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'Parking Wars':

Our reality

Steve Garfield knows how you feel about him.

How could he miss it in the city that loves to talk back?

For 24 years, Garfield has spent his working days roaming the streets of Philadelphia, locking yellow metal boots onto the vehicles of parking scofflaws.

Garfield allows that booting can be a trying experience - for the booted and even for those sensitive bystanders who may figure that there, but for good luck, go they.

"It's not the most fun thing when you get your car booted, and watching other people get booted, you know, people can be a little upset," he acknowledges.

Which is why Garfield is glad the public will get to see him and other Philadelphia Parking Authority employees at work on the A&E series

Parking Wars

, which debuts at 10 tonight.

"I think it's a really good idea that they wanted to do this, to show what our daily life is like, how we deal with the different problems, the different situations that go on during the day," says Garfield, 54, a friendly and funny man with a mustache and an affection for the cerebral punk band Bad Religion.

"I think it shows that we're human beings," he says. "We're just normal, regular people trying to do a job, and it's not such an easy job out there."

Parking Wars

is the work of Hybrid Films, a New York-based production company that has given the TV audience a string of series that follow Americans to work. Among Hybrid's on-the-job shows:

Dog the Bounty Hunter

(find the bail skipper),

Family Plots

(bury the dead), and

Take This Job . . .

(clean up the crime scene, wrestle an alligator, coordinate organ recovery for transplant).

Parking Wars

is "really aimed to allow the audience to walk in the shoes of the person doing the job," says Daniel Elias, cofounder of Hybrid Films.

"Everybody has a strong opinion about somebody who works in the world of parking," Elias says by phone from his home in New York.

The Parking Authority is especially fertile ground for a documentary because "it's a very emotional territory," says Elias, 40, a native of England who came to the United States 20 years ago to study film at New York University.

"In this country, people are very, very attached to their cars, and you've got this interesting chemistry between people who are performing a public service and people who are potentially losing something that is seen as a piece of the American dream . . . their car."

Showing the interaction between parking enforcers and the public is "ultimately going to humanize what takes place," Elias adds, with what sounds, to Philadelphia ears, like amusing naivete.

Four camera crews accompanied volunteer authority employees on the job from May through October, producing "hundreds of hours of footage," Elias says.

Twenty episodes are completed. Whether there will be more depends on how well the series does with viewers.

Elias would like to do more work in Philadelphia. "I'm a big fan of Philadelphia," he says. "I personally love the cheesesteaks, and I love the people there."

And Philadelphians have a way with words that any documentary filmmaker is bound to love.

"As the seat of the Constitution, they take freedom of expression seriously," says Robert Sharenow, executive producer of the series and senior vice president of nonfiction and alternative programming at A&E. "It's one of the great reasons we love filming in Philly. I'd love to do another show there."

Neither the agency nor any of the Parking Authority employees who appear in the series was paid, Sharenow says.

There is one intangible payoff for both the agency and its employees. "It's good for morale," says authority spokeswoman Linda Miller.

That's not hard to understand, because the Parking Authority employees - at least, in the first two episodes - come out looking pretty good, even with Hybrid's warts-and-all approach.

Some of them take to the camera like naturals.

Garfield says he was surprised how at ease he felt during the filming. "I'm a little bit more shy than I appear on the show," he says. "I guess I'm just a big ham."

Ticket writer Jeff Widman, 24, admits he was a little unnerved at first as the camera trailed him around Center City back in May. "I never really had cameras follow me around, so it was something new for me, so it was a little stage fright, basically," he says. "After a while, it's like they're not there, and you remember you got a job to do," he says.

He diplomatically handles a motorist who becomes nearly apoplectic over a broken meter, and shrugs off the casual insults ("Meter maid!") that are part of a Parking Authority employee's life.

Says Widman: "You got to have a good sense of humor about it."