Upholding the law? Or encouraging misdemeanors?

This is a No Stopping sign, as Maria Titizian eventually discovered.

Yerevan – When the economy was enjoying double-digit growth before the financial meltdown in America’s banking system, which had a domino effect across the globe, Armenians  in Armenia were buying and importing cars in record numbers.

The city of Yerevan, which was originally designed by Alexander Tamanyan for a population of 250,000 in the early 1920s, found itself in total gridlock. Along with this new phenomena came the problem of finding available parking spots in the downtown core of the city.

One of the problems is that the vast majority of drivers in Armenia don’t know how to park, in part because they don’t know how to drive either, not really. The reason is very simple – money solves everything. Everyone I know, with the exception of a young repatriate woman from Iran, has never had a driving lesson, taken a written driver’s test, or even gone on an actual driving test. Everyone I know has bought their driver’s license. Me too. You know the saying, it takes only 40 days… Thereby, here on these pages, I admit to all those who care to read it, that I, too, finally caved in and have thus become a true Yerevantsi.

The problem is that acquiring a driver’s license legally (please note that “legally” is a very relative term) requires an inordinate amount of patience, paperwork, running around (including having to prove one’s sanity by physically going to the city’s psychiatric hospital to get a document which proves that you’re of sound mind) and having to deal with petty bureaucrats whose only purpose in life is to drive you, literally, to be admitted to that very psychiatric hospital.

So a friend of a friend, to whom I paid a tidy sum, arranged to have my local driver’s license issued. The only thing I had to do was to go to the licensing commission, have my photo taken, and then about two weeks later go and pick it up. And voila! I no longer had to worry about renewing my international driver’s license every year. I am now a full-fledged driver of the Republic of Armenia.

But I digress. There is a story to be told after all.

Last week I needed to go to the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital to pick up a brace for my son’s wrist, which he had injured playing soccer. The hospital is located near Khachadur Abovyan Square. The parking of the hospital was full. So I had to park on a side street. While I instinctively felt it wasn’t a parking zone, there were other cars parked and looking for and not finding a No Parking sign, I resigned myself to leaving my car there.

About a half hour later, I came out and saw there were no other cars left and a piece of paper had been placed on my windshield. I walked around to the front of the car and saw that my license plate had been removed. Nothing is ever simple. Instead of issuing a parking ticket, traffic police remove your plate and leave you stranded.

On the piece of paper was written the name of the officer who had removed the plate and a time when I had to go to the central police station at the outskirts of town to pay my fine and retrieve my plate.

I don’t know why a parking infraction would deny you the right to drive your vehicle, but that’s how things are done, as inane and frustrating as they may be.

I knew that the traffic police officer must be in the vicinity and if I used my smarts I could probably track him down. But I’m not that smart, not in Yerevan anyway. I got into the car, with my son, who at this point was apologizing profusely because he felt it was because of his brace that we were now in this ridiculous situation, and began driving – remember, not smart.

In order to get yourself out of sticky situations you call a friend of a friend. I called said friend and explained my predicament. He asked me where I was and I said I was in the car driving down Heratsi Street. Suffice it to say that I got an earful. It went something like this: “Maria jan, have you lost your mind?! If they catch you driving without a plate, your problems will only get worse. Stop driving now!”

So I parked the car and got out. In the meantime I gave him the officer’s number and my plate number. He told me to sit tight and wait for his call. After about 15 minutes, he called back and told me to go to the Square of France – a couple of blocks away – and my plate would be waiting for me. Whew.

As soon as I hung up, my husband called (a call I didn’t want to take, trust me) and asked what I had gotten myself into this time. Small city, men who like to gossip. What can you do?

Although I knew I wasn’t supposed to drive, nonetheless I took the risk of driving as close as possible to the Square of France, and parked somewhere where I knew I was allowed to park.

My son and I quickly walked to the square, where a group of officers were standing around talking. I told my son not to interfere in my conversation, to stand back a few meters, and to make sure that the brace on his arm was visible. He tried to convince me that I’m too honest and wouldn’t know how to handle myself – ah, they grow up too fast and always think they’re smarter than you. I told him I had 26 years of experience on him and for him to stay put.

I walked over to the officer who seemed to be in charge and gave him the piece of paper that had been left on my windshield. He looked at it and said, “Oh yes, Gevorg has called me. Your plate will be here in a few minutes.” I didn’t know a Gevorg, but assumed it was a friend of a friend of a friend who had some pull.

I proceeded to explain to the officer where I had been, pointing to my son who waved back with his “braced” arm, and advised  him that there were no signs saying I couldn’t park there. The officer said that there was indeed a No Parking sign on that street; I said there isn’t, he said there is, I said there isn’t. He said, “Come on, I’ll take you there myself to prove it.”