Tuesday, January 30, 2007

First Link

Leaving aside (for the moment) Calvin Trillin's Beautiful Spot: The Magazine of Parking, who knew that there really was a magazine called Parking Today? Its editor is John Van Horn, and he is based in San Francisco, where the parking problems are worse than in Manhattan. He is also a dedicated Shoupista, which, from what I gather, is the belief that if cities charged high rates for on-street parking, there would always be spots available. My own religion, of course, is Alternate Side Parking, which embraces all faiths and observes the holidays of all nations.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Radio Day

Twenty-three degrees in Central Park. Jeff Spurgeon is playing a Handel oboe concerto on WQXR. I had to scrape snow off the car and start her up to melt the ice on the windshield, so I have the defrost and the radio on. The sun is coming up over a cloudbank right at the foot of the street.

7:41 and all is well. Or almost all.

“Hi, can you move back?” A young woman with a big smile greets me. At first I thought she was selling something, car door to car door. “This guy is right in front of me.” She presses her gloved palms together to demonstrate.

“Sure,” I say, and open the door to take a look. I have no idea where she came from.

“You have a pretty good space back there.” I pull back a foot or two.

The truth is that I got a little distracted when the street sweeper came. There was a pile of litter at my spot, and the street sweeper stopped and the guy got out and moved a sheet of plastic from the gutter onto the sidewalk. I guess it could gum up his works. Then I assumed that the guy behind me had pulled back into the hydrant space to give everybody room to straighten out, so I had pulled farther ahead than I needed to, to give him room to pull up.

The woman climbed into the car in front of me from the passenger side. It was Washington, D.C.! Now her driver’s-side door is blocked by the street-tree barrier.

The sun is blinding. Facing into it, I can see only a piercing blue sky and black silhouettes—a water tower on its erector-set legs and a few bare tree branches, spangled by the droplets of ice on my windshield. I have to lower the visor. Everything in my rearview mirror, by contrast, is sharply detailed. I see the sunlit lower half of the face of the guy behind me—mustache, thick lips, soul patch. He’s chewing something, and wears small gold hoop earrings. He lies back against the head rest.

What a great problem this winter sun is. If it were hot out, I’d be wishing I had a place in the shade.

“That was Cassenea de Mondonville.” Jeff Spurgeon is showing off his French pronunciation today. Next he introduces Hallfter’s Danza della Pastora, performed by the pianist Alicia De Larrocha. Great parking music, Jeff. Thanks.

Two minutes to 8 and the guy in back of me leaves. He is wearing a black hoodie and baggy low-riders. He gives a backward glance. I’ll just sit here till Alicia is done. It looks like there might be some scavengeable items in the garbage in front of the building my friend K. lives in.

I go back to have a look at the merchandise. A few rusty beach chairs, some disassembled bureau drawers, and a stack of wooden file boxes, each with four shallow trays fitted with segmented plastic compartments. They’re labeled DMC and show a black horse from a chess set. (They’re not really called horses, are they? Are those knights?) Anyway, they would be good for organizing fly-fishing equipment or embroidery thread … if I fly-fished or did embroidery.

What could I use them for? I have enough junk as it is. I proceed to the grocery store. If I still want them after grocery shopping, I’ll go back.

I buy a pear, two apricots (love those fruits of the Southern Hemisphere), blueberries, Greek yogurt, and an Amy’s frozen spinach pie. The cashier, a nice lady who is the only cashier in the store at this hour, fumbles as she hands me my receipt and almost dumps the change in the bag. She apologizes. “It’s early,” I say.

“It’s not that,” she says. She has a slight, unplaceable European accent. “I am nervous. This is my last week.”

“Oh, are you retiring?”

“Yes,” she says. “I’ve been here so long.”

“I was just getting to know you,” I say. “Maybe I’ll see you Thursday.”

I forget about the wooden file boxes until I am on my way to work, and then I pass them again. For some reason, I decide they were used to store spark plugs. It occurs to me that those segmented plastic things are removable and the boxes could be used for filing papers. It further occurs to me that I don’t have to carry the boxes home: I can deposit them in my trunk. So I take one. And, because there’s still room in the trunk, I take another. If I decide I don't want them, I can always put them back out on the street.

(Musical Notes: Mondonville was an eighteenth-century French violinist and composer. Ernesto Hallfter is described on a Web site maintained by his son, Manuel, as “the composer of joy and spontaneity.” http://www.ernestohalffter.com/mainsite_en.htm)

(Remind me to write about the ukuleles.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Master

Calvin Trillin has a piece on the Op-Ed page of today's (Friday's) Times about test-parking a new Lexus. "But can it find a spot?" There's also a video. I had forgotten that he was co-founder of Beautiful Spot: A Magazine of Parking. I can only aspire to the same literary genre.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Huckleberry Friend

A sign of spring: pussy willows in the hotel garbage. I may need to scavenge those.

Yesterday I passed my car on the way to work (not that I’m obsessed with this parking spot or anything) and saw a man trying to fit in behind me, not quite clearing the hydrant. “Would you like me to move up a little?” I asked. He certainly would. So I jumped in the car and humped it over the passenger seat and the gear shift, and pulled up for him. He signalled for me to give him another inch, and I obliged. But overnight it occurred to me that I had lost my advantage at the fire hydrant, and it would be harder now to keep my space. This morning, that car is gone, thank God.

7:36 A.M. A pale-blue-green car is lurking when I arrive, and moves up the line of cars, looking for someone who might be pulling out. The driver is a black guy, and he is out of luck. He leaves the block.

The street sweeper comes: 7:41 and all is well.

“Think I can get in?” A new guy on the block has pulled in back of me, near the hydrant, and left the motor running while he goes forward on foot along the line of cars, looking for gaps and asking everyone to pull up. “You’ve gotta get out anyway,” he says, pointing to the bars protecting the street tree, which have prevented me from using the driver’s side door for a week.

“I come in the other way,” I say, but I don’t mind pulling up a little.

“Thanks very much, I appreciate it.”

At the construction site, a man is unloading long sheets of copper from an enclosed pickup truck. One of them is labelled “Rib #2.” Yesterday, when I was approaching this building from a distance, I could see the finished work way up on the roof: dazzling strips of copper fitted over the ridges of gables.

Washington D.C. has her lights on, and probably her heat. A little girl comes out of a building behind her mother, pulling on her gloves as she skips along. Hers is a whimsical wardrobe: she’s wearing a flowered puffy jacket, sneakers, and a pink knitted hat with a built-in Mohawk.

Is this the time to describe my coat? I bought it with the counsel of my friend G., who agreed to act as my personal shopper. Left to myself, I buy only things that look like I already own them. G. is flamboyant, with wavy red hair, a big nose, and leopard-print eyeglasses—very retro. We were at the Burlington Coat Factory. It was our third stop, after Filene’s and TJ Maxx, where I hadn’t seen a single thing I liked even remotely. This coat attracted me on the rack because I thought it was green. (I wear a lot of green.) Then it seemed more purple than green. The tag said it was “Huckleberry.” (I have a weakness for the names manufacturers concoct for things: shoes, bedspreads, shades of paint. I once bought a raincoat called Poetry, and absolutely refused to paint some chairs Nacho Cheese, though it was the closest I could find to Roman yellow.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a huckleberry, but the coat is a rich gray, with undertones of grape and olive.

When I tried on the huckleberry coat, I laughed at myself in the mirror. It is ankle length, with a piece of hardware at the neck—a chunky clasp that you have to fit through a slot and twist—and a hood lined in fake fur and big turned-back fake-fur cuffs. You know that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy knocks on the door to the Emerald City, and a slot opens, revealing a little man in a Beefeater’s hat and a coat with huge, absurd, over-the-top Persian-lamb cuffs? Those kind of cuffs.

“That’s not bad,” G. said. “It moves well.” I had to admit, it was roomy. But I’d have to have the sleeves shortened. “I don’t think so,” G. said. “They’ll be warm.” I retracted my arms into the sleeves. It was hot in the store, and G., for all her virtues, was annoying me. She reeked of booze and kept emitting little involuntary grunts. Loehmann’s was next on our list, and I didn’t think I could stand it. So I bought the coat, for $108. I had to stand in a long, long line to pay for it (G. went outside to smoke), and I was a little disappointed that instead of packing it in a lovely box with tissue paper, the way they did in department stores in days of yore (and may still, for all I know), the cashier stuffed it unceremoniously into a big plastic bag. “For a hundred and eight dollars, what did you expect?” G. said.

Now the copper-sheeting guy is stacking up what look like decks of copper cards. He tosses one to a guy on a platform a few stories up. The first toss goes slightly astray, and the catcher fumbles, but they quickly perfect their act. Then they start on the copper sheets. No pulley today, just ropes. There are three guys on the platform, and one on the street. The guy on the street clips each copper sheet horizontally into two sets of pincers tied to the ropes. Two guys haul them up, hand over hand, while one in the middle talks a lot and helps bring the sheet over the balcony railing. I could watch this all day. Maybe next time I should bring binoculars.

I turn the radio on for the climax of whatever is on WQXR before the 8 o’clock news, to hear Jeff Spurgeon announce the time. It’s a pretty bombastic piece of music. Before landing this gig as the morning announcer at QXR, Jeff Spurgeon used to sing with an a-cappella group I belong to, so his voice is very familiar to me. It pops up in the oddest places. Once, I called the gynecologist and was put on musical hold, and there was Jeff Spurgeon on the line. “That was the Introduction and Entrée joyeuse des vendangeurs, from ‘Giselle,’” he says. Thank you so much, Jeff, I think. I have no idea what that means. (I look it up later: “The Joyous Entrance of the Grape-Pickers.”) The news is brought to us by Lexus IS 250, which I’m not driving any day soon.

How luxurious to get out of the car on the driver’s side, like a normal person in her new winter coat. I am glad I cleared that street tree. I go back along the line of cars to see if I should pluck the pussy willows from the garbage outside the hotel. One car has had a ticket on it for a week now. A red Dodge Neon has a fissure in its front bumper and an amateur repair job that looks like gauze on its rear fender. Stay away from that guy. I give a little tug to the pussy willows poking up out of the garbage, but they are as if rooted, like a stand of trees, seven feet tall. I guess I’ll pass on the pussy willows.


Monday, January 22, 2007


I secured my same spot this morning, as did the car owner from Washington, D.C., in front of me (it's a woman). The strategy of backing up into the hydrant space worked great, but a school bus and stream of taxis followed the street sweeper, so we all had to wait on the other side of the street till traffic cleared before backing into our spots. By 7:42, all was well. I got in and out on the passenger side today, humping it over the gear shift. With the seats back and the seat belts disengaged (they're the kind that automatically try to strangle you when you start the engine), even with my new winter coat on, it wasn't so hard. I wonder if there is a Pilates exercise that targets one's getting-into-the-driver's-seat muscles.

I have been leading a blessed parking life of late, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get tired of this business. It can get pretty cutthroat. Once, I parked someone in. By that I mean not that I double-parked and someone couldn’t get out but that I parked so close behind him (possibly to clear a fire hydrant?), and he had parked so close to the person in front of him, that he couldn’t get out. I knew it wasn’t nice and that I shouldn’t do it, but it was a highly desirable spot and I was desperate. Maybe the person in front of him would move. I walked away thinking, After all, what can they do?

Slit your tire is what they can do. At the time, I was driving a 1985 Ford Escort, a horrible, unmaneuverable little vehicle that I called the Death Trap. It was a dull dark blue, like a policeman’s uniform. It had been given to me, third hand, by a friend. In its earliest incarnation, it had belonged to a policeman. I think my friend said she’d bought it from his widow. There was still some kind of plastic gold lion’s head stuck on the side of it that would have been a signal to other policemen. My friend had tried to pry it off, but it wouldn’t come.

I know the conventional wisdom is Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and I didn’t, but I should have. If someone is giving away a car or, say, a vacuum cleaner, chances are it doesn’t work very well. Chances are it is a piece of junk. Chances are you’ll be driving down the road one day and you’ll hear—or even feel—an ominous ka-chunk and smell something that could be a tire fire big enough to alarm the entire Rockaway Peninsula. Or it could be you.

I got the car fixed that time, to the tune of seven hundred dollars. The mechanic, a Pakistani at a Mobil station in Rockaway, suggested over the phone that the car was of an age that I should consider not fixing it. It was also due for emissions inspection. But if it would pass inspection and I could get it fixed for just seven hundred dollars, I’d have wheels for the summer. The mechanic inspected it while I was on hold, and it passed. So I went for it.

The car didn’t feel right on the drive home. It was more unmaneuverable than ever. I took it back, they agreed that something was wrong and realigned it, and I drove off again. But it still didn’t feel right. The action of the steering wheel wasn’t smooth; it had a hitch in it. Stopped at a light on Woodhaven Boulevard (the main road through Queens out to Rockaway), I turned the steering wheel to the right, then I turned it to the left and returned it to center. When the light changed and I pressed on the gas, the car wouldn’t go anywhere. I got out and looked: the right front wheel was aimed straight ahead, but the left was pointed sideways at a sixty-degree angle. No wonder it wouldn’t go anywhere.

I didn’t have a cell phone, thank God, or I would have been tempted to sit in the car while I called Triple A. I put the flashers on and crossed over to the sidewalk, where there was a pay phone. While I was on hold with AAA, a car came racing up the road to zip through the green light, and smacked into the back of my car. Not far behind it was a tow truck licensed by AAA. I settled with the guy who had hit me. I think he gave me sixty dollars, and wanted something in writing to the effect that I wouldn’t pursue him or contact his insurance company. I didn’t give it to him, but he needn’t have worried. I was fuming about the garage that had sent me off on the road in a dangerous vehicle.

I had the car towed back to Rockaway and they fixed it again—told me it was defective parts—and they were mad at me, because they’d had to replace additional parts at their own expense. Then I was in a bit of a bind, because, on the one hand, who wants to patronize people who have done this to you? And, on the other hand, if it was an accident, or at least not a deliberate attempt on my life (don’t mechanics take some kind of Hippocratic oath?), they would have to be really, really good to me. I continued to drive the car, though I did put in a call to “Car Talk,” to ask Click and Clack if I should get rid of it; “Car Talk” did not call back, leaving me to draw the obvious conclusion. Meanwhile, I got a new mechanic. This was not long after 9/11, and it had occurred to me that the Muslim mechanics might be part of a terrorist cell dedicated to killing off capitalist car owners, one infidel at a time.

But back to the flat tire. The one time I had been parked in, all I had been able to think of to do by way of reprisal was to spit on the offending car’s windshield. I had had calluses on my hands by the time I got out of that spot. (Did I mention that the Escort did not have power steering?) After all I’d been through with this car—it frequently refused to start in rainy or cold weather, and I knew it was just something about the connections, but I always got ripped off for a new battery or a new starter—that flat tire almost sent me over the edge.

By the time AAA came and put on the doughnut and I limped out to Rockaway, I’d resigned myself to the price of a retread. We went on for a while longer like that, the Escort and I. Most of the time, I left it parked out at the beach, on a street with no parking restrictions—basically, I would drive it over the edge of the asphalt into a ditch. It gave one more ka-chunk in the autumn of 2003, and this time the mechanic advised me against repairing it. The back end was so rusty that if I stopped short one day the whole car might break in half. I put it back in the ditch and found a charity to donate it to, and was sitting in it a week or so later, having salvaged my evil-eye worry beads from the rearview mirror, when the tow truck came to take it away. It was a huge relief to know I wasn’t going to die in that car.

I have never parked anyone in again.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Return of Washington D.C.

A dreaded sign on the opposite side of the street this morning: “No Parking Thursday.” There is a construction project here that will be going on for years. It is a drag to come out in the morning expecting only a few moments’ anxiety and a mere half-hour wait in your cushy spot and instead have to embark on a full-scale hunting expedition.

Fortunately, my side of the street is exempt. But I discover that my beautiful spot by the fire hydrant has a disadvantage: now I’m the one the SUV is hovering in back of, and here comes the street sweeper.

False alarm. The street sweeper turned at the light. Time to strategize: I had been planning on backing up into the hydrant space when the street sweeper came, to minimize the gap between the sweeper and me after it has passed. Stupid SUV.

Another shock this morning: a Washington D.C. car is parked in front of me. I feel surrounded by predators.

It is a black Honda, and it looks as if there’s no one in it. Can it possibly be the same one I triumphed over on the Day of Remembrance for Gerald Ford? I make a note of the license plate.

It’s cold this morning: a couple of cars are idling with their heaters on. The sun glints through long, stringy clouds—Barbra Streisand clouds—low on the horizon.

7:40: He came, the street sweeper came. The SUV behind me may have been waiting for me to pull out ahead of him, but I refused and kept inching back, and finally, under pressure from the street sweeper, he drove away. The Washington D.C. car did not move. There was no one in it. I’ll have to see if there’s a permit on his dashboard or if he gets a ticket. I had to back way up on the other side of the street, along the construction barriers, to give the street sweeper room to get around the scofflaw from Washington D.C., but it worked out, because a merciful taxi at the head of the through traffic hung back and gave me plenty of room, so I could head into my spot with no problem.

I leave the engine on and treat myself to a blast of heat.

A red Volvo wagon tries to horn in, but it ain’t happening. The hovering SUV returns, hanging in back of me, huge and gray, like a shark. I don’t know what make of car it is, but the symbol on its hood is a vertical oval orbited by a horizontal oval, both contained inside a circle.

Oops, carbon monoxide poisoning! I can’t sit here with the heat on and the windows closed. I crack the window and cut the engine.

Two white terriers go by on leashes.

Across the street at the construction project a big sheet of copper is being hauled up on a pulley. Or is it brass? Anyway, it’s shiny and custom cut, like a letter from the Hebrew alphabet (a nun?). The scaffolding is covered with black netting and webbed with rigging, as at a circus. There’s also a cyclone fence, so no one can steal the equipment at night. The rope is lowered again and two men, one in a stocking cap, the other in a hooded sweatshirt, clamp another strip of brass (or copper—which one is it that turns green?) onto a big hook and it gets hauled up.

It’s 7:54, and the SUV has departed. Another car is behind me at the hydrant, and a woman is unpacking things from its trunk.

A long strip of copper, as for a gutter, twirls on its way up. Puffs of steam come from the men’s mouths. One on the ground yells something up to one on the roof.
“What did you say?” comes a call from on high.
“Keep the rope!”

I parked so close to the curb and the bars protecting the street tree that I can barely squeeze out of the driver’s side door. I hope I haven’t ruined my new winter coat. Washington D.C. has no permit on his dashboard, and hasn’t gotten a ticket, either. Hunh. The Teflon Honda.

“Excuse me.” The construction worker jumps, theatrically. He’s not used to having women accost him back here behind the barricades. He’s an older man, his face covered in white stubble. “Is that brass or copper?”
“Copper,” he says.
“Thanks. I couldn’t remember which one changed color.”
I’ve already turned to go when he adds something. “It gets darker.”
What I actually heard was “Cahpuh. It gets dahkuh.”

Later, on my way home from the grocery store (I bought cherries—very expensive this time of year; I think they're from Chile; I will eat them one at a time, thinking "Fifty cents"—something called Broccoli Slaw, death-defying spinach, and mortadella, otherwise known as Italian bologna), I realize that with all the distractions (squeezing out, learning the difference between brass and copper, spying on the car from Washington D.C.), I forgot to lean in from the street and lock the driver's-side door.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

King Day

Having a car in the city is a little like having a
dog: you’re up and out in the morning, rain or shine,
whether you like it or not. It was raining last Monday
morning when I went to secure my spot. I was on my
second-favorite parking block; I’d found the spot on
Sunday afternoon, when there is still some wiggle room
in the Manhattan parking grid. It happens to be right
outside an apartment building where a friend of mine
lives, though I’ve never seen him while parking on
this block and I don’t believe he’d recognize my car
if he saw it. I’ve imagined the cacophony of car horns
he hears in the morning (his windows face the street).
Sometimes I worry that he’ll think I’m stalking him.
Sometimes I worry that I am stalking him. But it’s
such a great parking spot.

This block is brutal in that you have to be in your
car at 7:30 A.M. but sweet in that you only have to
sit in it for a half hour. Then, because you’re up so
early, you can accomplish something before work, like
drop off clothes at the Chinese laundry or do the
grocery shopping. Because I’m still full of resolve
first thing in the morning, I buy only fruits and
vegetables, whole grains and canola oil. This spot has
revolutionized my life. It is one of the best kept
secrets in New York.

As usual, only when I’ve approached the door with key
in hand do I remember, on seeing the cylindrical hole
where the key used to fit, that I have to unlock the
car from the passenger side. It happened right after
Halloween: I was vandalized. I’d parked next to some
dumpsters outside the hotel on the corner, and someone
bashed in my rear side window—the small segment that
doesn’t roll down—and emptied out the contents of the
glove compartment and the ashtray. There was nothing
in the car worth stealing, unless you covet the
ten-cassette audio version of “Moby Dick”
(unabridged). I got the window fixed that weekend, but
there didn’t seem to be any emergency about the door.
So I go around and unlock the passenger side, lean
in—setting my takeout coffee on the dashboard and
dumping my reading materials on the seat—and unlock
the door from the inside, then go around to the other
side again, collapse my umbrella, and climb in.

This is a prime spot, just west of a fire hydrant.
Nobody can get in front of you, so you can’t get
parked in. There’s an SUV hovering at the hydrant.
Just before the street sweeper comes, he gets lucky:
the guy in front of him pulls out. I worry that there
won’t be room for me after the street sweeper comes,
unless everyone behind me compacts himself in good
love-thy-neighbor fashion. (There is plenty of
opportunity to exercise the Golden Rule when you’re
parking in Manhattan.) After some jockeying back and
forth, there is room for all of us. 7:44 and all is
well. A latecomer cruises by, but this block is all
parked up. Ten minutes later, I realize that my
headlights are still on, from the flurry when the
street sweeper came by. I was more nervous than I

Everything looks so beautiful once your car is safe
and your space is secured, even in the rain: three
yellow taxis with red brake lights stop at the light;
a woman goes by carrying a child’s green dome-shaped
frog umbrella. It’s the stuff of haiku, or maybe
Kahlil Gibran: A mug of joe, a New York Times, and
thou, sitting beside me in the parking spot …

* * *

On Thursday, the jockeying for Martin Luther King Day
began in earnest. I had a last-minute scramble getting
out of the house, because the keys were not on the
bookcase where I could grab them on my way out. I knew
exactly where the spare keys were, but still—too much
bumbling. I like to tear out of the house like a
fireman responding to an alarm: pull on the pants
already in the boots, throw on a coat, grab the keys,
and go. There’s no pole toslide down, but I take the
stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.

There was a half moon waning in the middle of the
stairwell windows, and outside the rosy fingers of
dawn were touching the top of the neighborhood tower
and tinting it and the massive building next to it a
pink-orange. The sun itself, just risen on a cold,
clear day, is lined up with the cross street. This
only happens for a few days a year, three weeks on
either side of the winter solstice (I read this in the
Times), and it points up the orientation of the
island, which doesn’t run due north-south but is
tilted some degrees to the northeast. At least I
think it’s the northeast.

On the avenue a delivery truck is blasting Mexican
music. Thursday is garbage day at the hotel on the
corner. There is also a laundry truck outside. I
barely had time to get settled in the car (after the
usual sight gag at the driver’s-side door) before the
street sweeper came, at 7:40. There was a limo in the
spot at the fire hydrant as he approached, and a cop
coming on foot from the opposite direction. I couldn’t
move with the limo in front of me, and the guy in back
of me couldn’t move unless I moved. The street sweeper
was honking and flashing his lights. The man behind me
honked, too. I gestured helplessly, a big shrug as if
to say (as I actually was), “What can I do?” Finally,
the cop got the sluggish limo to move so we could pull
out and make room for the street sweeper. When we were
backing in again, the man behind me motioned for me to
stay up near the hydrant to give the people in back of
us room to straighten out in their spaces.
“They said they’ll give me a foot,” he said when I
got out to investigate.
“It’s kind of tight,” I noted.
“Yes, it wasn’t so the other day, but the other fella
jumped in here, and we can’t throw you out of it.”
No, indeed, I thought. He had an Irish accent.
It was a cold morning, and the pickup in front of me,
on the far side of the hydrant (New Jersey plates),
had his engine running, with the heat on. I had the
window cracked and was a little cold, I admit. It was
the first time I parked in my new winter coat. I felt
At 7:47, I focussed on two guys in my sideview mirror,
hands in pockets, talking, both with dark hair, one
with a darker complexion and a mustache and pointy
chin. The other one lives in my friend’s building and drives a
black Jeep Cherokee. He was there the morning my
window was broken, and offered to get me a plastic bag
from inside his building. The Irish gentleman, I see
in my rearview mirror, has a yellow smiley-face
dangling from his rearview mirror.
8 A.M.: The Irishman waves as he walks away. I go
back along the line of cars before heading over to the
Chinese laundry. There are five cars on the near side
of the hydrant, in spots that are good now for a week:
mine, the Irishman’s (a pale-gray Intrepid), then a
big Dodge Caravan with its rear end sticking out (this
woman had the worst of it, right in the middle with
that huge car), then the Jeep Cherokee , and finally a
funky white and black Jetta from New Hampshire with a
“BI” bumper sticker (Block Island). The cars at this
end are really jammed up against each other, one
almost hooked under the bumper of the one before. I
guess they aren’t planning on going anywhere over the

On my way to the Chinese laundry , I spy the limo
parked two blocks away, the driver at his post behind
the wheel, fast asleep.

* * *

On Saturday morning, the car—again, like a dog—wants
to go for a good run out to the beach, and so do I.
When you leave a spot that is still legal, you have to
have faith that someone else is going to have to do
the same thing when you come back on Sunday morning …
yes! I am in luck. There is a big beautiful spot just
on the opposite side of that same fire hydrant, a spot
so freshly minted that though the rest of the street
is wet with rain, here the pavement is still dry. I
pull forward and align myself with a tree fence that
is going to make it difficult for me to squeeze out,
leaving room behind me for a motorcycle or a Mini

Happy Martin Luther King Day! I get to sleep in on
Monday morning and contemplate the great civil rights
leader from the comfort of home. As it happens,
January 15th is also my father’s birthday, and I hope
I may be forgiven for having him more on my mind than
Martin Luther King. My father died about five years
ago, just before 9/11, but his birthday seems more
important now than it did when he was alive. Once,
when I was working in a costume company that made
political buttons and other stuff in the off season
(which is most of the year in a costume company), I
found a button that read “January 15—King Day.” This
was back in the seventies, when Martin Luther King Day
was still in the campaign stages, and I thought it was
just an amazing coincidence that I had found a button
that seemed to mean that on January 15th, my dad could
be King for a Day. When I gave it to my father, he
said “King Day—hmmph. Just what I don’t want.” Dad was
a racist. He was a fireman, and during the race riots
in the Hough area of Cleveland, when the blacks set
the slums on fire, they threw stones at the firemen
who came to put the fire out. It made a lasting
impression on my father.

My father taught me to drive. I’m glad that when I
blast out of the house like a fireman early in the
morning it is only to preserve a parking spot. After
9/11, when firemen came from all over the country to
help at the World Trade Center, I talked to a group
from Cleveland, and found out that my father was
famous. They knew a story my father had told for years.
Once, he was at the wheel of a hook-and-ladder and
left the firehouse without the tillerman, who had
switched shifts with someone who didn’t show up. My father
drove a hook-and-ladder down Euclid Avenue sideways,
wiping out a whole row of parked cars.


Gerald Ford

Last Tuesday was a Day of Remembrance for President Gerald R. Ford, and I confess that I was disappointed to learn that while federal offices would be closed—no mail—and the stock market would also pause, alternate-side parking rules would remain in effect. And this for a President named Ford—from Michigan yet, Land of Henry. O.K., so my car is Japanese. Does not the owner of a Honda grieve?
So I’m up and out in the morning, trying to time it so that when I move the car, which is legal till 9:30, I will be right behind the street sweeper when it comes—anywhere from ten to twenty minutes past nine—and zip into a spot that will be legal at 10. But first, on the way to the car, a swing past the newsstand for the Times and then a stop for takeout coffee from a café (not a Starbucks) that I would patronize more often if parking spots on this block weren’t so rare (there’s a car-rental agency on the Monday-Thursday side). A little anxiety here, because the woman in front of me, evidently a regular customer, is prattling on about her New Year’s Resolutions (“Learn to say no,” she tells the barista. “It’s my only one”) and my impatience is rising. It’s already 9:19. Can’t she shut up and let the man wait on people with uncomplicated orders who prefer not to divulge a weakness beyond the implicit addiction to caffeine?
Then there is relief to find no ticket on my car, which is parked perhaps a smidgen too close to a fire hydrant (no doubt the reason the space was available in the first place). I start her up, turn left on the avenue, and left again three blocks up (having established, with a sidelong glance, that nothing is available on the best parking block I know: eight spots on Are You Kidding? I’m Not Telling Street, where the wait is only a half hour and the cops and the street cleaner don’t even make you move—Fantasyland for Manhattan car-owners).
On the next block, I can see that the street sweeper has already come, because there is no line of cars double-parked on the Monday-Thursday side. A garbage truck is blocking one likely spot, and every other space is already taken, so I go around the block. Nothing on the next block over except a double-parked moving van holding up traffic. A van two cars ahead of me flattens its side-view mirrors to ooze through, ever so slowly, and I feel another surge of impatience, but I stay in control. At the corner, I make a tight turn into the curb lane, but the car ahead in the next lane angles in front of me at the light, to get an edge at the turn onto the street where I am hoping to score that spot that had been blocked by the garbage truck. It is a little black car with Washington D.C. plates, and if he thinks he is going to get to that spot ahead of me . . .
Sure enough, the garbage truck has moved up the block, freeing the space, barely big enough for an accomplished parallel parker in an economy-sized car, and I get right on the tail of Washington D.C., who does indeed want my spot, and stop behind him as he is positioning himself for the kill, stubbornly blocking the spot, making it impossible for him to back up. What a maneuver! I am ruthless. He has no choice short of getting out of the car and arguing with me that he saw it first, but my conscience is clean, because I saw it on my earlier pass. He gives up and moves on—a good policy for a guy from Washington, D.C.
I pull up, shift into reverse, ease back slowly, cutting it really close in the front, expecting at any second to make soft contact with the car behind me and have to bump back and forth, and being amazed at how much room I have—I’m even more skillful than I thought!—until I realize that the car behind me, a white SUV with New Jersey plates, has backed up to make room for me. An angel in shorts and a white sweatshirt hops out, and I thank her. She says that the street sweeper has already gone by (I knew that) but not the police officers. She doesn’t understand that they don’t stick to a schedule in this realm but materialize instantly if you leave your car before the appointed time. Apparently she is innocent of these early-morning parking rites.
So here I am, on this Day of Remembrance, with twenty minutes to sit and sip my coffee and read the Times (which, by the way, did not print the Alternate-Side Parking Calendar this year), remembering Gerald Ford (my mother used to call him Froggy; I had the pleasure of voting against him in the first Presidential election I was old enough to vote in) and contemplating the car in front of me: a dark-green Chrysler 1400 Town & Country, a solid American gas guzzler out of Detroit, with New York plates, and peaches or something stuck to its rear window, a souvenir of the recent passing of the garbage truck.