So I’m on my way to the Holland Tunnel for Thanksgiving dinner at my optician’s house in New Jersey (P. is actually a high-school friend who happens to be an optician, but I love the idea of being friendly enough with my optician to get invited to her home for Thanksgiving), and I glance at the passenger’s-side rearview mirror, and it isn’t there. How long has it been missing? My car was facing west, on the north side of the street, when last parked, with the passenger side at the curb, so I must have gotten sideswiped earlier and didn’t notice. A monster truck must have squeezed past while I was in that spot that I was so delighted to find when I got back from my winterizing mission. This will be the fourth time I’ve had to replace that mirror. (It does not bend in, by the way, or believe me I would bend it in.) Things like these make free parking very costly.
Also, I think I have lost steering fluid or something. I know I have lost power steering. I was bouncing along some street last week when I hit a pothole. The next time I turned my steering wheel to get out of a parking spot, it made a ratcheting sound, a kind of tick-tick-tick, instead of turning smoothly. Parallel parking is hell without power steering. When I parked the car on Thanksgiving night, I leaned over to open the passenger’s door to see how far from the curb I was, and it wouldn’t open. Whoever took off the mirror had also dented the door badly enough that it doesn't work.
The spot I found that night unfortunately compelled me to be up and in the car at 7:30 on Friday morning. It is an interesting spot, though. Because it is across the street from a hotel zone (No Parking Anytime) and the curb was clear, when the broom came everyone pulled across the street as if they were parking diagonally at the hotel, and then reversed back into position: a new step in the alternate-side ballet, and a blessing for someone who needs all her strength just to turn the steering wheel—I felt like I was trying to hoist the Titanic—and cannot simultaneously twist to look over her shoulder. While I was sitting there, having regained my spot with great effort, a tiny Volkswagen slalomed down the street, checking out the hydrant on the left, an illegal spot on the right, a driveway farther down on the left. He went around the block and paused, as did a Mini Cooper, to see if he could fit in front of me. I had a nice allowance of space, but with my reduced steering capacity I was worried about getting squeezed in. Both cars gave up and looked elsewhere.
A lot of times, those spots that aren’t quite big enough for a car end up being taken by a motorcycle or a homeless person’s shopping cart. I recognized, in my rearview mirror, the souped-up shopping cart of the homeless guy who sometimes parks his possessions across the street. And there before me was the homeless guy himself, packing up after spending the night on the sidewalk, alongside a heating vent outside Staples. He collapsed two umbrellas, folded a comforter, and piled it and his pillow onto the cart. Then he flattened several big cardboard boxes and stored them methodically, along with a sheet of plastic, next to the building, propped behind an orange cone. He hobbled off for a day's scavenging with a cane and a backpack.
On Saturday, I forsook this interesting spot and drove to my mechanic in Rockaway. “Sounds like a belt,” he said, when I described the steering problem. The car also needs winterizing, and I asked him to see if he could get the passenger’s door open, and mentioned that the Check Engine light had gone on again . . . and, please, take your time, I said. I was in no hurry to get the car back. The next alternate-side-suspended day is December 8th, the Immaculate Conception, which falls on a Saturday and is therefore of no use to me (sorry, Mary). And then there is nothing till December 19-21, Idul Atta, another Muslim holiday. In the meantime, I think I will take a little walk and see if any of those parking garages—the ones I learned about when I called the number on the flyer I was given on the Upper West Side—appeal to me. One more winter on the street and the Éclair is going to be scrap metal.