Q&A with... Michael “Mr. Mike” McCargo, a New Canaan parking enforcement officer
NEW CANAAN — In his role as a parking enforcement officer, Michael McCargo is in a precarious position.
For many in town he’s a friendly face, generous with his time and always willing to assist with the sometimes temperamental parking meters. In his patrol of town parking lots, he is quick to say hello and introduce himself as “Mr. Mike,” which he prefers to the more formal Mr. McCargo.
Still, for some he is the harbinger of bad news, writing tickets and assessing fines.
But McCargo, 48, feels no joy in writing tickets — he’s merely doing his job. And it’s a job that, since he came to New Canaan six years ago, he has immensely enjoyed while excelling at it. Earlier this month, McCargo was promoted to a full-time parking enforcement officer, so expect to see more of the Bridgeport resident around town.
Q: Where does the Mr. Mike nickname come from?
A: A young lady I used to date years ago, she had a young daughter, and she taught her daughter great manners, so her daughter used to call me Mr. Mike. And then it just stuck from maybe 20 years ago.
And actually I brought the nickname back just to bring some positivity, just in general, showing respect to each other. It’s not a power thing. It’s just a term of endearment and respect.
Q: Do people around here call you that as well?
A: I try to get them to. I’ve got to work on my supervisor. She calls me that when she wants something, but then when I’m in trouble I’m Mike. But we have another new gentleman here named Mike Esposito, so to separate us she’s calling me Mr. Mike.
Q: Where are you from originally? When did you come to Connecticut?
A: I’m from Port Washington, N.Y. — Nassau County born and raised. I came here in 1987 and attended Southern Connecticut State University and I’ve been here ever since. It’ll be 30 years this year.
Q: How did you find out about New Canaan?
A: I always heard about New Canaan while I was at Southern. We knew this one gentleman from New Canaan who would always claim Stamford because nobody knew where New Canaan was. So I was kind of familiar with it. I finally visited the place for the job. I came in for the job and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to retire from here.’
This town reminds me of the town I grew up in, and I’m still here.
Q: This will be your second full-time job. What is your first?
A: I work for the City of Bridgeport Police Department in central booking. It’s pretty much like the show ‘Barney Miller,’ if you remember, but I’m dating myself right now. I basically work in the local jail for the city. I’ve been there going on 13 years this July. I love it.
We process arrestees, of all walks of life, all shapes and sizes. We’re like correctional officers for way less money, basically.
Q: How are you juggling two full-time jobs?
A: What made the town go with the decision, they said I was already doing it anyway. When our supervisor Karen Miller retired, they allowed me to pick up extra hours.
As a matter of fact, I left school because of work. I said to myself, ‘I don’t mind working.’ Work brings income, so working was never a problem to me. People say, ‘You work hard.’ I say, ‘No, I work a lot, but it’s not hard.’ — and that’s the key to it. And with work, you take it one day at a time. I will retire from this place, lord willing, because I like the pace of it. And I love people.
Q: Have you always been a people person?
A: When I came up here 30 years ago, I remember my mom dropping me off at school. After we got everything into the room, as I was taking her back down the elevator to her car to go home, I said, ‘Mom, I don’t really know anybody here. How do I meet people?’ She said to me, clear as day, ‘Hi, my name is Michael. What’s yours?’ It’s the simplest thing — just say hello.
My mother passed a year ago. That was a tough time for me. But her passing showed me the person that she was with the turnout of people and all the messages. When my mom passed I felt bad for all the people who knew her because she touched a lot of lives.
Q: As a parking enforcement officer you’re not always seeing people at their happiest. Is it difficult dealing with angry people who you’ve just written a ticket?
A: Yeah, I’ve pissed people off. There are good days and bad days. It comes down to how you treat people. And it’s all about fun. I have people here in New Canaan patting me on the back, apologizing to me for the fact they parked wrong.
I’m not out to write a million tickets. I’m just out to do the job and do the job the way the town wants me to do it.
You know, I’m not making a parking ticket a good experience, but hopefully it’s not a bad one.
Q: With the promotion to full time, will the nature of your work change?
A: I’ll still be out there. From the part time to the full time, I’ll pick up a few more responsibilities, but at the same time, it’ll be a lot of the same thing. I’ll be more involved with the internal stuff of the parking department, the stuff that people don’t realize we do. I’m looking forward to it.
A: I call Stacy my agent. From day one she’s always done things to make it better for me, as well as for the department. She really goes to bat for me. In fact, she went to bat for me to get this position. She sold it to the town, and here I am.
Q: With the new parking machines expected this spring do you think it’ll make your job a bit easier? Do you think they might cool the tempers of residents frustrated with the old machines?
A: Fifty percent of people are always going to be happy, fifty percent are always going to be unhappy.
But it’s definitely going to be better. The company we are going with is one of the best companies for parking in the United States. We’re very confident with them. There are still going to be those complaints, but it is what it is. We as a group just take our time and use the machines in the manner they’re supposed to be used and everything should be fine. I’m excited about the machines.
Q: Are there certain aspects of parking in town in particular that the department is working on?
A: We definitely want to be out there more for the people as the face of the town. We’re looking to get a bike patrol to make us more visible instead of being in the car. I don’t mind being out there. I like walking, and I need to walk. So I love it. The people look for me.
And we’re looking to get more parking for the commuters, we’re looking to make parking times longer. Once again, we’re out there for the people.