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.

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