Saturday, November 10, 2007


I had to go to West 85th Street yesterday, where cars were spread out luxuriously on both sides of the street, in observance of Diwali. There was a new moon, which suggests that this Hindu holiday, like Id al-Fitr, is based on the lunar calendar. (I found a brief and delightful description of Diwali at a books blog called Chicken Spaghetti.) It suddenly struck me that we are moving our cars (or not moving them) in accordance with the phases of the moon. That’s what I like about Alternate Side Parking: it not only embraces all the world’s great religions—and some of its statesmen—but also the eternal verities.

And that is exactly what the author of a cranky column in yesterday’s Times does not like. The author, Clyde Haberman, who clearly does not have a car, describes Alternate Side Parkers as members of the Church of Internal Combustion, and complains that too many holidays are now celebrated by not cleaning the streets (“Getting Religious About Street Parking”).
I humbly confess that I have not yet achieved knowledge of the true mysteries of internal combustion, but I do aspire to it before the end of days.

Yesterday I received a sign: When I came up out of the subway, I was handed a flyer that said “Parking—Monthly rate as low as $295.67 + tax.” I called the number, out of curiosity about the tax, which is a whopping 18¾ percent. That brings the monthly rate up to $350. But here is the temptation: it turns out that there’s a garage near me—well, within walking distance; O.K., it’s a mile away—where I could park for $275 a month, including tax. The violence on the street where I parked this week has got me thinking seriously of converting.

I was up and out at seven on Thursday, though my spot was good till eight-thirty, hoping to find a place on my preferred block and escape evil companions. No luck—they were packed in solid, with garbage trucks in the hotel zone, a commercial van at the fire hydrant, and orange cones reserving all the spots across the street for some event. I circled the block three times, and on the third time I overheard one parker analyzing the situation for another (“He’s got a ton of space, but he might not even show up”), so I headed back to my alotted place. As I slowed to pull over just in front of the parking lot, the codger behind me honked his horn. And so it came to pass that the sun had barely risen on the eve of Diwali and I was already flipping someone the bird.

The crazy Asian’s Subaru was gone. That was a relief. The car that belonged to the Puerto Rican, under closer examination, turned out to be not an S.U.V. but a Pontiac Grand Am (it must have loomed very large in my imagination). The Puerto Rican's wife was parking alone, and she called to me and waved when she got in her car. She and I and a man in a Mitsubishi S.U.V. idled (with motors off) across the street, waiting for the broom. At nine, the Mitsubishi pulled into the metered spot, and I backed up into his double-parking spot. I was starting to understand a little of what the Asian lady felt. Every time a car went by, I flinched: would it dare double park next to me and block me from my rightful position in line behind the broom?

And then there she was—the Asian lady! She was wearing a black leather coat and carrying a shopping bag. She took a few desperate puffs on a cigarette, stamped it out, and entered the sacred precinct of the parking lot. Perhaps after slapping that other woman around earlier in the week she had sought out her confessor and his advice was: "Put the car in a lot."

When the broom came, things were complicated by congestion outside the parking lot. One of the cars that wanted to turn into the lot was waiting in the spot I had given up, which I confess I had begun to think of as mine. The Puerto Rican woman was ruthless. She was magnificent. She got behind that broom and didn’t give an inch. I got behind her, and it was tense for a few minutes, as the line of double parkers swung over and moved up and maneuvered grittily into place. But in the end there was room for everyone. Even the S.U.V., who had hogged two spots, was willing to negotiate with the driver of another S.U.V. from New Jersey, who turned up later and managed to squeeze in. It was as if we were determined to be civilized.

Meanwhile, back on the Upper West Side, right after receiving the flyer for the parking lot, I noticed another flyer taped on some building doors: “Lost Parking Spaces MEETING." Was this some new sect of the Church of Internal Combustion? "Topic: Removing the No Standing sign in front of 333 West 86th St.” I checked out the address to see what all the fuss was about. The No Standing sign governs a stretch of curb that might accommodate three cars. A private shuttle bus was standing there, in front of a building that turns out to be a retirement community—a luxury high-rise retirement community. (“No Standing,” by the way, does not mean that the shuttle bus can’t stop there to pick up and drop off. The sign is a slap in the face of the alternate side parking community, since that is what we do while holding a spot. As long as you are sitting in your car, you are not parking but “standing.”) The No Standing sign must be for the convenience of the retirees, so that they don’t have to squeeze between parked cars and board the shuttle bus in the middle of the street, which I can see would be a nuisance, especially if you were in a wheelchair.

I have plans for the night of the Lost Parking Spaces Meeting (thank God), or I would be tempted to attend. If three lost parking spaces are enough to cause such a stir on the Upper West Side, the end is nigh.

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