook his head at me. "You don't mean that."
"Sure I do!"
He looked puzzled, for the first time not taking his eyes away from me.
"Well, I'm a Buddhist. I appreciate challenge. It wakes you up."
He narrowed his eyes and walked past me. I was sure he thought I was nuts but I didn't mind. I started to open my door.
"Wait." He had stopped and was typing in to his machine thingy again.
Oh no! Is he giving me a second ticket, perhaps for being a lunatic who appreciates parking tickets?
"Here." He handed me a slip of paper and took back the ticket he had so painstakingly created. "I'm just giving you a warning."
Surprise and gratitude filled me and I instinctively put my hand on his shoulder.
He just smiled at me. And that smile would not leave his face.
"No one has ever said anything that you've just said to me."
"Yes. So have a great night."
I clapped my hands like a child. "Ooooh can I give you a hug?"
He chuckled and said "Sure", and I squeezed him hard. Impulsively, I kissed him on the cheek.
"OK, you can't do that."
He laughed his way to his driver's seat and called out to me, once more wishing me a good night.
I was thankful at what had happened, but I could see that so was he. I knew why I was thankful. But why on earth was he grinning like that? Who knows. But possibly his grin will cause certain things to fall in to place as he drives away. Causes and conditions. Karma.