Sunday, November 30, 2008

Parker's Digest

There has been a lot to digest this Thanksgiving, foremost a humongous article on parking tickets in Friday’s Times. It had so many charts and graphs, and a map of the city with blocks color-coded by number of tickets handed out … I didn’t know whether to avert my eyes or get out my magnifying glass. Was my street one of the dark-blue high-volume ticket blocks?

My own relationship with the Parking Violations Bureau has come to the point where I now recognize their return address in the mail: Cadman Plaza Station. That same day, I received from the Parking Violations Bureau a “Notice of Outstanding Parking Violation.” It surprised me that I had an outstanding ticket, because I hate getting tickets, and my way of dealing with them is to pay—or, actually, contest—them promptly, in the hope that the pain will recede that much sooner into the past.

A few hours earlier, I’d made a special trip out to Rockaway to start up the car and take it to the mechanic's to have it winterized. The Éclair was in the driveway of my friend MQ, its former owner. She had given me a key to her house, so that I can use her bathroom when the water is turned off at my place, and I was on my way up her back stairs to avail myself of the facilities, wondering if I should knock just in case she was there, when she popped out the door and screamed at the sight of me. Suddenly I didn’t need to use the bathroom at all anymore.

The first thing she said to me, after recovering from the shock, was “I can’t come to dinner.” I had recently invited her to dinner in Manhattan (we are neighbors there, too), as a way of thanking her for letting me park in her driveway. She won't let me pay her (I've offered), though she has occasionally allowed me to buy her a Bloody Mary. Anyway, she had accepted my invitation and we had set a date. But MQ is incredibly stubborn, and when she says she doesn’t want to get paid, she doesn’t want to get paid, not in cash or in vodka or in dinner invitations, and she had figured out that I was trying to reciprocate. I was disappointed that my scheme would not work. “Is it just me?” she asked. She wanted to know if I was trying to fold her into a general dinner party. "Yes," I said. “Well, nothing elaborate. Make it simple,” she told me. I didn’t have anything in mind up to that point, but now I’m thinking one of those expensive ten-minute frozen pasta dishes with shrimp and asparagus might satisfy her.

When I approached the car to back it out of the driveway, MQ said, “When you bring the car back, would you pull it up a little closer to the garage?” “Here?” I asked, standing at the latitude of the drain, about three feet in front of the garage door. “No, not there—step back a little.” I took up a position about three feet on the opposite side of the drain. “There,” she said. I don’t know why she is so particular about where I park—maybe something to do with being able to see the car from inside? Being able to walk around it comfortably outside? Keeping a shovel's distance between the car and the drain? I desperately want to please my parking benefactor, but I’m starting to feel as if the Éclair and I have been miscast in an episode of the Princess and the Pea.

Anyway, I go to the gas station, where things are jumping. Both Bullochs are in the office, the older (Big Bulloch) and the younger (Baby Bulloch). Big Bulloch finishes taking a lady’s money and greets me. “I want to get the car winterized,” I tell him. “You know, tires, battery, antifreeze.” “You don’t need nothin,” he says. “You got the oil changed the last time you were in here. To tell you the truth, I’d just be taking your money. You don’t need nothin.” And he sends me away.

Gosh. On the surface, it seemed kind and fatherly of Big Bulloch. The lady whose money he had just taken was impressed. But I couldn't help but suspect that he just didn’t want to be bothered. I went to the Wharf, which Bulloch also owns, had a quesadilla and a beer while the lights of Manhattan popped on in the dusk across Jamaica Bay, and read the Wave. The Wave is the opposite of the Times. The lead story was about how the M.T.A., in casting around for ways to save money, is considering rolling back the free ride that Rockaway residents get over the toll bridge from Broad Channel. The man who first got the city to give Rockaway residents this special status is Dan Tubridy, a local hero. At the time, in 1996, he lived in Broad Channel and his wife worked in Rockaway, so, to make his point and avoid the toll, he would sit in his car on the Broad Channel side of the Cross Bay Bridge while his wife walked over it. He has since moved to Arverne-by-the-Sea and warns that it might not be possible now for Rockaway to keep its exception.

But the real story was what wasn’t in the Wave. I noticed it when I got the paper the week of the election, and by now the phenomenon has had time to sink in and generate letters to the editor, which were in this week’s edition: The Wave covered its local political races, but there was no mention of the win by Obama. I had come to realize that Rockaway was McCain country: I couldn’t talk politics with anyone at the boatyard, unless maybe I wanted to get thrown in the water, and my friend MQ had told me she was voting for Sarah Palin. The editors of the Wave might point out, in their defense, that there are bigger newspapers covering politics at the national level, and they are but a humble local weekly. Still, not to acknowledge the historic nature of Obama’s victory is bizarre and a little scary.

I reparked in the suburban driveway, checking to make sure I had hit my mark, and returned to Manhattan through Brooklyn by bus and train. Home again, I examined the cryptic details of my mysterious unpaid summons. I’ve wondered, on seeing tickets lying in the street, what people do when they are held responsible for a ticket they’ve never seen. Was it possible that the cop who can write two tickets at the same time (featured in that Times article) had been on my block? The offense was parking in a No Standing zone, the fee a whopping $125 (including a $10 late penalty). Issue date: 10/07/08. Location: "133 Other—See Comme” There is a place you can check to request a copy of the original summons, and I will certainly do that. Meanwhile, I racked my brain to remember where I was on Tuesday, October 7th. Then I remembered—Hah!—I don’t have to rack my brain: I can look in my blog archives (blorchives?). Scrolling backward through October ... stupid stuff about the New York Waterfalls ... yack yack yack ... Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if after all this parking blogging I had no record of where the car was parked on the Tuesday in question? Aha! My car was in Rockaway that week, at the mechanic’s, getting its leaky transmission fixed—and apparently being road-tested, or test-parked, on Beach 133rd Street, four blocks from the garage. That explains why they wouldn’t take my money: they already had.

No comments: