Thursday, February 28, 2008


The Eclair felt a little stiff this morning. Maybe she is feeling the cold. Cars are not like horses in that they don’t get frisky in the cold weather.

I was parked in a rare and unusual spot, directly in front of the car-rental agency down the street from my apartment. I found the spot on Monday, when I got back from Massachusetts, where I had gone to minister to the sick (which I am very bad at, by the way, so don’t get any ideas). While in Massachusetts, I had the cleansing experience of going through a car wash. Poor Eclair: I change her oil more often than I groom her. I was afraid that the duct tape holding her right eye in place would not survive the rigors of an automatic car wash. But it held, and it was good to see her all sparkly clean after a salty trip through snow and slush.

But I digress. I got back into town Monday at about eleven-thirty in the morning, an awkward time to expect to score any spot. I cruised my favorite 7:30-8 block, just for the hell of it. Toward the far end of the block, a man was getting a jacket out of his back seat. I couldn’t tell whether he had just arrived or was just leaving. “How long are you going to be here?” I asked. “A half hour,” he said. “Not long.”

I instantly set my diver’s watch so I would know when a half hour was up, and drove home, parked at a meter, unloaded the car, and then dashed back to see if I could catch the man and inherit his spot. I seemed to remember that it was a brown car, and so I settled in, double-parked with my flashers on, next to the car in back of him. After ten minutes, I began to wonder if I had the right car—had he been farther down the street, closer to the corner? Could he have come back before the half hour was up, and somebody else got to the spot before me? Meanwhile, across the street, a man was posting lime-green signs that said “No Parking Wednesday.” Bad news for the Tuesday/Friday folks.

After about a half hour, I gave up and resigned myself to the parking lot by the river (though I think they charge more if you show up this late in the day, if they even have a spot available). But I started my usual rounds, and damned if there wasn’t this beautiful spot (Monday/Thursday 9:30-11 AM) right in front of the car-rental agency.

I was back there this morning at nine, carrying a lovely little Italian chair whose seat needs recaning. It has needed recaning since last July. I am forever warning people not to sit on it, but this morning I forgot and sat on it myself. I tossed the chair into the back seat, bringing it that much closer to the recaner’s, and went across the street to the little independent coffee shop. As I was waiting, I noticed that this coffee shop has an extremely well placed mirror, a mosaic of large glass shards, on the back wall, where it brings in the street. I will have to remember this as I redecorate my bedroom.

I got in the car and headed for the nearest block where I still had a reasonable hope of finding a spot that would be good at ten. I buzzed the Sanctuary: nothing, despite my prayers to Our Lady of Lourdes. At the street where I wanted to turn left there was a bottleneck—it was garbage day. I had time to get out and make sure I didn't have a flat tire. I threaded my way through the stopped traffic to the next left (since when is this a two-way street?) and went around the block, and was waiting to turn right at the light when the garbage truck finally moved and let through a stream of cars ahead of me. Then someone snuck into the curb lane and turned ahead of me. My prospects did not look good as I crawled up the block, but finally I saw a spot: it was tight, and right alongside a double-parked cop car, and I had a solid line of through traffic panting behind me. I called on all my parallel-parking chops and swooped in with one masterly motion.... Came a honk from the car behind me. I had tapped it on my rearward trajectory. Now I nudged the car ahead, a limo. He could have helped out by pulling up a little, but no.

A young woman with long straight hair got out of the car behind me and was examining her front end. She came to my window.

“You HIT me,” she said, incredulously.

“I DID?” I said, just as incredulously. “Surely it was just a tap.”

“No, it was HARD,” she said.

This could be the beginning of a terrible day. The truth is I had forgotten that of course someone was sitting in that parked car: a fellow-alternate-side parker. I got out to take a look.

There was not a mark on her car—only the license plate, which juts out, was crunched a little. “You mean this?” I said, pointing to it.

She nodded.

“I’m sorry,” I said. It really did seem like nothing, but I know how it feels to have someone back up into you as if you were not there. “It was a tight spot, and you can see I was under pressure, with traffic waiting.” She did not look forgiving, but neither did she demand my insurance information. The cop was still double-parked alongside us, and made no move to intervene.

She got back in her car, and only then did I notice that the limo in front of me was obscuring a fire hydrant, and I was too close to it. So I had to go back to the woman I’d bumped—she had her laptop open on the front seat—and ask if she would please move back a little. The car behind her moved without my having to ask—there was very generous spacing between the cars—so she had no excuse, except, of course, that I had dented her license plate. “I promise not to crowd you,” I said. Then I got in and out of the car several times, like one of the geezers I am always complaining about, to see how close I was to her and to the curb, and to thank her for moving. I was very glad that I hadn't morphed into irritable-middle-aged-lady mode and told her, "Get used to it—you have to expect to get banged around a little if you park on the street." Which is, of course, the truth.

When we all got out of our cars at ten, the young woman walked up the block to meet her boyfriend, who had been parking another car. I felt it was outrageous that one couple should take two parking spaces, but I was relieved that she didn't bring him back to survey the damages. I took a good look at her car: a brand-new pale-gray Nissan Ultima, with at least three feet of clearance at both ends of its parking place. Then I looked at my car again: the ripple along the seam of the driver’s door, a memento of getting sideswiped last summer in Rockaway; the skeleton of the sideview mirror on the passenger’s side, dating from Thanksgiving; the eyepatch; the mangled license plates . . . It seemed to me to have an awful lot of character. But at least it was clean.

You know how you instinctively avoid a car that is all beat up, because whoever is driving it obviously has nothing to lose? That’s me. Watch out.

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