There were lines everywhere when I returned to the city last Friday, after Christmas in New England: lines of cars, that is—at exits for malls and on ramps to highways and at entrances to rest stops. As I headed down the ramp to my luxurious (yet reasonable) indoor parking spot, an S.U.V. was heading up. I started to back up, but the driver waved me on down. He was one of the professional parkers—Julian or Julian—and was just stopping there briefly while jockeying other cars around. I had to get organized, and as I groped in the trunk and the back seat for my backpack and shopping bags, cars were spinning around me. By the time I left, having asked if I could come back and get things out of the trunk, there was a line of cars in the chute. I had no idea there could be a traffic jam in an underground parking lot.
The garage wasted no time flaunting its ability to fleece me. When I went to pick up the car, five-dollar tip in hand, Julian handed me a crisp white envelope with holiday greetings for 2009. I propped it on my dashboard. Then, in the mail, I got the garage bill for next month. I will have to stay on my toes. It said, “All monthly rent is due on the first of every month.” There is a twenty-five-dollar late fee, but, more onerous, if the check has not been received by the first of the month, daily rates apply. That could be ruinous, especially since I am one of those people who get in trouble with the Book-of-the-Month Club or any or those schemes that prey on procrastinators: you put off writing the check and then can’t find a stamp and forget to carry the stamped envelope to the mailbox, and before you know it you own a copy of John Dean’s “Blind Ambition.”
This time, I marched right over to the garage, to pick up the stuff I’d left in the trunk, and paid my bill in person. Julian of the Bow Tie (it is not clear to me why he dresses formally to work in an underground garage in the middle of the afternoon) asked me to wait while he trotted down the ramp to find my car. I was afraid he had misunderstood and was going to deliver it to me from the depths when what I really wanted was a chance to go down there and see Slot 52 with my own eyes. But he resurfaced, on foot, and told me to take a left at the bottom of the ramp, and I would see my car. There she was, the Éclair, parallel-parked and wedged into a spot with her driver’s-side sideview mirror a fraction of an inch from the concrete wall.
The good news is that I may be eligible for an eight-percent break in parking taxes. I have to fill out a form. Julian didn’t have a form, but he told me I could come back during the week, when Julian is there, and ask for one. This morning I called a number at the NYC Department of Finance: amazingly, a live (not a recorded) woman answered the phone and promised to send the form today.
Two last items to finish out 2008: The Year in Parking. The Times today reported the results of a survey taken in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where alternate-side parking regulations were suspended for two full months last spring while the city changed the street signs. It turns out that parking was no easier without alternate-side rules: it was just as hard to find a spot, and people used their cars with the same frequency (except the owner of Alfa Romeo, who died). And forty-five percent of people surveyed said that, without benefit of street cleaning, “the streets were not much dirtier”—just as I suspected.
Finally, the deluxe version of the 2009 Alternate Side Parking Calendar, suitable for dangling from your windshield, is in its second printing. Order your calendar at firstname.lastname@example.org. All proceeds (if anyone pays) will go to ICBIE—The Brazilian, Italian, and European Cultural Institute, in Bahia (see permanent link to left), where parking is never an issue (because no one can afford a car).