Is this heaven? No, it's Sea Isle City, where meter maid Regina Schottmuller is an angel in disguise, trying so hard to avoid handing out parking tickets.

Posted: July 13, 2006

SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. — Meter maid Regina Schottmuller, badge 1246, hovers over the expired meter of a car parked a block from the beach in the center of town. She's got her pad ready. She starts writing.

But wait, all you hapless shoobies. It's not what you think. She is not writing a ticket. She is not about to ruin your day. Can it be? She's writing a . . . warning.

A warning?

She's cutting some schlub a break while he snoozes at the beach?

In Jersey?

It is not a dream. This is Sea Isle, a beacon of hope in the summer meter madness that overtakes Jersey Shore towns, where enforcement officers are notoriously cutthroat, derided as rent-a-cops, pens at the ready, where towns always get the last laugh with high fines and the ability to suspend your license if you ignore just one parking ticket (Oh, Wildwood, how you triumphed in the end.)

But then, there is Sea Isle. And there is Regina Schottmuller, quite possibly the nicest meter maid in Jersey, maybe even the ONLY nice meter maid in Jersey.

"We don't like to give tickets," says Schottmuller, 49, who last year was a celebrated beach-tag checker at 40th Street in Sea Isle. "We're not about tickets."

Schottmuller is seeking to understand your transgressions, figure out what led you to let your meter expire, and trying NOT to give you a ticket. Really.

"Thank you, parking meter lady!" says Mary Trubin, 78, after being requested to move her car from its wrong-way-on-a-one-way-street parking spot and not issued any kind of ticket. "I'll never do it again. I should be spanked!"

Sea Isle Police Sgt. Dennis Felsing says his is the only Jersey Shore department to routinely issue warnings, a claim independently verified by a decade of intense research into the subject, covering towns from Margate to Cape May, and transgressions ranging from expired meters and parked over the allotted time, to too close to the curb or facing the wrong direction. And never, once, a warning.

Until Sea Isle.

In Sea Isle, the policy is to give a 15-minute grace period at the meters, unheard of at the Shore. ("There are signs, if you want a warning," a dispatcher in Margate said.) They issue a pleasant thing called a warning, stuck under your wiper to scare you a bit, but clearly marked as NOT A TICKET.

They don't carry chalk to time your car at the one-hour spots with no meters (unlike in towns such as Margate, where the frequently chalked have become adept at moving their cars up just a quarter-turn to put the tire mark out of sight).

In Sea Isle, they don't even hang around for the 15-minute grace period to expire. This week, speed-walking through her rounds, Schottmuller threw down a few warnings around John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Landis Avenue and was in a completely different part of town 15 minutes later.

Maybe, in an hour or two, she says, she'll check again. But then again, she might be too busy knocking on doors trying to find the people who have parked in the wrong direction on the street and asking them, politely, to move their cars.

"Thank you so much," says Schottmuller, after Trubin explained that she moved the car out of the sun while her husband was getting a haircut and ended up facing the wrong way. "I tell you, how can you be mean to people? That's what makes them never want to come back."

Or she might be allowing Pattie Ireland at the marina to run out and feed her customers' meters if their boat trip is running late.

On Landis Avenue, Schottmuller is feeling bad that Diane Bennett and Lisa Summers put in two extra quarters in a one-hour meter that takes only 50 cents for the hour.

"If I had 50 cents, I'd put it in for you," Schottmuller says. Instead, she recommends a lunch spot that will get them back in an hour. Give or take.

Schottmuller and her boss, Felsing, say Sea Isle's policy is designed to keep people feeling good about the place they choose to go to the beach and is worth any lost revenue. (Are you listening, towns that add $12 court costs on top of $22 late fees?)

Schottmuller has gone through about 50 tickets since the season began May 15, a little more than an average of one during an eight-hour shift (while writing at least a couple dozen warnings). That's not meeting anybody's idea of a revenue quota.

"That's just the policy," Felsing says. "It's a courtesy thing. We want these people to keep coming back."

Even a guy named El Cid, one of three guys riding Harleys who were parked illegally in just two spots on Tuesday, was impressed that Schottmuller cut them a break (they were getting ready to take off, anyway). "She could have ticketed us, technically speaking," said Cid, who would not identify himself beyond his nickname. "I've never been anywhere in all my travels where you got a warning."

Phil Muller, son of a former Sea Isle police chief, whose XTerra was parked too far from the curb the other day, but close enough for Schottmuller, summed it up this way: "We don't want to penalize you for coming to visit us."

Maybe paying for a beach tag is penalty enough. Although in Sea Isle, they are not required on Wednesdays.

Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or arosenberg@phillynews.com.

Have you had a horrific parking-ticket experience at the Shore? Share it at philly.com.

|
|
|
|
|