Donald Shoup is a good writer, too, damn it. I guess I am going to have to read his book, “The High Cost of Free Parking.” He had an expression in the Times piece that I loved: the Goldilocks Principle, which (I may as well quote him) is the balance between supply (of curb space) and demand (for parking in it)—“the price is too high if too many spaces are vacant, and too low if no spaces are vacant. But when only a few spaces are vacant, the price is just right.” Much of his article is about cruising (I do not do a lot of cruising), and he touches on luck: “underpriced curb spaces go to the lucky more often than they do to the deserving.” I am always willing to be lucky, even if it’s dumb luck; more often, though, one has to create the conditions for luck, by being in the right place at the right time. Shoup acknowledges this, but he feels sorry for the guy who comes along too late and can’t find a spot: “While the car owner with good timing can enjoy his space free or cheaply for hours or days, [yes!] others who are late for a meeting or a job interview are left to circle the block, making themselves—and other drivers—miserable.” Obviously, those people should find a garage or a parking lot.
Really what I want to say to Professor Shoup is What of it? In defense of the indefensible, the defensive get belligerent. I’ll bet he parks in a fancy garage every time he gets the chance, and then writes it off as a business expense. He’d be crazy not to.
I have been thinking about the element of financial acumen that informs my parking strategy. Could I afford a garage? I don’t think so. At any rate, if I did garage my car, it would mean penny-pinching in many other areas. I will start keeping track of exactly how much I spend on the car to see if it would make sense to rent space for the car in the city. Maybe it will turn out to be a case of Depression Meatloaf. (If Shoup can have the Goldilocks Principle, surely I am entitled to Depression Meatloaf.) I used to make fun of my mother for putting so many crushed saltine crackers in her meatloaf. Her meatloaf was awful, to tell the truth; she had learned the recipe from her father during the Depression. Once our family had come to enjoy a more middle-class existence (we were nouveau middle class), she could have made a better meatloaf. She did make the switch from margarine to butter when she realized that butter was cheaper than the cheap substitute. But she never figured out that she didn’t have to augment the meat with sawdust anymore. Maybe alternate-side parking will turn out to be an eccentricity that I need no longer practice, and I will find I can house my car in a luxury garage with a swimming pool and a hot tub, or at least one of those lap pools about as big as a car (as advertised in The New Yorker) that you can set to create enough resistance to swim in place in. I’d like that.
An essential element of Shoup’s parking utopia is to invest the income from parking back into the parker’s neighborhood. So if I paid a couple dollars a week for a spot on my second-favorite block, maybe we could import some of those superheroes from Madrid who wash down the street at night with a fire hose? One Saturday morning when I lived in lower Manhattan, in the financial district, I watched out the ninth-floor window while firemen (or some civil servants with the right tools) opened the fire hydrants and let the water rush through the streets like rapids. They could do that more often.