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.

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