Friday, February 9, 2007

Land of Lincolns

Getting back into my spot after the street sweeper came, I got too close to the curb and bumped my rear end up against the tree protectors. So did the guy from Trinidad and Tobago, who is still behind me, but mine was just a tap and his was a good hard smack. I got out to investigate. “It’s so cold that it cracked,” he said, showing me the jagged rip in the smooth putty-colored bumper of his Toyota Corolla. “And I just had it painted, too.” He had a nice West Indian lilt. I felt for him. Damaging your car while parking it for free is ruinous to the economy.

In front of me is a black Acura from Illinois: Land of Lincoln. What kind of car would Abraham Lincoln drive? Surely not a Lincoln.

We had a Lincoln once. My father bought a used white Lincoln Continental that had belonged to the mythical little old lady who drove it only to church on Sunday. My mother used to say that he was really proud of that car: it made him feel like a big shot. When he bought it, he gave my mother the ’65 Plymouth Fury that ultimately came down to me. The Lincoln had automatic windows, and we were so thrilled with them that we sat out in the driveway for hours, running the windows up and down. When Dad came out to start the car, the battery was dead.

I don’t really like automatic windows anymore; they are a feature of my car that I would not have chosen. I always forget that I have to roll the windows up before turning the car off. In other people’s cars, I dread the moment when the driver pulls into a gas station, turns the motor off, gets out, and shuts the door, leaving me trapped in the back seat of a two-door car, gasping for breath.

Trinidad and Tobago has on the same outfit today: the black-and-white tracksuit. For that matter, so do I. That’s another of the ways in which having a car is like having a dog: you put on the first thing you see before you go out in the morning. The little girl with the whimsical wardrobe appears, wearing a fur hat and a pink bunny-ear purse on a strap around her neck.

The copper guys are back this morning, hoisting up some custom-cut pieces: one is shaped like a wing, another like an isosceles triangle; several long flat pieces are scored lengthwise, as if for edging; others are indented like the poles for No Parking signs.

At 7:49 the sun comes around the corner and hits me in my face, then hits the face of Trinidad and Tobago, behind me. We soak it up for a moment, and, at 7:51, we both lower our visors. I was going to say that a parked car in Manhattan is as good a place as any from which to observe the change of seasons, but it isn’t true. This time last year, I dumped my car in Rockaway and went to Brazil.

Because of Lincoln, alternate-side parking is suspended on Monday, and again the following Monday, for President’s Day. I wonder when they are going to make Ronald Reagan’s birthday a holiday, or promote him to a share in President’s Day. Reagan’s birthday was February 6th, a date that is seared in memory because every year while he was President, on February 7th—my birthday—the Times would publish a front-page photograph of Reagan blowing out his candles.

February has two other days when alternate-side parking is suspended, Chinese New Year and Ash Wednesday, but they don’t do me any good, because the first falls on Sunday and the second (obviously) on Wednesday, when there’s no street cleaning anyway.

The first year I lived in New York, my birthday fell on Chinese New Year. There had been a blizzard the day before, and the whole city was shut down. I got out of work early, and when I came up out of the subway station at City Hall, near Chinatown, there were fireworks in the snow.


erieblue said...

So do you take notes for this while sitting in the car so early in the morning? Or maybe talk into a little tape recorder while watching the sun come up? Happy Post Birthday, too!

MJN/NYC said...

Thank you! I take notes. It's hard with the sun shining in your eyes. It's OK for only half an hour, but if I lose this spot and have to sit for an hour and a half, I may have to embark on a novel.