Friday, April 30, 2010


This is a detail from a photo taken by my friend N. of the Dr. Seuss Room in the Sylvia Beach Hotel, in Newport, Oregon. We both stayed in this cheerful room, on separate visits, a month apart. Here is the big picture:

I thought of Ned the other day when I decided to move my car. I thought:

Who am I?
My name is Dot.
I do not like
this parking spot.

It is not like me to move a car before I have to, but here is what happened: My personal trainer stood me up (for the second time; I've only stood her up once), and when she finally did show up, as I was hauling myself out of the pool like an elephant seal, she suggested we reschedule for Thursday morning. All I could think was: But I have to sit it in the car on Thursday morning. This felt like an extremely lame excuse not to exercise. Then I remembered that the spot I was in was on a block that has felt very cutthroat lately, so maybe it would be just as well to get out of there, and I made the commitment to be at the gym at eight-thirty.

I got to the car super early on Thursday morning, and drove off with wan hopes of scoring a space on K Street, where I was now in the position I have so often observed others in, smugly and without pity: that of an interloper hoping for a 7:30-8 spot to free up. There were already two cars lurking, so I cruised on by and started on my grand rounds. Hydrant, driveway, meters, hydrant, loading zone, driveway ... I was cursing myself for ever having signed on with a personal trainer. My approach to exercise has always been to strive my best to exert the least possible effort. As a child, I used to practice jumping rope without ever letting my feet lose contact with the ground. It's easy: Rock back on your heels as the rope comes under your toes, and then roll forward onto your toes as the rope clears the heels. No sweat. Literally.

And then that rarest of things appeared on my right: a Tuesday-Friday spot on a Thursday morning. It was just west of a fire hydrant, with ample clearance. So I was actually early for my session with the trainer.

The only problem (besides having to work out) was that I had to move the car again today. It was in a 9:30-11 spot, and I got to it at a little after nine and headed for an 8:30-10 block. The street sweeper should have just passed, and there might still be a space for me. Right away I saw a legal spot, with a limo double-parked in front of it. I motioned to the driver to ask if he would let me in. Unfortunately, this involved triple-parking, and made some taxi-drivers pretty mad for a moment, but it worked. Now, thanks to the determination of my personal trainer, I am comfortably ensconced on a much friendlier block.

By the way, I highly recommend the Sylvia Beach Hotel.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Beer and Hollyhocks

“I’ve got as much of a right to it as you do!” I found myself yelling as an old Mercedes, maroon with squared-off chrome fenders, like big teeth, refused to let me wedge the Eclair between it and the broom. I had found this spot on Sunday, in the rain, when I came in from Rockaway (where my sainted neighbor T. turned on the water in the bungalow; no leaks—hurray!). Penny Lane is a street, like many others, with a barbershop and a Chinese laundry and a history of violence. It’s not ideal, requiring a one-and-a-half-hour sit on Monday and Thursday mornings, part of it double-parked on the opposite side of the street. Double parking is not my favorite activity, but we alternate-side parkers cannot afford to be particular.

How it works is that you have to back up as far as possible to have a better chance to be the first car behind the broom when it appears. The Mercedes was lurking in the space at the fire hydrant when I arrived. I double-parked in front of him. When a metered spot opened behind the Mercedes, he backed up, I backed into the fire-hydrant spot, and the car double-parked in front of me backed into my spot.

Then, just when I thought I’d seen everything, what should appear but a moving van! It took up three cars’ worth of curb space. I had been telling myself there’d be room for everybody—usually there is room for everybody—but this threatened to ruin everything.

When the Broom appeared, abruptly, at a little before nine, I fired up the engine and got in line behind it. But the Mercedes was stuck to it as if by magnetic force. I’ve never seen a front fender up that close in my side-view mirror. That it was cold hard steel, sharp and angular, instead of newfangled plastic, made it especially menacing. It looked like it was going to take a bite out of the Éclair. And the hood ornament looked downright savage.

Even the moving van had to pull out when the broom came, and as the street sweeper waited behind it, I wore down the beast behind me, and he let me inch in. As the cars behind us threaded into line, someone honked to make sure I pulled up far enough to leave room for the cars behind me that wanted to be in front of me. We all watched the moving van parallel park. (Now, there’s a test of skill.) A red Isuzu Trooper had gotten in front of me, and the driver was worried because the back door of the van was inches from her hood, but the moving men used the side door of the van. Once they had parked, they activated some kind of hydraulic system that let out a big hiss of air and made the moving van sink, like the front steps of those buses that lower for the elderly.

Now I was right in front of the barbershop. It is not a pretty spot, containing such sad sights as this, although the barber does his best. Four bicycle messengers in various getups—one in a helmet, three in caps, all with clipboards and cell phones and backpacks—were waiting to be dispatched. “I can do your job, but you can’t do mine,” one of them said to another, and then, into his phone, “Talk to me, papo.” They reminded me of baseball players, or guys in a Spike Lee movie.

Just at ten o’clock, a light rain began to fall. As I left the car, I thought about apologizing to the Mercedes for being so aggressive, but I didn’t. All’s well that ends well. I had spent my time transferring notes from an old filled-up notebook to a new one—carrying over unfinished items from lists of things to do. One note said “Hollyhocks.” I have been meaning to plant hollyhocks along the side of the bungalow. Another said “Beer.” I got a beermaking kit, with hops and yeast and barley, for my birthday. Now that the water is on in Rockaway and the season has officially begun, these seem like excellent projects. So I started a new list:

Find hollyhocks.
Brew beer.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Showdown on K Street

Yesterday morning, when I went to my car, which is parked in a beautiful spot almost opposite where I was parked last week (in the space just past the fire hydrant, where the motorcycles were), three double-parked cars were lurking, each of their drivers hoping to swoop in and grab a spot after the street-sweeper went by. One of the cars, with New Jersey plates, was forced to relinquish its perch when a garbage truck double-parked behind him on the other side of the street, and thru traffic could not slalom past. Mr. New Jersey gave in and drove around the block, but just as he reappeared, a car on the Tuesday/Friday side of the street left a legal spot, and New Jersey was able to appropriate it instantly. He got out of his car, looked at the sign, looked at the car … he couldn’t quite believe his luck.

Another serious lurker with Jersey plates remained, though it did not look good for interlopers. The street sweeper came, and I pulled over, holding up a cab that very much wanted me to move (but did not honk). A Ford pickup truck in front of me had to pull quite a ways down the street to let the street sweeper get by (the car in front of him did not move; I later noticed a placard on its dashboard). I was able to reverse into my spot with an economy of motion borne of having that cab breathing down my neck. Before the pickup could get back up the street, Ms. New Jersey made a play for his space. She had a spotter on the sidewalk, but even with direction she could not parallel park to save her life, and her situation was complicated by the existence of a set of low cast-concrete pillars protecting a street tree. She crunched her fender as I looked on, then pulled out and tried again, and again, and again. It was painful to watch.

Meanwhile, the pickup truck had backed up and was double-parked next to me, riding herd on the interloper. He squeezed out of his door and spoke to the woman. She had finally gotten into the spot when, with equal difficulty, she pulled back out and drove away, and the driver of the pickup truck reclaimed his space.

“What did you say to her?” I asked him when we were free to go about our business.

“I said, ‘You don’t do that, take someone’s spot when they’ve been waiting a half hour,’" he said. “She said she didn’t know anything.” She may not have mastered the art of parallel parking, but she has learned one of the unwritten rules of the road.

Meanwhile, in Rockaway, things were much more serene.

Friday, April 16, 2010


At 7:35, the cop arrives in his three-wheeler. I am eating strawberries and reading about the “dark and spectacular volcanic cloud” that Iceland released over northern Europe. The volcano (pronounced EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl) apparently caused flooding in Iceland. How does a volcano cause flooding? You have to get all the way to the end of the Times article to find out: the eruption melted a glacier.

Three motorcycles are parked across the street, taking up a perfectly good parking space east of a fire hydrant. A fourth arrives and parks on the other side of the fire hydrant, in a spot just big enough for a Mini Cooper. In front of me is a boxy gray Mercedes-Benz G500 (descended from a military vehicle, she is “loaded with standard luxury features such as a leather interior, premium wood trim, rear parking assistance with camera, rapid HDD navigation system with aerial view, bi-xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, dual zone climate control, heated/cooled power driver and passenger seats with memory” —this from Wikipedia). Behind me is a woman who looks like a gym teacher, circa 1968; her car has been here since last Friday. I should talk: as of tomorrow, the Éclair will have been gathering rust in this spot for three full weeks.

A reader named Dexter commented (see below) on StreetParkNYC, the new service “matching drivers looking for street parking spaces with those leaving spaces.” It is a Web-based service (not, as I wrote, an iPhone app), so even I could use it, and Dexter says it’s fun. I will add it to my links and consider joining, but here is my qualm: I like to think that my parking blocks are well-kept secrets, and if I sell my space to someone, that someone will then know my secrets and may return, so that I would be creating competition for my favorite parking spots. Hmm …

At 7:48, the Broom heads south on the avenue ahead of me. High drama in the rearview mirror as a truck tries to squeeze past a garbage truck, churning away in the double-parked position favored by all garbage trucks. The truck squeezes through, but the next truck will not risk it. At 7:59, the garbage truck moves, freeing the stuck truck and an Access-a-Ride minibus that cuts it off. The Broom must have seen the congestion and swept on by. In any case, it is a no-show, and once again I don't have to start the car.

The lady behind me gets out of her car. I don’t suppose she really is a gym teacher. She is wearing one of those therapeutic cervical collars. Either that or a really big turtleneck.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Good Show

I had guests over the weekend, including Baby Dee, who arrived from Philadelphia via Baltimore and Brooklyn. She did a show on Saturday night at Santos Party Space, downtown on Lafayette Street, with several musicians—on flute, oboe, trumpet, French horn, English horn, cello, violin, and mandolin—rounded up by the violinist Maxim Moston, who produced and arranged the work on Dee’s new CD, “A Book of Song for Anne Marie” (out—finally!—from Drag City on April 20th). The highlight of the show for me was probably “Lilacs”; the violin part makes a person feel as if she could levitate. The winds also had that effect, buoying up Dee at the harp and the piano. Maxim had said earlier, “Dee is in a heightened state,” and I thought that was a polite way of describing the state Dee was in. She has a touch of pneumonia, and was probably feverish, and should probably have been home in bed. But the show must go on. Yesterday she left for Montreal and Toronto, and then will play two shows at home, in Cleveland, before staggering on to Chicago and Cedar Rapids and Dubuque and Minneapolis and Calgary.

Dee has mastered the Muni Meter and the commercial parking hours on my street, and Sundays are free, so instead of parking we read about parking in this article in the Sunday Times. A reporter named Ariel Kaminer went around with two people who have developed different parking apps for the iPhone. Rufus Davis calls his app StreetParkNYC; his is a capitalist approach, in which a person about to leave a space advertises it and collects a small fee from a person looking for a space. The other system, by Nick Nyhan, is called Roadify, and it treats parking as a charity, encouraging people to send a text message whenever they see a free parking spot. Enter Donald Shoup, professor of parking sciences at U.C.L.A., who was consulted as to the value of these apps. What a killjoy. He said that both apps were a waste of time. Of StreetParkNYC, he said that money for parking spots should go not to the individuals who are selling spots but to the city for cleaning the streets. As for the virtuous Roadify donating parking spots to the needy, he said, “It’s too difficult for me to get my head around, because it’s just such a useless idea.” The Times went on, “Empty spaces in congested areas get filled so quickly, he said, that ‘giving’ them seems as useful as sending out a bulletin about a $20 bill that’s lying on the sidewalk.” Professor Shoup believes in meters.

This morning, having reached my car within the five-minute grace period, I found myself tempted by a free spot on the opposite (Monday/Thursday) side of the street. I could have taken that spot and sold the spot I was in on StreetParkNYC, or, alternatively, I could have phoned it in to Roadify—if I had an iPhone. It was a tight spot, though, and at its rear were two motorcycles that one would have to be careful not to administer a bump to, starting a motorcycle domino effect. I read the latest puzzling bit of news from the Vatican (in the midst of its crisis, the Holy See cries out that the Beatles were not so bad), and when I looked again a third motorcycle had made the spot even tighter. It was almost eight o'clock, and there was no sign of the Broom. The woman behind me had already gotten out of her car and was standing on the sidewalk talking to the guy in front of me when the street sweeper made a belated appearance, trying to corral the cars in back of me. One car at the top of the street moved, but then double-parked in such a stubborn way that the Broom couldn’t get past it, and by the time the street sweeper got through, it was eight o’clock, the cars were legally parked, and no one was moving. All the street sweeper could do was sweep down the middle of the street in what felt like a huff. Nobody had given him a five-minute grace period.

So the only reason that I had to start up the car this morning was that the guy in front of me asked me to back up a little, to give him some space, and I obliged. The Eclair started up O.K., though it sounds like she has a bit of cough, maybe even a touch of pneumonia.

Friday, April 9, 2010


A cop in a three-wheeler was hanging at the back of the line of cars when I arrived at my parking spot this morning. A week ago, I showed it to some friends—my car, my spot. Neither of them owns a car, and one of them was naïve enough to think that because I owned a car we could go anywhere we wanted. There’s no use even trying to explain to these kind of people the precious commodity I was sitting on: twelve feet of prime curb real estate.

Today was not only the first time in eleven days that I would be trying to start up the Éclair since I had it jump-started in Rockaway after the winter but also my first test of the five-minute grace period. There has been a lot of talk about this since it passed City Council: the Mayor is against it, but he is, as we have noticed, not one of the people (I’m being polite), and the wary among us worry that the new leniency will just make the cops more vigilant, that instead of jumping gleefully on your car at the stroke of 7:30, they will jump on it even more gleefully at the stroke of 7:35 and won’t take no lip. I like to think that the five-minute grace period is designed to bring out the best in the parking police and let them show that they can be magnanimous ... for five minutes.

My watch said 7:32 when I arrived, but it’s three minutes fast. My cell phone said 7:29. Let’s do the math: 3 minutes of personal grace + 5 minutes of grace mandated by the city = 8 minutes, minus 2 minutes of personal lateness = 6. I arrived at the car with an unprecedented six minutes to spare. Still, I was in a bit of a quandary. If, when the Broom arrived, the car wouldn’t start up, what should I do? Was this rainy day as good a day as any to call AAA and get jump-started and go straight to the mechanic? Or, once I got the car jump-started, should I drive somewhere to recharge it? Or would it make more sense, when the Broom came, if the car didn’t start, to shrug helplessly and put off the calling of AAA till another day? What am I doing next Tuesday?

I had plenty of time to rehearse my alternatives, because at 7:49 (my time) the Broom had still not come. In my rearview mirror I could see that someone was squeezing into a parking space up the street, as if the Broom had already come and gone. Was it possible that after all this time—after two full weeks of no street cleaning (not that it makes any difference)—the Broom would not show up? Maybe the question to ask myself was: If the Broom doesn’t come, do I even need to start the car? And the answer to that question was a definite NO.

At 7:51 (M.T.), I spotted the Broom in the rearview mirror: it was on the far side of the avenue, on the other side of the street, standing and blinking. Maybe this was its grace period. At 7:54, it moved, and the cars around me, even the police three-wheeler, started their engines. I turned the key in the ignition, and voilà: she started up. The line of cars waited till thru traffic had gone by, and then we all, including the cop, pulled diagonally across the street, leaving just enough room for the Broom to sweep through, and then reversed into position, politely leaving room for our neighbors on either end to jiggle closer to the curb. What a relief! I reverted to cell-phone time and waited till eight on the dot before getting out of the car.

Walking back up the street, with a whole new outlook on life (at least for today), I passed one car with its lights on and its driver sound asleep, his seat in the reclining position. The cop was still sitting in the three-wheeler carlet, reading the News and drinking takeout coffee, just like one of us.