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.