Monday, April 28, 2008


There were two cars lurking on my favorite block when I got to my car this morning, in the pouring rain. I had been very lucky to find this spot. I had come back from Rockaway on Saturday evening and was hoping to make it down to the Ukulele Cabaret (believe it or not, I am a convert to the ukulele—ukuleles for everyone!), and it looked as if there was nothing available. But just as I was about to give up and go and park in front of my own building and worry about it in the morning, I heard activity in the car parked next to where I was waiting for the light to change: a couple in a mid-sized car were just pulling out. Eureka! I backed up and waited for them to leave.

These cars lurking in the rain had me worried—now there were three of them. Of course I deserved to keep this spot, but rain might make people desperate, and this was valuable real estate. Thursday is the Solemnity of Ascension, forty days after Easter, when Christ floated up to Heaven and suspended alternate-side parking. Sunday was Orthodox Easter, and also the last night of Passover, so there has been a traffic jam of holidays.

I have been meaning to look into the origins of alternate-side parking, which has the ring of a historic compromise, but I haven’t known where to begin. Meanwhile, an enterprising reporter for AM New York, in a piece about how parking reflects religion (good idea!), found out that the original reason for suspension of alternate-side rules was to accommodate Orthodox Jews, who were unable to move their cars during the High Holidays.

At 7:42, two street sweepers went by without making us move. It did seem cruel to make us move in the rain—it was hard to see anything in the side-view mirror, for one thing, all spattered as it was—and surely such a heavy rain made a street sweeper redundant. But I knew that the Broom could go around the block and appear again. Suppose the Broom was driven by someone like my Greek landlady in Astoria, a zealot for cleanliness, who saw rain as an opportunity to grab her broom and get out there, in a housecoat and plastic rain hat, to scrub the sidewalk.

The mildew in the Eclair didn’t seem so bad this morning, possibly because the entire world was wet. The rain was just thrumming down. During a letup, I got out of the car and moved three big chunks of styrofoam away from the curb, returning them to a heap of construction garbage. If the Broom came, the driver might feel compelled to get out and move them by hand, prolonging our agony.

Two of the three cars that have been lurking give up and drive away. The third is double-parked while its driver, in a hooded sweatshirt, crouches on a stoop, out of the rain. At 7:57 people begin leaving their cars. The guy behind me tucks in his side-view mirror before he walks away. The Broom will not pass this day.

The picture above is actually not New York but Genoa on a rainy day a week ago today. The morning after I got back from Italy, I wanted nothing more than to go out for a cappuccino and a cornetto (brioche/filled croissant/whatever) at a bar in a piazza. Today I got a cup of coffee and a bran muffin from the guy in the cart on my block: the American version of the Italian breakfast ritual.

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