If you spend any significant amount of time around the University of Richmond, you will learn about the parking guy. You probably won’t learn that his name is Bill Rawluk, but you’ll learn that he rides around in a red smart car. You probably won’t hear that he’s a nice guy, but instead that he’s everywhere at once, preying on illegally parked cars. “But I just needed to grab a book, I was only gone for five minutes.” He doesn’t care, he’s writing the ticket regardless… Right?
Rawluk stands at 6-foot-2 and weighs probably 210 pounds. He wears baggy khaki pants that have slight sag caused by the ticketing machine and walkie-talkie on either side of his waist. He wears his navy-colored “Public Safety” polo tucked into those pants. He wears glasses and a silver and gold watch. On the fourth finger of his left hand, he wears a ring to symbolize his 20-year marriage to his wife, Andrea. And, despite the seemingly eternal look of boredom and blankness he wears on his face, Rawluk is also equipped with a mind, a heart and a conscience. Who would’ve thought?
During a typical workday, Rawluk bestows parking citations upon anywhere from 40 to 100 vehicles, depending on the time of year. That equals up to 100 bad moods that Rawluk’s job causes each day. And, contrary to popular belief on Richmond’s campus, he doesn’t find joy in that aspect of his job.
“I just do it,” he says with his subtle lisp. “You can’t think about it.”
If you watch Rawluk as he does his job, he doesn’t appear to think about it. He walks slowly, almost shuffling, as if he doesn’t mind when he reaches the next vehicle. He walks the same way many athletes do when they’re not practicing their craft—slow and complacent, as if he’s taking advantage of the time he has to just walk.
When he approaches a vehicle to place a ticket on the windshield, he follows a routine, but not on purpose. He will stand to the side of the vehicle, enter the necessary information in his magic ticket-maker, then stare blankly beyond the vehicle as he waits for the citation slip to print from the machine on his hip. The stare is one of boredom, one of exhaustion, a stare that says, “I’m not here because I want to be.”
And truthfully, he doesn’t want to be. He is 62 years old and heading into his 14th year as Richmond’s Senior Parking Enforcement Specialist. The job has bored him for a few years now, and he’s here only for financial reasons. His only son, Drew, is two years from college and Rawluk’s job allows for free tuition at numerous private colleges. He also wants as much Social Security money as he can get.
Rawluk actually got a break from his job last autumn, but it was no vacation. He went into surgery on Halloween to replace his aortic heart valve, which is partially responsible for blood flow. Rawluk was born with a bicuspid valve, which looks like a circle that opens in the middle, while most people are born with tricuspid valves, which look like a peace symbol and open in the intersection of the three lines.
The surgery went smoothly and Rawluk recovered for three months. While he was away, though, students eventually learned of his absence and took advantage by parking wherever they liked. When he came back to work he was busier than he’d ever been, giving more than 100 tickets in half a day.
So, why did Rawluk come back to work rather than retire after heart surgery at the age of 62?
Rawluk’s hard shell and stern look disappear when you ask about the things that matter to him. And Drew is at the top of that list.
Drew is a soccer-playing 16-year-old who knows how to frustrate his dad. He’s actually better at that than any of Rawluk’s ticket-victims.
“I don’t lose my temper here,” Rawluk said. “But my son can set off my temper in a second. He knows all the buttons to push.”
That doesn’t mean they have a poor relationship, though. Rawluk says they actually have a fantastic, friendly relationship, even though Drew is “16 going on 32” and “knows everything,” like many teenagers. Drew’s love for soccer has become a major bonding point for the two. Rawluk is a fan of Chelsea Football Club while Drew prefers to cheer for Manchester United, two of England's most prestigious clubs.
Regardless of any back-and-forth competition or arguing they share, Rawluk’s commitment to his job proves his unconditional love for his son. He wants Drew to reap the benefits of college, and he’s willing to put up with dirty looks, threats, lies and verbal assaults to make that happen.
Speaking of threats… Funny story actually. Rawluk once discovered a car parked illegally and decided to endow its windshield with a ticket. Little did he know at the time that the car belonged to an overly aggressive Air Force member who was attending Richmond’s law school. When the man walked up and saw Rawluk doing his job, he cursed vehemently and screamed threats. He also kicked, punched and smacked Rawluk’s cart.
Rawluk was frustrated, but stayed calm as he typically does. The police came and controlled the man. In the aftermath, Rawluk decided it was best not to press charges on the man, because that would ruin the man’s career in the Air Force. The man was not let off without any consequence, though—Rawluk asked for a one-page written apology. He got what he wanted.
That’s just one of countless stories Rawluk has. He actually has so many stories that if you ask him to tell you a story, none immediately stand out above the rest. Give him time to think, though, and he’ll tell you about the drunken students he encountered at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the couple who got suspended for lying about forging a parking pass or the continual unfortunate encounters he has with football and baseball players.
It’s always the football and baseball players, he said. It’s actually ironic, because Rawluk played both sports earlier in his lifetime. Hard to believe? Not if you look closely. Rawluk walks like an athlete, slow and careless (or calculated?), and has a large frame. Still, the football career didn’t last long—he was once crossing the field to catch a pass as a receiver and got blindsided. “It’s not for me,” he told himself.
Baseball was for him, though. It was so for him that he forwent numerous scholarship offers from colleges and took an opportunity as a second baseman for the Montreal Expos, a decision he said he regretted to this day. That career lasted only two years, but Rawluk’s connection to baseball reaches far beyond that short era.
Rawluk grew up around New York City as a Mets and Yankees fan. Tickets to those games were just $2.50 for regular seats and $3.50 for box seats. When Rawluk turned 16, he began selling popcorn and hot dogs at Yankee Stadium. After a few years he took his talents to Montreal, and now he simply watches his teams on television or, preferably, in person when he has the opportunity.
If only Richmond’s alpha males knew about Rawluk’s storied athletic past, maybe they wouldn’t yell and curse and disrespect him. And maybe they wouldn’t rack up $700 worth of tickets in a matter of weeks. Wait, what?
That’s right. That actually happened once. It was Bryson Spinner, quarterback for the Richmond Spiders in 2003. As Rawluk recalls, Spinner had a brand new car with temporary plates, so he thought he was immune to the parking-ticket virus. He wasn’t.
Rawluk gave Spinner multiple tickets a day for 10 days, at which time he was given the go-ahead to have Spinner’s car towed downtown. Here comes the humor and ruthlessness of Rawluk, though—Spinner retrieved his car, parked illegally on campus later that same day, and was towed again. Bill Rawluk doesn’t back down.
He did giggle as he told me that story, though. Rawluk’s actually a jokester. He playfully tells his co-workers to “at least look like you’re doing something.” If you ask how long he’s been married, he’ll respond without hesitation. “Too long.” Don’t worry, Andrea, he talked afterward about how much he loves you.
Rawluk’s humor isn’t the only surprise characteristic. He’s actually quite quirky too, it’s just hard to see that under his bored facial expression.
“I have the best garden in my neighborhood,” he said. That’s right; Rawluk loves to garden. He also loves to listen to XL102, Richmond’s station for alternative music, while he works. His favorite band right now is The Airborne Toxic Event, a self-described indie band, and his favorite song is the band’s “Sometime Around Midnight.” He paid $1.75 to see Bruce Springsteen on his first big tour many years ago. Rawluk knows how to have fun.
Rawluk’s supervisor, campus police Lieutenant Eric Beatty, sees that side of Rawluk and wishes others around Richmond’s campus took the time to see that side too. “I would like people to know that he’s not just the face of parking enforcement,” Beatty said. “He goes to church; he has a family; he has a son. There’s more to Bill than parking enforcement. There’s so much more to him that makes him who he is.”
The moral of this story is really that there is a lighthearted and dynamic life living beneath a pile of disparaging parking-guy rumors. He sees all of the somber and unfortunate looks he receives from the students around Richmond’s campus. He knows his reputation. Does he like it? Of course not. But his response to the widespread dislike is very much an encapsulation of his calm and resilient personality.
“You gotta go with the flow,” he says.
Contact Sports Editor Charlie Broaddus at firstname.lastname@example.org