"When I came out this morning at 8:30, it wasn't there," he said.
Najera, 30, and Azean Malik, the 27-year-old band manager, spent Friday morning perched on a windowsill in the waiting room at the Philadelphia Parking Authority's impoundment lot on Weccacoe Street, paying a $150 fine and filling out paperwork, trying to retrieve the van.
"We saw the signs," Najera said. "There were two different ones. One said Monday through Friday, something like 7:30 or 8:30 to I don't know and different hours for Saturday and Sunday. Then there was another sign on top." He shook his head and shrugged. "I thought I was parking legally. There were other cars parked there, too."
Despite the Parking Authority's earnest attempts to make parking rules clear to drivers, the search for a legal curbside spot in the city often feels like a con game.
"I think it's done intentionally so you get tickets," said Dee Brodzik, a retired real estate broker who parked on Chestnut last week so her daughter could return something at J. Crew. Brodzik, who lives in Manhattan, says deviousness is not exclusive to Philadelphia. "The signs in New York are just as bad."
One of the simpler signs in Center City reads in red: "NO STOPPING 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m." with an arrow pointing right and "NO STOPPING ANYTIME" with an arrow pointing left. Below, in green, with an arrow pointing right it reads: "TWO HOUR 9:30 AM - 4 PM MON - FRI; THREE HOUR 4 PM - 10 PM MON - FRI; 8 AM - 10 PM SAT" And in blue: "RESERVED PARKING AT ALL TIMES FOR [handicapped sign] ONLY."
"The difficulty comes when you're trying to accommodate all kinds of parking demands for the curb space," explained Richard Dickson, of the Parking Authority. "On Walnut and Chestnut, you have to allow for deliveries, retail use and clearing the street for the evening rush hour. Getting all that information on a sign in a way that is clear and concise is not easy."
Two years ago, Dickson said, the Parking Authority held focus groups to get suggestions on how to improve the signs. It also worked with students from the University of the Arts on redesign.
Rather than shingling street poles with multiple signs showing arrows pointing in different directions and a jumble of hours and days, he said, the improved signs consolidate all information on one wide placard. The sleeker design uses color codes and a more organized layout so that the rules for various hours progress logically from morning to night.
These new signs, already in place on sections of Walnut and Chestnut Streets, will gradually replace the old ones throughout the city.
"We are constantly looking for ways to improve the way we communicate," Dickson said, adding that despite the suspicions of people such as Brodzik, "we're not trying to trick people into getting towed. We're trying to improve access. The city has a limited amount of curb space, and every single bit has different demands on it."
Despite the widespread belief that Parking Authority minions are maliciously efficient vultures just waiting to pounce on expired meters, Dickson says that only a fraction of illegally parked cars gets nailed.
"We ticket about one-third of the cars in violation. We only want to create a credible deterrent." To go after every expired meter and every bumper nudged over into the loading zone "would not be cost-effective. It would not be good business."
Michael McGeady was just unlucky, then, when he parked his silver Volvo on Second Street between Lombard and South a few months ago and popped into a Wawa to buy a pack of gum.
The 55-year-old educator from Society Hill got a $300 ticket for parking in a handicapped spot. "The little marker was this big," he said, holding his finger and thumb a few inches apart. "The signs are very difficult to read."
If so, said Sarafim Santos, it's the driver's own fault. "Anybody who can read can figure this out," said Santos, a language professor at Community College who was born in Angola. "I think Americans just aren't learning to read anymore."
The man may be charmed.
Not only does he have the good fortune to be able to decipher the Parking Authority's code, but he apparently enjoys the goodwill of his fellow citizens.
As he pulled into a spot on Chestnut near 18th Street, the man who had parked there before him gave him a parking receipt from the kiosk that had 30 minutes remaining on it.
Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.