No Deposit, Big Return

The City of Miami is doing battle with a ragtag bunch of parking meter scam artists. And the City of Miami appears to be losing.

His dark mood lifts only when the conversation turns to his area of expertise A all those pawls, winding rings, and other meter parts with Jabberwocky names.

Fulfilling Borges's prophecy, Wendell Banks has begun working the lot just hours after the repairman's departure. He, too, understands the innards of the meters. Though he's never actually seen them, he's shot them full of plenty of bullets, as the vandals call the tools of their trade. Banks relates a short history of meter plunder, beginning with the days several years ago when he and his mates used steak knives to manipulate the slots. The city changed the meter design to prevent the practice. "So then we started using shaved pennies," Banks continues, explaining how they wore down pennies by rubbing them on the sidewalk. "They worked real well in the dime slots. City changed the meter again. Now it takes only quarters. So now we shootin' these bullets here."

Carried away by his lecture, Banks has impulsively decided to reveal the key to Miami meter-beating. The metal object in the middle of his wide palm glitters in the sunlight. The tab from an aluminum beverage can.

Not just any tab. Only tabs from Magnum Malt Liquor and certain cans of Coca-Cola will do, says Banks; he and other shooters spend their spare time scouring streets and digging through garbage bins for suitable aluminum.

Such persistence has sent city parking officials back to the drawing board. They're testing a meter in which quarters trigger a digital display instead of the current spring/arrow analog mechanism. Unfortunately, the five sample devices on Biscayne Boulevard between Second and Third streets are losing their battery charges too quickly.

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