Last Monday, returning from the airport at ten o’clock at night, having retrieved my car from the long-term parking lot and found out that you can pay with EZ Pass (an excellent innovation, especially considering that I was low on both gas and cash), and negotiated the Van Wyck and the Grand Central and the L.I.E. and the Midtown Tunnel, fried as I was—I had been up since four in the morning Italian Standard Time and travelling or agonizing in airports for more than twenty-one hours—I prolonged my journey by four city blocks to see if by any wild possibility there was a space available on my favorite parking block . . . and there was! Furthermore, as Thursday was All Saints Day (November 1), the spot would be good all week. Or so I thought.
I knew I should have checked on the car on Halloween—it was last Halloween that my car was vandalized—but I had a lot to do, so I decided not to worry about it. On Saturday, I left my apartment, carrying a three-legged table with a salad bowl for a top, which I’d found in a dump in Massachusetts and intended to take to Rockaway. I walked up the block past where I thought I’d parked—I knew it was near one of those tree-protecting barriers, because I’d had to pull up to open the door and then go around to the other side to get my stuff out of the back seat—but my car was not there. I walked back down the block, hoping that one of the cars would morph into a gray 1990 Honda Civic. But there was no doubt about it: my car was gone, and in its place were clustered three orange traffic cones. A lime-green sign was posted on a pole: “No Parking—Vehicles Will Be Towed to the Nearest Legal Spot If Not Moved by Wed. Oct. 31.” Below was a long-winded typewritten announcement saying that some people wanted to make a movie.
So, because some people wanted to make a move, I’m walking around with a tripod salad bowl looking for my car? Incredibly, I spotted it before I had gone two blocks, sitting about two feet from the curb at a metered spot, with a bouquet of orange tickets pinned beneath the windshield wiper. On the window was a sticky yellow thing that stated when the car had been towed (on 10/31 at 0200), by whom (the police), and why: “Movie Detail.” It notified “All Traffic Enforcement Agents, Police Officers and Other Summons Issuers”: “DO NOT SUMMONS OR TOW WITHIN 48 HRS. FROM DATE OF RELOCATION.”
I felt relief, of course, because I’d found my car and now I could put this stupid table in it instead of abandoning it on the street (passersby had been eying it covetously) and get on with my day. But I also felt outrage. Where in the Alternate-Side Parking Rules does it say that you have to check and make sure that nobody wants to make a movie where your car is parked? This was like the ultimate Halloween prank, pulled by starstruck cops. Later that afternoon, I examined the tickets, hoping to find some error that would make them invalid. There were two of them: one had been issued on Friday at 7:45 A.M., and the other on Saturday at 7:55 A.M., both by the same conscientious cop. Each violation cost $65. Of course I will contest them.
Fast-forward to Monday at 5 A.M.: I had spent the night in Rockaway and driven in before dawn, hoping to find a Tuesday-Friday spot, since alternate side is suspended on both those days, for Election Day and Diwali, an Indian festival that I could have gotten very enthusiastic about, if things had worked out differently. But, as I feared, everyone who was really committed had come in on Sunday night and scored a spot. I set my odometer, so that at least I would have some concrete measure of distress, and by the time I gave up I had driven seven miles.
So it was that at 9 A.M. I was lurking at the top of Penny Lane, waiting for the street sweeper to pass. Before me was a solid line of double parkers. The S.U.V. directly in front of me moved across the street to a meter, and I noticed that the sign that pertains to the metered spaces said that the sweeper is supposed to have come and gone at that end of the street between eight-thirty and nine. I decided I’d pull over there, too, although I was beyond the metered spaces—if the sweeper came, I would get herded down the street and off the block and end up paying to park, but I had already invested close to five hours in this project, and I was ready to take my chances.
Suddenly a woman in a Subaru pulls up next to me and blocks traffic to tell me that she’s been here since eight-thirty and I have to move. She was scary, and I was ready to move just to get away from her, although the entire block ahead of us was clear, if she wanted to take her chances, too. A woman who had been sitting on the stoop smoking a cigarette and talking on her cell phone decided to intervene. The next thing I knew, the woman in the Subaru, who was Asian, and the cell-phone woman, who was Caucasian, were tangling in the street: pulling each other’s hair and twisting each other’s arms and whacking each other with purses and sending cigarettes and cell phones flying. I dialled 911. The guy in the S.U.V., who was Puerto Rican, came to my window and said, “You stay here. We park together. When the broom comes, I’ll move up and hold the spot. You can go around the block—I’ll let you in.”
The Subaru would not move, and traffic was building up behind her. The Caucasian started calling the Asian ugly names, telling her to go back where she came from. The Asian woman took pictures of my car and of the Puerto Rican’s car, and got some information from the man at the wheel of the van trapped behind her. “Here comes the broom,” the Puerto Rican said. But still the Subaru would not move. The broom could not get through, and the other cars finally backed up and retreated onto the avenue. After a half hour of this impasse, the cops arrived, and the woman ran her Subaru up over the curb on the street ahead of me, and now the cop car was blocking traffic. Each woman lined up her witnesses: the Asian woman said that the man in the van would testify that the Caucasian woman had struck the first blow. The Caucasian woman showed me her swollen wrist and asked me to tell the cops that the Asian woman had started it. I honestly didn’t know who hit whom first, but the Asian woman had struck me as pretty crazy, and the Caucasian woman didn’t even have a car, so there would have been no reason for her to come out swinging. Meanwhile, the cop car had pulled over to the curb just ahead of me, in the spot I was supposed to move up into once the broom went by, making room behind me for the Puerto Rican. The Asian woman wept on one side of the cop car, while the Caucasian proffered her I.D. on the other. It was already after ten, but we couldn’t go anywhere until the cops had filled out their report and departed the scene.
When I was finally able to leave (hoping nobody would come later with a sledgehammer and pulverize the car), I revisited the block that my car had been relocated from in the wee hours of Halloween morning, where they were still making their movie: equipment trucks, cables, lights, a catering wagon provisioned with the inevitable doughnuts. I was reading the “No Parking” sign, jotting down the number of the permit and the phone number of the location people for my letter contesting the tickets, when the Asian woman caught up with me. Uh-oh, I thought. After all, I was the one who had started it all by provoking her in the first place. But the whole encounter seemed to have drained her. She had huge eyes, and they were sad now, not angry. “That woman was a lowlife,” she said, and she drew from a pocket of her purse a broken cigarette as evidence that she had been attacked. She was smoking a cigarette herself. “I just bought these,” she said, showing me a fresh pack. She said she hadn't smoked in years.
I told her I was sorry, and that I hoped she'd feel better. I was inclined to blame the film crew: they had usurped the block, and made things more difficult all over. “What film is this?” I asked a crew member on my way past. “The ‘Sex and the City’ movie,” he said. "Is there anyone here?" I asked. "Just the one guy," he said. "Mr. Big." Hmm. Robert De Niro I could have forgiven, but Mr. Big isn't worth all this commotion.