Thursday, January 31, 2008


Today I had better things to do than sit in the car for an hour and a half, so I took the Eclair to its spa down by the river and paid fifteen dollars to leave it there. I’ll probably regret this tomorrow morning, when I have to go back, in the rain (forecast), and pay another fifteen dollars or risk the boot.

It has been an excessively religious month for Alternate Side Parking, and I promise to reform. I could not help but notice, however, that today is the Feast of St. John Bosco. Let us pray.

St. John Bosco, pray for us.
St. Ovaltine, pray for us.
St. Hershey’s Cocoa, pray for us.
St. Nestle’s Quik, pray for us.
St. Dunkin Donuts, pray for us.
All ye Holy Products of Caffeine, pray for us.
St. Fig Newton, pray for us.
St. Graham Cracker, pray for us.
St. Ritz, pray for us.
St. Hostess Cupcake, pray for us.
St. Twinkie, pray for us
St. Sara Lee, pray for us.
Sts. Ben & Jerry, pray for us.
St. Baskin Robbins, pray for us.
St. Frozfruit, pray for us.
St. Chereokee, pray for us.
All ye Quiescently Frozen Desserts, pray for us.
Sts. M & M, pray for us.
St. Goodbar, pray for us.
St. Malted Milk Ball, pray for us.
St. Raisinet, pray for us.
Sts. Good & Plenty, pray for us.
St. Skippy, pray for us.
St. Peter Pan, pray for us.
St. Baby Ruth, pray for us.
St. Necco Wafer, pray for us.
St. Domino Pizza, pray for us.
St. Papa Gino, pray for us.
All ye Famous and Original Rays, pray for us.
St. Little Debbie, pray for us.
St. Tasty Kake, pray for us.
St. Goober, pray for us.
St. Nonpareil, pray for us.
St. Twizzler, pray for us.
St. Tootsie Roll, pray for us.
St. Cotton Candy, pray for us.
St. Popcorn, pray for us.
St. Frito, pray for us.
St. Lays, pray for us.
St. Cheez-It, pray for us.
St. Dorito, pray for us.
St. Charles Chips, pray for us.
St. Milk Dud, pray for us.
Sts. Oreo & Hydrox, pray for us.
St. Slopoke, pray for us.

(It is in the nature of litanies to last forever.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Yesterday was the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas (January 28th). I grew up hearing the name St. Thomas Aquinas from my mother, not because she was a scholar of this doctor of the Church, but because her family, and my father’s, belonged to a parish called St. Thomas Aquinas, on the East Side of Cleveland. I never saw her church—we lived on the West Side—but once, as an adult, I was amazed to notice, in the garden of a fancy restaurant in that neighborhood, architectural fragments that had been salvaged from the Church of St. Thomas Aquinas. I duly reported to my mother that I had seen archeological ruins of her youth.

I read a biography of Thomas Aquinas (Tommaso d’Aquino) while I was in Naples, several years ago: “The Dumb Ox,” by G. K. Chesterton. Thomas was a big, beefy guy, from a noble family in Aquino, in Campania, whose brothers actually kidnapped him from his religious order because his mother didn’t want him to be a mendicant. She was fine with his being a priest, but a Dominican? He finally escaped his family and went to Paris to study. It was there that he acquired the nickname the Dumb Ox, because of his size and because he wasn’t big on class participation. There is a church in Naples with a painting of Christ crucified that Thomas is said to have levitated in front of. I saw the painting, but did not levitate.

Thomas Aquinas was a great writer, so I’m told, able to reconcile the teachings of the Church with Aristotle, and to formulate various arguments that were useful to the Church in its quest for temporal power. I bet he would have been great on alternate side parking. It doesn’t do to get too smug about this alternate side parking business. I thought I had it all figured out: stroll down to the independent coffee shop, where people are arguing about movies at nine in the morning; get in the car, parked perfectly legally till 9:30 in front of a building whose management has painted the curb yellow (remember, anyone can paint his curb yellow); cruise a few blocks, buzzing the Sanctuary, as always (one of the six cars in those highly desirable spots had smoke coming out its exhaust, but I don’t think he was leaving; it was still a few minutes before nine, and I think he was just taking the chill off), and count on finding an ample spot that will be good at 10 A.M., on this gentle block where the street sweeper has been coming early.

But I get to the block, and there is a solid line of double parkers. I am at mid-block, opposite an S.U.V.—a Honda Element—with one space between it and a fire hydrant. I don’t know why the Honda hasn’t moved, but it is crucial to my strategy: if all the cars in back of me find spots behind the Honda, I can wait till the sweeper goes around the Honda, then get in tight behind it and score that place before the hydrant.

A shiny black Camry comes along and double parks in front of me, making me nervous. She will have to move up with the whole line of double parkers who got here ahead of her and hope there is enough space on the far side of the hydrant. The hydrant is in front of a church of sorts—let’s call it St. Oxymoron. Generally you’re not allowed to park in front of churches, and this one is no exception, but instead of a No Parking sign it has this hydrant as well as a curb cut to nowhere.

The Broom finally comes at 9:17. An officious-looking guy up ahead has appointed himself Commissioner of Alternate Side Parking and is directing traffic. He seems to want to put an S.U.V. in my spot. But my strategy works: I am on that Broom’s ass. The Camry does not clear the curb cut, but the Commissioner gives her a little more space and, anyway, the curb cut is meaningless: there’s no place to drive into except the plate-glass window of St. Oxymoron.

The Alternate Side Parking Effect is somewhat muted on this Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. Nothing looks like Paradise. The building across from me is a neapolitan jumble of old yellow brick and, on the ground floor, a curved glass brick wall. Flimsy balconies have been stuck on, and the residents are using them for storage (electric fans, coolers). Over the windows of the first few stories are what look like ram's horns, but higher up, over the fifth-floor windows, are strong beautiful stone heads framed with thick curls and draped with what look like sculpted wreaths of monumental apples and walnuts.

St. Otto of Bamberg

It will come as no surprise to readers to learn that the creators of the St. Otto, Patron Saint of Parking, Air Freshener (Pure Citrus Scent) are not doctors of the church but novelty-manufacturing brothers who work out of an old piano factory in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (See for yourself, at When you take a closer look at St. Otto as pictured below (and as suggested in the comments), it’s plain to see that the iconography is glaringly in error. That’s not St. Otto! That’s Jesus, in his Suffer the Little Children pose: Suffer the Mini-Coopers to Come Unto Me. If they were going to cut and paste holy cards and Buicks, the Sacred Heart might have been a better choice, with Our Lord taking to heart the Eternal Combustion Engine.

How do I know that’s not St. Otto? I received a sign. St. Otto of Bamberg was a Swabian (1062-1139), the patron saint of Bamberg, Germany, and also of mad dogs, rabies, and hydrophobia. A priest and the chancellor to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, Otto tried to reconcile church and state, and he must have had his work cut out for him, because Henry IV set up an antipope. Still, somehow Otto "kept out of all political turmoil,” and by all accounts led a model life. He founded twenty monasteries (for which he is known as the Father of the Monks) and converted twenty thousand Pomeranians—not the dogs but the people of Pomerania, in Poland. In fact, he converted them twice, because the first time it didn’t take.

St. Otto’s feast day is July 2nd, according to Butler’s Lives of the Saints (Concise Edition), and also according to my complimentary calendar from Tecno Meccanica Bedin, an Italian hubcap maker. (In Italy, he is Sant’Ottone di Bamberga.) The Catholic Encyclopedia, however, gives his feast day variously as June 30th, September 30th, and October 1st. This plethora of feast days would certainly make Otto of Bamberg a welcome addition to the Alternate Side Parking Calendar—the very thought of it is enough to make me drool. I pursued him onto an Italian Web site devoted to saints (click here for a more historically accurate image of St. Otto of Bamberg), but it wasn't until I Googled Otto in German that I found the mad-dog connection, in a catalogue of miracles: "Ein Kind, das einen Nagel verschlungen, ein Blinder, ein Stummer, ein Gichtbrüchiger und EIN VOM TOLLWUTIGEN HUNDE GEBISSENERE erhalten durch die Fürbitte des hl. Otto Hilfe und Genesung." Rough translation: A child who swallowed a nail, a blind guy, a mute, a gout-sufferer, and ONE BITTEN BY A RABID DOG go into a bar. No no no, they go to the grave of St. Otto and through his intercession obtain relief. Whew!

It doesn't say what kind of dog.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Patron Saint of Parking

Actually, I think Padre Pio ought to be the patron saint of parking. A good attitude is crucial (Don't Worry Be Happy). But a friend and fellow-parker gave me this holy deodorizer for Christmas. In March, when the Mayor takes all those parking permits away, there will probably be a big run on St. Otto air fresheners.


I had a full hour-and-a-half wait yesterday, so I took a tour of my favorite spots, but wound up at the far end of the block I’d just left, between two S.U.Vs: in front of me, an olive-green Kia Sedona and, in my rearview mirror, a black Ford Expedition with North Carolina license plates and chrome flames licking its grille. The owners seemed to know each other. Sedona, with a cup of takeout coffee, stood in the street talking with North Carolina.

I turn out to have the same problem when I’m parked behind an S.U.V. as when I’m behind one on the road: I hate having my view blocked. I got out to stretch my legs, and also to determine if it’s true, as it seems, that this block is much less cut-throat than the block to the north, with which I have grown so intimate. This end of the block features a dry cleaner, a tailor, a nail salon, and a subterranean online bakery (on the Internet, nobody knows you bake in a basement). “You better stay with your ca-ar,” a guy sitting on the railing of a building with scaffolding in front of it says, in a singsong voice. The Broom came at about 9:55, and there are still several spots available at 9:10.

The guy in front of me (paint-stained pants, hooded jacket, cup of takeout coffee)—has he locked himself out of his car? He pats his pockets, tries both doors, tries the trunk, pats his pockets again. He peers in his car windows. He picks up a hoop of wire off the street. “Got to get the key out,” he says to his buddy from North Carolina—he has a surprisingly high voice—and enters the building across the street by the service door. He must be the super there.

He comes back out with a wire coat hanger bent into a long rod and tries it on the passenger's side. If I locked myself out of my car (a practical impossibility with my car, fortunately), I would know enough to go get a wire hanger and unbend it, but I wouldn’t know how to get it through the window. It seems to me that locksmiths have a tool—a flat piece of metal with an angle (a jimmy?) that somehow levers open the window. I wonder if this guy is a member of AAA. If you’re a member of AAA, someone will come out and save you the expense of a locksmith.

The dry cleaner leans out his door and kindly offers his neighbor another wire hanger, already bent, perhaps with a pointier tip.

A cop strolls buy, short, white-hatted, of indeterminate gender. She has to stop, of course, to make sure the guy’s not stealing the car, but offers no assistance. The guy tries the driver’s side. A heating-oil truck, its cab custom-painted with an image of Bugs Bunny, is throbbing away as it makes a delivery; traffic has to squeeze past. The guy moves over to the passenger’s side again. “You got a plier?” he says to his buddy.

“Do you belong to Triple A?” I ask as he passes my window. “They’ll come out and do it for free.”

“I got Triple A,” he says. “But I’m gonna do it.” His high voice makes him sound cheerful and optimistic.

“How do you move the wire around once you get it in there?” I ask.

“You gotta fish hook,” he says, and shows me how he’s bent the wire. I couldn't do it in a million years.

There are poured-concrete oak leaves over the lintels of the windows on the building across the street. A jagged reflection of the roofline of the high-rise at the corner falls onto the S.U.V.’s rear window. The guy's hands must be cold. Mine certainly are, and I’m not outside getting frustrated. I’m inside, getting vicariously frustrated. The guy has abandoned his coffee cup on the hood of his buddy’s car. I look in my rearview mirror just in time to see a hearse pass on the avenue.

Finally, it’s ten o’clock. The guy who is locked out of his car has not let up. Now he gets out his cell phone and his wallet and withdraws a small card. He’s going to call AAA. The dry cleaner invites him inside to wait.

Monday, January 21, 2008

It’s (Un)Official!

Perhaps the first surprising thing about Don’t Worry Be Happy Day, which coincides this year with Martin Luther King Day, is that it comes out of Wales. Well, that’s not quite accurate. DWBH Day is an invention of the Catholic Enquiry Office, a branch of an agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. See for yourself, at the bishops’ Web site, here (“Mondays in late January are very often reported to be the worst days in the year; the days most likely to provoke depression. The reasons for this are many, not least because the party season is over and many of us are feeling bloated, strapped for cash and suffering from broken relationships”). The bishops are running a contest, the prize being a one-on-one with a priest or a nun. Not just any old priest or nun, but a priest and a nun who appear on the BBC. But be forewarned: it is an evangelical Web site, and if you turn out to be truly depressed, guess who’s ready to help.

Padre Pio is the unofficial patron saint of Don’t Worry Be Happy Day. He is featured on the site of a spinoff called life4seekers, a popular blend of New Age spirituality and old-fashioned Catholicism, here (“Don’t miss our next Seekers’ event at the Franciscan Friary in North Wales”). The seekers, too, are running a contest, and because I knew the answer to their contest question (Where was Padre Pio born? Pietrelcina), I was tempted to enter to win a CD of music to meditate by. But to tell the truth I find that kind of music depressing. When I am cleaning house on the most depressing day of the year, I’d rather put on tango music, or the new CD by Baby Dee, or even “Rigoletto,” which is lots of fun if you don’t know what they’re singing about.

The Vatican has not officially recognized the feast or Padre Pio's role in it, but in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, on the eve of Don't Worry Be Happy Day, a huge crowd gathered to make the Pope feel better about having had to cancel his speaking engagement at La Sapienza University. The size of the crowd at St. Peter’s, estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000 (which shows you something about the science of crowd estimation), compared overwhelmingly with the mere “dozens of professors and students” who protested the Pope’s appearance. The Pope had to have taken comfort from those numbers. La Sapienza, incidentally, was founded by a Pope—Boniface VIII—in 1303, well before anyone knew how dangerous a little knowledge was going to get. (The university is now public.) The protest was spearheaded by one Marcello Cini, a professor emeritus of physics, who said, according to the Times, that “to have the pope preside over the start of a new academic year would be an ‘incredible violation’ of the school’s autonomy.”

I think the Pope should have gone anyway. He could have taken the opportunity to clear up that misunderstanding with the physicists about Galileo.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Spot from God

I could not have had an easier time parking yesterday if God himself had granted me a spot. It would have been a perfect day to take out a student parker. I could have explained the benefits of the spot I was leaving (Mon. & Thurs. 9:30-11), which I had taken last Sunday night for the obvious reason: it was the first spot I found. If I had already been in an 8:30-10 spot, I’d have had to move at 8:30, and there’d be that tension over the double-parking pecking order and the jostling for curb space after the street sweeper passed. But, as things were, I didn’t have to be at the car till nine, in order to arrive on an 8:30-10 block just after the sweeper had passed but before all the spots were taken, shaving at least twenty minutes off my wait.

I stopped for coffee in the independent coffee shop (not a Starbucks) on the 9:30-10 block, then buzzed the Sanctuary (Mon. & Thurs. 8:30-9), just in case, but the only spot there was too close to the fire hydrant. Then I got stuck behind a truck delivering dry wall and inched my way toward the first eligible block, where I was alarmed to see that all the spots on the left were taken. Fortunately, it was only a spasm of global dyslexia: I was looking on the wrong side of the street. The Mon./Thurs. spot I had just vacated was on the left-hand side of the street, but this was a one-way street in the opposite direction, so all the action was on the right. At the far end of the block there were no fewer than three wide-open spaces. And so it came to pass that at 9:04 I was comfortably ensconced in my spot, with a generous car length in front of me, having suffered a minimum of anxiety. It was too good to be true. I kept thinking there must be a fire hydrant concealed among the recyclables on the sidewalk.

Judging from this experience, a novice would get the impression that alternate-side parking was a breeze. Up ahead, a shadow of staggered rooflines falls on a high modern shed of a building that looks like it’s clad in aluminum. A FedEx guy pushes his high-piled cart from building to building, making deliveries. A guy with an ear of Indian corn stands on the sidewalk feeding the pigeons a few kernels at a time. This is a more residential block than the one I usually end up on, with its Chinese laundry and its barbershop and copy shop and parking lot and Greek diner. The only businesses on this block are a pub, a psychic, and a dog-grooming parlor. It’s like parking in a parallel universe.

At 9:17, a Hyundai Sonata finds a spot in front of the car in front of me. A Chevy Express, a big blocky van with vertical doors in the rear, pauses at the space in front of me, but the driver apparently can't see well enough to back that monster into it and moves on. Finally, at 9:26, a silver-gray Honda from Rhode Island claims the spot. This is about as late as you can expect to find a parking spot that will be good at ten.

I would, of course, point out to my student that our spot is good for a week. Yesterday I received an e-mail from the DOT (Department of Transportation) reminding me (as if I needed reminding) that alternate-side parking will be suspended on Monday, January 21st, for Martin Luther King Day. I don’t know if a bulletin will arrive before every holiday . . . This one had an ulterior motive: “PLEASE NOTE,” it said. “The 2008 calendar as originally posted erroneously included February 21 as a holiday. That was incorrect. February 21, 2008 is NOT a holiday and all parking rules will be in effect. The Web site has been corrected.”

I never saw the erroneous listing, but I suspect we have not heard the last of it. Although I do not like having a holiday taken away, it helps if I never knew it existed. And I have to say that I admire the DOT’s willingness to admit error. It’s so refreshing, so different from, say, the insistence on infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church. Just this week, there was an item in the Times about the Pope cancelling a speech at Sapienza University, in Rome, because students and faculty were protesting his hostility to science, specifically in a speech about Galileo that he gave in 1990, when he was just fallible old Cardinal Ratzinger and the church had not yet forgiven Galileo for his heresy in observing, back in the early 1600s, that the earth moved around the sun. “Cardinal Ratzinger did not argue against the validity of science generally or take the church’s position from Galileo’s time that heliocentrism was heretical,” the Times correspondent Ian Fisher wrote. Well, that’s a blessing. Cardinal Ratzinger did, however, quote an Austrian philosopher, Paul Feyerabend, as saying that the church’s “verdict against Galileo was rational and just.” (The church finally forgave Galileo in 1992.)

Now there’s a guy who deserves a holiday: Galileo. We could celebrate his release from Hell after four hundred years. Meanwhile, the effect of having a roomy spot on a pleasant street is waxing paradisiacal. Surely this is the loveliest block in the city. Notice the birds, the gingko trees, the pansies still blooming in flower boxes. Fire escapes zigzag down the fronts of the buildings: brown, beige, brick red. There are bas-reliefs in the sandstone above the first-floor windows of the building to my right: men’s heads with sort of colonial-looking wigs. Across the street are bas-reliefs in brownstone: evil-looking men with big mustaches, their foreheads sprouting acanthus leaves. I feel blessed. O.K., my feet are a little cold, but after all it is January in the Northern Hemisphere.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Grant Unto Us ...

Today is the first anniversary of the Alternate Side Parking Reader, and in celebration I have added these links:

Baby Dee (you know her—buy her new CD, "Safe Inside the Day," available from Drag City, Jan. 22!)
The Wave (Rockaway's local newspaper)
ICBIE (Istituto de Cultura Brasil, Italia, Europa, a school of languages and the arts in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil)
Chicken Spaghetti (my friend Susan T's books blog, occasionally about chickens)
Book of Marvels (my friend Kris's blog)
Ask Patty (a site for women about cars)

And I am waiting for permission to add a few more.

Also this gift to parkers everywhere: a sign displayed on the windshield of a car parked in Rockaway.

The beneficence of the man!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Year's First Suspension

My favorite block did not yield any spots when I got back from Rockaway last night, so I stopped at home to unload some things and was tempted to leave the car right on my block, where I would have had to move it at 7:30 this morning. But then I remembered the weather report and realized that if I went back out and found a spot, and alternate side was later suspended, I wouldn't have to fool with the car at all today. I found a spot on my street, four blocks away (the long east/west kind), behind an elderly couple who had also just found their spot and were endlessly fussing over their car—opening the trunk, closing the trunk, opening the passenger's-side door, opening the trunk again—before tucking it in for the night. It seemed very unusual for two such generous spots to be available on the same block as the car-rental agency. It is a Monday-Thursday 9:30-11 A.M. spot, which I would have to leave by 9 if I hoped to find a spot that would be good at 10.

I recently subscribed to the city's Alternate Side Parking Transportation Update, which I heartily recommend, because when I happened to check my e-mail at 7 Sunday night, there was a bulletin from the DOT (Department of Transportation): alternate side would be suspended Monday for snow removal. All night I waited for the pitter-patter of raindrops to shush into snow. I am still waiting. The six inches of snow failed to materialize, but the Mayor did not go back on his promise.

Maybe it's global warming.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Calendar Surfing

I have it on very good authority that the Christmas season—at least, liturgically—isn't over till tomorrow, the first Sunday after Epiphany, when the Church celebrates the Baptism of Jesus, but I am rushing the season by taking my Christmas tree down today. It is a dwarf spruce, and I am taking it to Rockaway, where kind neighbors have consented to adopt it.

Note how deftly the Church has finessed the Feast Formerly Known as the Circumcision. Yes, you thought alternate side was suspended on January 1st for New Year's Day, but traditionally the eighth day after Christmas was the day the infant Jesus was circumcised. Perhaps concerned about the Jewish origins of this feast (Christbris?), the Church has revised its calendar to make January 1st a Marian feast: the Motherhood of Mary, or some such. (I have a new Mary calendar I could consult, but I left it in the car.) And, of course, the Baptism of Jesus took place thirty years later. To celebrate Christ's dip in the River Jordan, here is a link to a great surfing story by Paul McHugh in today's Times.

Friday, January 11, 2008


The Puerto Rican super always outmaneuvers me. I arrive before him and pull over to the Tuesday-Friday side of the street to sit at a meter.

When he arrives, he backs up into a space a few car lengths behind me, which will give him the advantage when the Broom comes. Fair enough. What he really wants, though, is the spot on the Monday/Thursday side right before the alternate-side spaces, a metered spot that you can sit in after 9 A.M. But there is a car already sitting in that spot. A man and his dog come and get in the car. The super pulls up to get in position, but the man and his dog don’t leave. So the super beats a retreat. It looks like the man and his dog are now competing with the super and me for these two spots: two spaces for three cars. I remain calm, however. There is still plenty of room farther down the street, and I keep reminding myself that if it doesn’t work out I will just put the car in the lot by the river for $15.

Now the guy with the dog, sitting in the most advantageous spot, starts up his car and turns into the parking lot. He and the dog, a big shorthaired brindled thing, lope out of the lot and leave. The Broom comes early: 8:45. I get right behind it, and the super, who has pulled up to the meter, gets herded down the street. This is not what he had in mind. In back of me is a car whose intentions are ambiguous. He honks at me. Is he, too, trying to get one of these spots? It turns out he’s just trying to turn into the parking lot and I have blocked him. Now he has to wait for traffic to clear so that he can go around me. The super is on the other side of the parking-lot driveway, where the BMW Z3 was parked on Monday. (Needless to say, there is no sign of James Bond today. I knew he was just a visitor in these parts.) I back up into the super’s former spot so that he can have mine, and he twice backs up into it, but he doesn’t like it—it’s a very vulnerable spot, with all those cars turning into the parking lot—and returns to the other side. The spot in front of me is free until 8:52—seven minutes.

The newcomer is a gray Audi A4. Its driver backs up until he taps me, then moves forward half an inch. I don’t complain. I will wait until he leaves and then back up a little. But that doesn’t mean I won’t get squeezed from behind, or that the next person to take the Audi’s spot won’t snuggle up even closer.

The Asian woman who started the cat fight passes on foot.

“Hi. They clean early? They pass early?” One of the waiters from the Greek diner on the corner has come to my car window. “Yeah,” I say. His name is Tony. I know because I bought a cup of coffee in the diner on my way to the car, and the waiter who dispensed the coffee would not deign to ring it up. “Take the money, Tony,” he told the junior waiter. “Take the money.”

“Hunh.” Tony jumps in his car, parked at a meter across the street, and delivers it to a free spot.

It’s garbage day, and the recycling truck pulls up next to a huge green heating-oil truck labelled B.L.T. Behind them, a taxi honks.

An S.U.V. cannot get clearance to pull into the parking lot. The sanitation guys are hustling in their green hooded sweatshirts, jogging alongside the truck to the next big heap of paper and cardboard.

Lots of people stop on their way up the street to have a word with the super. “Did you see the Chinese guy?” the super asks me when it’s all over. “He wouldn’t let me park there. He said he wasn’t going out. Then he did.”

“And then he pulled into the lot,” I say. “I didn’t get that.”

“Neither did I,” he says.

He goes off to have a key made for the mailman. I back up a little. My right headlight has seen enough combat.

Car with Boot

I just happened to have this picture, taken last June in Amsterdam, of a car fitted with a boot. Looks like vehicular torture.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cops and Parkers

If I am wakeful on Tuesday nights at ten o’clock, I will watch “Parking Wars” (on A&E), but if I’m already sleepy, it is not designed to keep me up. Last night, I fell asleep waiting for the premiere to start (the cats have been getting me up at five in the morning), and also dozed during the show itself. It was a relief to finally go to bed when it was over.

These parking wars, set in Philadelphia, are between the parkers and the enforcers; I was hoping for civil wars among the parkers themselves. There was a segment in the auto pound, with deranged people trying to get their cars back. It features a frustration meter, which is good, and another graphic shows how long the person spends trying to get her car out of the pound. None of the victims come off very well, and the bureaucrats seem cool and rational in comparison. Mostly what this did was bring back unpleasant memories of the Thanksgiving weekend when I was in graduate school, in Vermont, and visited my brother (at the time), who had a loft next to the Hotel Chelsea, from in front of which my 1965 Plymouth Fury II got towed. In those days, it was no mean feat to scare up a hundred dollars, and to complicate matters my wallet had just been stolen, so I don’t know what I was using for I.D. A classic catch 22: the registration was in the car, and I couldn’t have the car until I produced the registration. I did what any girl would do under the circumstances: I cried. A certain Sergeant McEvilly scolded me, shaking his finger in my face and saying, “You can’t get through life by crying.” But he did give me my car back. And Hillary Clinton did win in New Hampshire.

There was also a segment where they followed the booters around. The boot is a medieval-looking contraption that clamps over a front wheel and disables your car. The booters drive around in teams, one of them tapping license-plate numbers into a computer to see who has unpaid parking tickets. If the scofflaw owes hundreds and hundreds of dollars, he gets booted and then towed. One of the booters always has to watch the other’s back, so she doesn’t get clubbed while attaching the boot. The drama lies in seeing the Philadelphians emerge from their houses and beg not to have their cars towed, or curse the booters. People scrawl obscenities on the boots, pee on them. (The booters wear gloves.) The best was when a little kid watching with her father as a shiny yellow boot was being applied (NOT to her father's car) asserted her desire to become a booter when she grew up.

Obviously, these parking wars are going to be weighted in favor of the law. The producers will be hanging around with the enforcers, developing relationships with them. The booters and meter maids and tow-truck drivers will be the steady cast, and the parkers will be at a disadvantage, like guests on "Candid Camera." Maybe in one episode the producers’ cars should get booted or ticketed or towed. Or the cops could lose their parking permits. That would shake things up. Otherwise, "Parking Wars" reminded me of why I don't watch reality shows: too much like real life.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


The great excitement on the parking block yesterday morning was not the balmy weather, or the premiere of the new reality series “Parking Wars” (tonight at 10 on A&E), or the news that GM is developing a car that drives itself (sounds like a disaster film to me), or that the Catholic Church is fixin’ to exhume Padre Pio (the better to venerate him, or something, the ghouls). No, at my end of the block everyone was gazing at the car in front of me: a razor-blade-blue 1996 BMW Z3 roadster, parked by a tall dark man in a mustard-color puffy jacket and corduroys, who sat with the door open and one leg stretched out, working on a laptop. What was James Bond doing, parking on the street? At one point, he got restless—alternate-side parking is an hour-and-a-half exercise on this block (Mon. & Thurs., 8:30-10)—and got out, lit a cigarette, crossed the street, and came back with a discarded gift box from the recyclables, which he collapsed, laid flat on the sidewalk, and used as a backdrop for digital photographs of novelty metal street signs with the names of car races on them.

Behind me was the Puerto Rican who had witnessed the violence that broke out on this block, back in November. He came to my car door and said hello. It turns out he’s a super for a few buildings down the street. The tenants expect him to do everything, he says—plumbing, electricity . . . “I tell them, You got the wrong person,” he said. His cell phone rang. “I have to go—is an emergency.” He looked up and down the street. "I don't want to go." He didn’t want to risk getting a ticket. Then, “Nothing I can do. I gonna hope they don’t show up.”

Mine was the last car before the driveway for the parking lot, and cars turning into the lot were coming awfully close to grazing my vulnerable right headlight, so after the super left, I backed up a little. When I wasn’t ogling the man in the blue BMW, I studied the parking lot. A person pulls in in an S.U.V. and leaves on foot; the parking-lot attendant backs the S.U.V. onto a corrugated steel slab; he gets out and pushes a button; and a pneumatic lift levitates the car to the second story. Somebody invented this system: bunk beds for cars.

Everybody heading up the block—men, women, dog walkers clutching their leashes and their bags of poop—stops and looks back at the zippy little sports car. Finally, at about ten minutes to ten, when our time is almost up, I cannot resist stretching my legs in its direction. “That’s a beautiful car,” I say. “But don’t you worry about parking it on the street?”

“It’s my wife’s,” the man says, less, I suppose, to explain why he doesn’t worry than to keep me from getting any ideas. (Have I said he's incredibly handsome?) “It’s a wreck.”

“It is?” It doesn't look like a wreck to me, although his front license plate is almost as mangled as mine, and his driver's-side rearview mirror is attached with duct tape. “Have you seen my car?” I look back at the Eclair: its right eye is held in the socket with transparent packing tape, and the passenger’s-side rearview mirror is down to just a plastic skeleton and some springs. When I was looking for a spot last Sunday night, I paused on my second-favorite block (Mon. & Thurs. 7:30-8), wondering if I could fit into a small space behind a van (it’s hard to parallel-park behind a van, probably because you can’t see), and a woman who was double-parked across the street honked, to tell me that there was a fire hydrant in that spot (which explained why she wasn’t parked in it herself). When I rolled down the passenger's-side window to talk to her—I have automatic windows, which I hate—the window would go down only about three inches. Luckily, it went up again. I guess when I got sideswiped that time and the door got dented, the slot the window goes up and down in got bent out of shape. Also, the keyhole on that door is gone.

James Bond pointed to the hood of his BMW and said, “They jumped on it.” It was true: there was a big dent in the middle of the hood. “It’s the only explanation,” he said. “The whole thing will have to be replaced. But as long as we are in the city . . .”

I understood. It would never occur to me to replace my passenger's-side door, and I have been thinking of not replacing the passenger's side rearview mirror again. The only time I miss it is when I'm watching for the street sweeper.

When we left, a woman cop was writing a ticket for a car at a meter across the street. The super's car did not get a ticket. At the corner, the man with the BMW stopped and turned back to his car. "I think I forgot to lock it," he said.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


I experienced something of an epiphany today, the Feast of the Epiphany: The revocation of parking permits, even though I don't have one, is going to affect me profoundly. Already one person whose parking permit's days are numbered has asked my advice as she contemplates joining the ranks of the Alternate Side Parkers. So I am going to suffer from the inevitable trickle-down of these permits' being revoked: more competition for my space.

For whom the bell tolls, indeed.

When I first started this blog, almost exactly a year ago, I had some idea that people would be curious enough to try to find out where my favorite blocks are by studying the clues—no way I was going to tell. I have been very careful to keep the clues vague: lots of blocks in Manhattan have a hotel on the corner or a view of a skyscraper, or a barbershop and a Chinese laundry, or are within walking distance of a river. But it seemed to me glaringly true that there was zero interest in this game. So I thought it wouldn't matter if I got a little careless. Then I thought, Nah. Good thing.

My best hope is that having had a permit will spoil these people for the alternate-side routine, the way keeping your car in a garage would spoil you for parking on the street. If it happened that I got crowded out of the city (and it will, it will), I'd probably park in Rockaway. My car is in such bad shape right now that the woman who sold it to me, who used to let me park in her driveway, has said outright, "I don't want to see it." I figure I'd have to pay at least $100 a month (the lowest I've found in the city is $275 a month, and that's only if you pass the Morgue) and commute to my car by A train.

I can imagine that if you didn't have a car in the city, you couldn't work up much sympathy for someone who does and who is losing her parking privileges. But just because a person lives in Manhattan doesn't mean she's not American, and that she doesn't think of having a car as an inalienable right: the pursuit of happiness. It's hard not to take these things personally. The Times ran a piece yesterday: Pairing Down Parking Permits, and Raising a Fuss. It also published the definitive clip-and-save version of the Alternate Side Parking Calendar. (You have to go to this page and look for the place to click on the calendar; I attempted to copy and paste, as a reader service, but somehow I got last year's calendar, which would have been a disaster.)

On the plus side, the Smart car has now come to New York, the little Fortwo that you can park à Romano: perpendicular in a parallel parking place. Somebody really ought to write a song about it, along the lines of "Funiculi Funicula": Parking, Parking, Who will win the race? Parking, parking, Smart car finds a space! We park it here, We park it there, We park it long, we park it SQUARE...Joy is everywhere, we park it here, we park it there.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Cold Snap

Quick before it thaws, I have to complain about the cold. It was freezing in the car yesterday morning. My breath and the steam from my coffee fogged up the windshield, and I finally turned on the defrost (but not the engine). When I arrived, there was a delivery of MX 19 Uprights in progress. MX 19 Uprights are not pianos or military ordnance but construction equipment: mobile scaffolds the size of fork-lift trucks, with a platform on an accordion-like riser. They were bright blue, and a man was backing them down the street one at a time into a garage-size elevator across the street.

Amazingly, there was a spot available behind me, and it was still available at 7:35, after the broom came. Just goes to show that you should always check your favorite spots, because you never know. Across the street, on the Tuesday-Friday side, was a black pickup truck whose owner, like me, had found his spot on New Year’s Day. I know because as I was waiting sedately in the right-hand lane for the light to change so that I could make a right turn and look for a spot on this highly desirable block, the black pickup, coming from the opposite direction, made a squealing left-hand turn before the light had changed and, in a maneuver worthy of a stunt-car driver, zipped into a spot that I hadn't even seen yet. I felt like an amateur.

After the broom passed, I relocated to be last in line, leaving the free spot in front of me. (It's an advantage to be first or last in line, because you can't get parked in.) Now this huge candy-apple-red Dodge van with New Jersey license plates lucks onto the spot, but the guy (and it does turn out to be a guy) can’t parallel park to save his life. He begins his approach from way out in the middle of the street, instead of the standard foot or so away from the car in front of the spot. It’s torture to watch, and I repent my end-space strategy, but now there’s a garbage truck double-parked next to me and I can’t move until he leaves. As soon as the garbageman has squeezed back into his cab and driven away, I pull up into the space I started out in, leaving myself a little room in front, because this van is gigantic and this guy from New Jersey is clearly challenged, and he manages to back into the space behind me.

'Tis the season of Christmas trees in the garbage. The guy in front of me, in a black Chevy pickup, leaves his vehicle, but only to get coffee. For a minute, I thought he knew something I didn’t know—something about the new, “simplified” Alternate Side Parking rules. Could it be? Would they have the sense? Surely it’s clear that after the street sweeper has gone by, there’s no further need for us to be sitting in our cars, freezing our asses off. It would just be a matter of the cops' knowing that the sweepers had gone by. I suppose this would be difficult to coordinate, block by block, but if the cop can’t tell that the street is cleaner, maybe there was no point in the sweeper’s having come anyway.

Meanwhile, the Mayor and the Department of Transportation have bigger things on their minds. The Times reported today that as part of the congestion-pricing plan some city employees will be losing their parking permits. These permits, regarded as a perk of the job, have been fairly easy to obtain since the advent of the color Xerox machine—I even had one once (it expired, and anyway I was afraid to use it). If the Mayor thinks that the police are going to give up the privilege of parking their private cars near the precinct house (and anywhere they damn well please, because who is going to issue a ticket to a fellow police officer?), he is in for a surprise. The cops are probably chuckling over their doughnuts even as I write. The Times quotes Ed Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, sounding not so benevolent: "I think we're going to get into all kinds of issues if they start saying cops can't have parking places."

If I had such a permit—and I have a good friend, not a cop, who does—and it was taken away from me, I would be aghast. I would go on strike. I would be tempted to quit my job. I would definitely be part of the problem, not the solution. So I guess it's just as well that I don't.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2008 in Preview

As I have nothing better to do at the moment, I am returning to my project of annotating the 2008 Alternate Side Parking Calendar. The version provided by AAA (see below) is suspect, I’m sorry to say, partly because the phone number provided for the New York City Department of Transportation, with its tantalizing promise of “new, simplified Alternate Side Parking Regulations,” is still out of service. Of course, in a sense this does simplify things: you don’t even have to bother to call.

A quick comparison of the AAA calendar with the city’s—a joint project of the Department of Transportation, the Department of Sanitation, and the Police Department (see link)—reveals a discrepancy: the AAA says there are 43 days when alternate side is suspended, and the city says that alternate side is suspended for 34 legal and religious holidays. Laboriously, as if balancing my checkbook, I added up both lists and got 40 (both times). It turns out that the city counts two- and three-day holidays, such as Shavuot and Succoth, as just one, while the AAA counts each separate day of multiday feasts but fails to take into account the overlaps among the world’s three great religions: in 2008, Good Friday coincides with Purim (March 21), Rosh Hashanah overlaps with Idul-Fitr (October 1), and the Immaculate Conception kicks off Idul-Adha (December 8). Can’t wait.

A reader points out that because 2008 is a leap year it would be fitting if alternate side was suspended on February 29th, a day that barely exists anyway, but the authorities have yet to fall in with this plan. On the plus side, alternate-side parking is suspended for my birthday (February 7th), which happens to fall on Chinese New Year. Western Easter and Orthodox Easter are more than a month apart, so Christ gets to suffer and die and suffer and die, but we alternate-side parkers will be twice redeemed. Unfortunately, Gerald Ford (January 2nd) and Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11th) have once again been overlooked. But this year a feast associated with Padre Pio, the patron saint of stress relief and the post-Christmas blues—Don’t Worry Be Happy Day—should fall on January 21st, the same day as Martin Luther King Day, and is therefore already on the Alternate Side Parking Calendar. Can’t wait.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


I meant to post an annotated list of alternate-side-suspended days, but it got away from me. The previous post is lifted directly from the Automobile Association of America. I called the number at the bottom saying that new "simplified" alternate-side rules were in effect, because of course I hadn't been consulted, and the number was "out of service" at that time. Stay tuned.

Happy New Year! I just returned from a weekend trip to Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where I rang in the New Year among friends, with lobster, champagne, and Scrabble, and found a spot on my second-favorite block, where I hope it will not be too cold at seven-thirty this Thursday morning. The homeless guy had decorated the cart of his belongings with a stuffed cherub from a painting by Botticelli.