Art in Paradise: Big Wheel Keep On Turnin'

Little matches the vein-popping frustration of receiving a Northampton parking ticket. It's an awesome feeling to get a ticket in the fashion I last got one—I happily cruised on down the street on foot, returning to my car. My meter ran out at 1 p.m. It was 1:03 p.m. But of course, sure as summer precedes fall, one of those obnoxious little birds fluttered away, pinned to the windshield by my wiper.

Oh, the joy! I watched, jaw twitching, as the "parking enforcer," her socks pulled up tight, sauntered down the street quite some distance away. At that distance, she had to have been there when the meter ticked down, ready and waiting to scratch out the ticket. How else to explain it?

Who are these people? Does this enforcer of coin-operated time enjoy her work? It's a thankless job, I'm sure, what with malcontents like me, but one still hopes enforcement can be delivered with a gentle justice. I hope I'm wrong, but as I saw her eying her next kill, I could swear I saw a little twitch of enjoyment. This is one of many reasons I prefer the chilled-out vibe—and free parking—of nearby Easthampton.

The fun doesn't end, however, with the city's parking enforcers offering over-priced souvenirs to those who would dare to shop the streets of Northampton for seconds too long. No, it may extend as well to Northampton's finest.

That's where local musician Aaryn Blain comes in. He's posted on Youtube a perfectly awesome little nugget of Northamptonness. It offers some tiny measure of relief from the Olympus Mons of anger I feel when I get my very own Northampton ticket, followed, when I forget to pay it instantly, by another ticket charging me still more money for repeatedly daring to brave the frothing rapids of temporal crime.

Blain filmed Northampton police overseeing the towing of a wheelchair sometime last year. Questions abound. If the chair was abandoned in some irresponsible fashion, how did the occupant of said chair get to wherever he or she was going? What might the chair-parker do upon returning to find this important mode of transportation mysteriously gone?

Lest I vilify the police in question: one hopes—nay, imagines—this incident was not precipitated by overzealous parking enforcement. It seems likely that the occupant of the chair in question was aided or even arrested for some other reason before the chair left the scene. Why the chair left the scene secured on a large flatbed truck, on the other hand, is anyone's guess.

The beauty of Blain's short video is in part that it exists in its own strange moment, impervious to such questions. Blain himself doesn't know what exactly he filmed. He says he saw the weirdness already underway outside the window of his old apartment and hit the record button.

Blain is a musician and producer, and he adorned his very short film with an original piano soundtrack. The piece has a sort of whimsical quality, bouncing around like a Swing Era rhythm section. It doesn't exactly make the scene look like SWAT team action, infusing it instead with a Buster Keaton-esque vaudevillian air. It's hard to say exactly what emotion Blain's piece captures, but it's something quintessentially Northampton, a mix of small-town self-importance and small-stakes head-scratching. For the scene to be captured out a window and turned into a compelling little moment of high art puts it right over the top, into a pure and pleasant expression of Northamptonness.

One merely hopes that if the poor sod whose wheels got towed is the proud owner of a ticket, the thing got paid on time. But if not, well, it is Northampton—someone will probably organize a vigil.

Author: James Heflin

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