Tuesday, January 16, 2007

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 cafĂ© (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.

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