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.

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