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.