Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Unholy Wednesday

I tried to fix the words in my mind: “That fucking idiot, you bastard”—words uttered (in my direction) by a white-haired woman at the wheel of a white S.U.V. first thing this morning. My offense: I had held up traffic, first to determine whether the guy who was opening the back door of a parked vehicle was going out (he was!) and then to claim that spot by backing up into a space alongside a fire hydrant across the street and letting the traffic go by as I waited for the guy to leave. A line of maybe four cars had built up behind me. It’s not nice to block traffic, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

This was a rare Wednesday that found me out cruising for a spot. No one moves on Wednesday, because, at least in my neighborhood, no one has to move. Last Sunday night I went to check up on the Eclair, parked on K.’s Street, and ended up moving it across the street into a Tuesday-Friday spot, for the sole reason that I was fed up after the break-in and wanted Monday off. I checked on it again Monday on my way to work, and the car was O.K. (the seal of duct tape had not been breached), but there was a lime-green sign on a pole that said “No Parking Wednesday.” I might have been tempted to ignore it, or tear it down, but I had a errands to run this morning anyway, so I resigned myself to moving the car, possibly even to the $15 parking lot. But before it came to that, I went on my usual rounds.

The only hope of finding a spot on a Wednesday is to happen on someone who is just going out. I was held up on one narrow street while someone five cars ahead of me blocked traffic waiting for a spot. Did I yell obscenities at him on my way past? I did not. I said to myself, Oh, that explains it. Clearly the lady who cursed at me keeps her car in a garage.

The new spot is a Tuesday-Friday spot, and I spent a lot of time going back and forth in it, nudging the car closer to the curb, so I was somewhat dismayed to notice, just as I had achieved perfection, a sign saying “No Standing—Temporary Construction Zone.” Then I noticed that the car behind me had a permit saying “Active Fire Fighter.” Above me, a guy in a cherry-picker was adjusting a street light. I got the attention of one of the workers in the construction zone and asked if this was an O.K. spot. He said yes. So the signs must have applied to the other side of the traffic island.

On the walk home (I was at least a half mile away), I noticed one of the city’s dying breed of parking meter revenue collectors at work. He has a little safe on wheels that he pulls along, and a ring of keys. “I’m not trying to rob you,” I said, coming up behind him. “I just want to see how this works. You can’t take any quarters?”

“Nope,” he told me. He turns a key in the meter and unlocks a cylinder that looks like a bright-orange Campbell’s soup can. He screws it into the safe and dumps the quarters. “Can’t get to the quarters.” He showed me how the cylinder can’t be removed until he has twisted it into position again. “See? No quarters.” He was a white guy, in a jacket and hooded sweatshirt, and he worked fast.

I found myself checking out the various parking permits on dashboards throughout the neighborhood. There sure are a lot of them! 142,000, according to the Times. There are handicapped permits, of course, and in Loading Zones and on blocks where there is no parking 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. there are lots of cars belonging to policemen working out of the local precinct. Some of them say “Authorized Parking” or “Official Business” or give the precinct number. Some cars just have a Policemen’s Benevolent Association insignia lying on the dashboard. There was one unusual-looking permit, and I went into the street to get a closer look at it: it turned out to be the takeout menu from a restaurant called Fatty Crab.

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