Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Pay or to Pay More?

Uh-oh. I got back into the city two days after the blizzard and, following a brief, half-hearted tour of my usual parking haunts (featuring mounds of snow with cars beneath them and people standing on the roofs of cars, shoving the snow off), I went to my old garage, where I hoped they would take me in. And they did, for a price: $36 a day. I called the management office, to see what kind of monthly rate I can get, and the best they can do is $303.04. That's almost twice as much as I paid in this garage two years ago. And yet when I hung up the phone both the man at Icon (Jose) and I were convinced that I was going to go to the garage tonight and fill out the paperwork and leave a check. What to do? If I leave the car in the garage till Saturday, I'm up to $180. And out on the street again.

I may wait a few days and see if my friends in Rockaway want the car for the winter or not. It came in handy for them, but then, misfortune: they had to go to a funeral in Brooklyn and got a ticket for parking at a bus stop. Parking is probably worse right now in Rockaway than it is in Manhattan.

Or I could try one more option: the new Automotion lot near me. "Park Swipe Leave" is their motto. At least it would be novel.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Picture a Swiss clock with an alternate-side-parking theme: At 7:30, a little door opens and St. Francis of Assisi toddles out, sprinkling birdseed; sparrows surround him. At 7:50, the street sweeper drives through a big door, flashing and beeping, and cars scramble before it; the Broom completes its rotation, the cars return to their slots, and a cop pops out to write a ticket. If you are a Swiss clockmaker, I urge you to run with this. Each clock could have its mechanism set for the alternate-side-parking regulations in a specific neighborhood.

This morning, alternate-side parking was not as precise as a Swiss clock. For one thing, I kept popping out of my car. First I said hello to the birdman, who showed me what he feeds the birds (ordinary birdseed, orange and green) and pointed out the patch of evergreen where the sparrows live (the pigeons roost across the street). Then a woman in a black BMW drew my attention to a proliferation of orange traffic cones farther down the block. It seemed there had been an addendum to the No Parking Saturday sign. I trotted down the street to check it out, and sure enough: a No Parking Thursday sign had appeared, and was already in effect (5 A.M. to 6 P.M.). “The cones are all over the place,” the woman complained. “They’re filming ‘Nurse Jackie.’” There were no cones where we were, but how could we be sure Nurse Jackie would stay at the far end of the block?

A cop strolled by, and the BMW woman got out to ask her advice. I joined them; something about parking makes me unusually sociable. The cop knew nothing—she said we should park at our own discretion. I charged down the street again to ask some guys who were maneuvering a dumpster into position if they knew anything. One of them referred me to a car wrangler, sitting in a truck, who confirmed that Nurse Jackie needed only one side of the street, which I interpreted as only the far half of the block. I reported to the BMW owner that I thought we were safe—at least, until Saturday at 5 A.M.

Just then, a spot opened up on the Tuesday-Friday side of the street. Should I take it? It meant I wouldn’t have to sit here till eight o’clock and could get to the pool early and would be on time for a doctor's appointment at 9:45. Unfortunately, it also meant I would be out here again at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. But today had dawned so beautiful and clear that it was a pleasure to be out and about, enjoying the sight of the early light hitting the tops of the buildings. Plus it looked like the No Parking Saturday sign might not apply to this little strip of the street, maybe five car-lengths, on the Tuesday-Friday side. And I would rather get up at seven-thirty on Friday than bestir myself at 5 A.M. on the Sabbath.

So I moved. But once the car was in place, it was as if my body had been set for parking. There I sat with a cup of takeout coffee and a banana. I thought of crossing the street to explain my action to my new friend in the BMW, but why would she care? I peeled and ate the banana. The coffee was already getting cold. At 7:45, before the Broom could make its (irrelevant) appearance, I snapped out of it: I broke free of the spell of the Swiss clock and altered my parking routine.

Monday, December 6, 2010


I was going to take the car out to Rockaway last weekend, but it wasn’t exactly beach weather, and besides, I didn’t want to give up my parking spot. I had begun to wonder how long I could stay in this fine spot on K Street—perhaps till March? It has been extremely convenient, even with no alternate-side-parking holidays falling on Monday or Thursday until Martin Luther King Day, on January 17, 2011. After sitting in the car for a half hour, I have time to walk over to my health club by the river and get in a swim before work twice a week. Who knew that having a car in the city could be such good cardiopulmonary exercise?

Last night, a Sunday, I happened to pass K Street on foot, and noticed, at the far end, an ominous salmon-pink sign that said “No Parking Saturday.” It wasn’t clear whether it meant the Saturday just past (December 4th) or the Saturday to come (December 11th). If the former, I might arrive at my spot on Monday morning, with my swimming gear, only to find that my car had been towed. I did not sleep well for the suspense, awaking at about four in the morning with the sensation that my inner lining had become hypersensitive to Turkish cuisine.

But this morning the car was there, innocent of parking violations. What’s more, the pigeon fancier showed himself. He is an old man, bald and shambling, who emerged from my friend K’s building at 7:30 with a plastic container (as for hummus) full of bread crumbs. The pigeons were waiting for him. Behind me was a motorcycle. I watched in the rearview mirror as its owner arrived and suited up. He laid his gloves on my trunk, got his helmet out of the space under the seat (that helmet must have been freezing), and tucked himself into a sort of lap robe—a combination windbreaker and potato sack—before starting up and riding off.

There was a long piece in Saturday’s Times about the city’s plan to crack down on parking scofflaws. The person with the most unpaid tickets is a guy in the Bronx who owes $57,526. He said a friend of his racked up those tickets while using his van to make deliveries. The van has since been repossessed, and the friend has fled to the Dominican Republic. “I learned my lesson,” the scofflaw said. “Don’t trust your friends.”

The Broom appeared at 7:50. I left the car running awhile after moving, and even turned the heat on briefly (today’s weather featured the season's first snow flurries). On my way down the street to the pool when my time was up, I took a closer look at the "No Parking Saturday" sign. In fine print, someone had added the hours that No Parking would be in effect: 5:30 A.M. to 6 P.M. I have to get up on Saturday at five to move the car? This is sterner discipline than I have come to expect of my alternate-side-parking exercise routine.