Who ever would have thought it would end like this? There came in the mail an envelope with the return address “PARKING SERVICES”:
“Dear Manhattan Resident,
“The credit and liquidity crisis coupled with the downturn in the economy has created an unprecedented opportunity for residents in your immediate area to lock-in incredibly low monthly parking rates for as little as $147.84 per month (plus tax) for 6 months guaranteed!”
At this time last year, not looking forward to shivering in the car of a winter morning, I responded to such a flyer, and the best I could do was $275 for a spot a mile away, behind the Morgue. I stayed on the street. This year, I called the number on the flyer, and a man named Julio asked for my address and then gave me the address of a garage three blocks east and three blocks south of me, on a block that anyone would be happy to live on. The price, with tax, was $175 a month. Yes, Virginia, the economic downturn really does have a silver lining.
I’m not quite sure where I’m going to come up with the extra $175 a month. I did switch insurance companies—my new policy kicks in today—and am saving $150 a year (on the condition that I drive no more than 7,500 miles annually), but I squandered that amount instantly on an orchestra seat for “Spamalot,” with a beer at intermission and a souvenir T-shirt that says “I’m Not Dead Yet.” (It turns out that “Spamalot,” which is closing in January, is best viewed from a distance, being rather broad, but by sitting up front I scored more than my share of the confetti that drops from the ceiling at curtain call. I hope I am not giving anything away by reporting that for weeks I found these paper disks in my purse and my bed, until finally I realized what they reminded me of—Communion wafers—and got the joke: oh, yeah, the Holy Grail.)
Anyway, I’d been thinking about that berth in my friend’s driveway in Rockaway, and how it’s free and all, but let’s face it: it’s on the far side of Jamaica Bay. I have to take the A train or two buses to get to it, and the point of having a car, as I sometimes have to remind myself, is to drive it. If I have to take mass transit to get to the car, and again to get home after using the car, I’m getting bitten at both ends.
I have had the sensation, ever since the Mayor’s failed attempt to institute congestion pricing, that things were changing, as if our cars themselves had taken the hint: We know when we’re not wanted. Competition for spots this fall has not been as brutal. The big story in the news (besides the wholesale decline of the American automobile industry) has shifted to imposing tolls on the East River crossings in order to raise money to rescue the Metropolitan Transit Authority. I am finding it hard to get exercised over the East River Bridge Toll debate, largely because for some time now, when I come home from Rockaway, I’ve been splurging on the Midtown Tunnel. It cuts into my EZPass fund ($5), but there’s less traffic (because more frugal drivers are squeezing onto the bridges; I usually take the toll-free Williamsburg on my way out), and when I surface in Manhattan I’m almost home.
So on Saturday, I made one last trip to Rockaway on mass transit. I took the Command bus—that is, the bus formerly known as the Command bus, now part of the M.T.A.—on which I was one of only two passengers, through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to Red Hook, right near the backward R that I saw last summer from the ferry (though on land it’s facing in the right direction), to McDonald to Caton to Coney Island to Cortelyou to Flatbush. The air was so clear that, from my high perch to the driver’s right, I could see the Marine Parkway Bridge when we turned onto Flatbush. My stop, at the intersection of Flatbush and Nostrand, is known as the Junction, and it is the site of (among other things) a white steeple with a golden cupola that belongs to Brooklyn College. I have always been curious about Brooklyn College, and since I was feeling a little valedictory (who knows when I’ll take this route again?), I went to see the campus.
I had mistaken that tower and cupola for a religious edifice, and to my great joy it turns out to be the Brooklyn College Library. I sailed past all the I.D. checks to a Symposium in Memory of Fred Pollak, a physics professor who died last June. Outside again, I walked around a tiny frozen reflecting pool surrounded by holly, and then continued on the Q35 bus to Rockaway, where I picked up my car, drove to Fort Tilden, took a walk on the beach, and indulged in a quick shopping spree, before heading back to Manhattan.
On the way in, I was worried slightly about traffic, because it was, after all, a Saturday before Christmas, no doubt a gridlock-alert day, and I had an appointment on the other end. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself sailing along in the fast lane of the L.I.E., with Ella Fitzgerald on the radio singing “Take the A Train.”
In Manhattan I didn’t cruise for a spot but went directly to the garage, where the attendant, Julian, who wears a black bow tie, did a double take when he saw the rate I had locked in. “That’s a good deal for you,” he said. I guess I don’t have to keep the name and location a secret. Or do I? Perhaps, as a service to my parking brethren, I should be discreet. After all, it was my conversion to the garage that opened a spot on the street for someone—perhaps at the Sanctuary—on this frigid morning, when alternate side is suspended for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.