Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I [Heart] Snow

This just in: Alternate Side Parking suspended UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE! Hurray!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Design Flaw

Much as I love the Éclair, there have always been a few things about her that I could do without. One is the automatic windows. I like the kind of windows you have to crank up and down, and that you don’t have to turn on the ignition to roll up if you forget. Also, I would have preferred a stick shift, and I’d have loved to have a moon roof. But the most irritating feature of the vintage 1990 Honda Civic four-door sedan is its newfangled (at the time) seat belts, with their two-pronged approach to pinning you in your seat: a lap belt and a separate shoulder belt that automatically slides back and strangles you when you turn the key in the ignition. (This design was short-lived: in later models, the two belts were combined into one.)

There is also an annoying beeper that tells you when the seat belt isn’t fastened. My Rockaway car-sitters, T & T, called last week to say that it was beeping nonstop, even when the seat belts were all securely fastened, and asked if there was some trick to turning the damn thing off. Apparently the Eclair had been beeping since New Year’s, when I left it parked with one rear wheel up on the curb (I was sober; it was the snow banks that were at fault). Mr. T. solved the problem by turning the radio up. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand it on the five-hundred-mile trek across Pennsylvania, so last Friday, when I went out to Rockaway to pick up the car before leaving for my literary debut in Cleveland, I drove straight to my mechanic, Sir James Bulloch.

“All we’ll do is disconnect it,” Big Bulloch said when I described the problem. And that was all I asked. He put a mechanic to work on it, and right away it was clear that it wasn’t going to be easy. They had to bring the car inside and put it on the lift. It was about noon, and I was hoping to get back to Manhattan and on the road before rush hour. I went for coffee, and when I got back, maybe a half hour later, Baby Bulloch was in the office. “That must drive you crazy,” he said. Then I heard it: she was still beeping. I suddenly remembered something I had to do and went across the street to the liquor store. When I got back, the garage was blessedly silent. “They had to take the whole panel off,” Big Bulloch said. “They’re just putting it together now.” He said I would have to buckle the seat belt manually. As the automatic seat belt had never been my favorite feature, I didn’t mind. He charged me forty dollars and threw in a gallon of windshield-wiper fluid.

Anyone who has ever ridden shotgun in the Éclair will probably be pleased to hear that not only has the beeper been disabled but the entire shoulder-belt assembly has lost its will to throttle. You can buckle it, but the belt doesn’t ride back against your throat. The bad news, of course, is that it’s illegal to drive without the shoulder belt (I have been stopped for not wearing it), so it is extra important not to do anything that might attract a cop’s attention, like run a red light, for instance (which I would never do), or make a U-turn (which I would do only if it was strictly convenient) or speed (which this would be a good incentive to give up).

I was on the road by about three-thirty, and everything was going according to plan until dusk fell. For some reason, the dashboard lights weren’t working. When I’d asked, back in Rockaway, what might have caused the car to beep without ceasing, Bulloch had shrugged and said, “Could be a bad module.” I pulled into a rest area and made sure that the headlights were on, wondering what else might have gotten disconnected. While not mechanically essential, the dashboard at night is a sign of intelligent life, and I missed it. Without the dashboard lights, I couldn’t see how fast I was going or how many miles I’d gone or how much gas I had left. It was as if the car had had a stroke.

I got 177 miles into the trip before stopping at a Days Inn in Danville Pennsylvania. The gas tank was nearly empty. The next day, in addition to the stroke symptoms, the car developed Parkinson’s disease. It shook violently, especially at low speeds (my solution, of course, was to speed up). In Cleveland, I drove straight to the neighborhood mechanic, Wally, who told me I needed two tires. I asked him to take a look at the dashboard lights, and he was able to fix that problem, too. "I plugged in a module," he said. I snuck back into New York, on my new tires, between two storm systems, and found a parking spot that is good until next Tuesday or maybe longer, depending on whether the Mayor keeps having to suspend alternate side parking on account of snow.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unkindest Curb Cut

I have been in a bad mood since New Year’s Eve, when my mailbox contained two thin, identical envelopes from the Adjudication Division of the NYC Department of Finance. At first I took the thinness for a sign of innocence: no return envelope, ergo no fine. But I was wrong. The judge in the case of the curb cut (see post of Oct. 20th) found me GUILTY and said that my evidence—a photo of the Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist, the only church so designated in the metropolitan area—was “not probative.” As if I would send in a picture of just any old curb cut and not the one I was parked at when accused of obstructing a driveway.

I had purposely kept my defense succinct in order not to waste anyone’s time, but since that didn’t work I sent an appeal that runs to 736 words, written at white heat, as well as seven pieces of evidence, including a series of digital photographs designed to locate indisputably the Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist. In the course of my research, I discovered that there used to be a fire house at that address, which accounts for the curb cut. Unfortunately, I had to enclose payment ($190) with my appeal (grrrrr).

As if that were not enough, in mid-December I received another communication from the Department of Finance, saying I hadn’t paid yet another ticket, one that I’d never received. I went online and found a copy: it was for allegedly violating a “No Standing—Commercial Vehicles Only” sign on November 15th, at exactly the time that I was bragging about the spot I found on K Street where, if I wished, I could stay until Martin Luther King Day (which is upon as at last). The ticket was written completely in error by a blockhead who conflated the street number with an avenue address, and didn’t see which way the arrow points on the “No Standing” sign. I confined my defense to a single scathing typewritten page, and included four photographs to document the exact location of the sign with reference to local landmarks (I couldn’t take a picture of the address on the ticket, because it doesn’t exist) and printouts of relevant passages from two blog posts. All this took hours, and it still makes me mad just to think about it.

The only good thing to come out of it is the above photo of the Birdman of K Street, taken, totally by accident, I have to admit, while trying to document the legality of my beloved parking spot.

Meanwhile, alternate-side parking has been suspended for weeks, to facilitate snow removal and garbage pickup, and there has been delicious coverage in the Times, including this great story on how car-owners in the neighborhood of Boston known as Southie reserve dug-out parking spaces by placing things like lawn chairs in them, and then doing violence to any car that dares to park there. (I hope it doesn’t come to that in New York. They play mean in Southie.) There was also this piece, about the longest-ever period that alternate-side has been suspended in New York: 56 days in the winter of 1978, the year after I moved here and junked my ’65 Plymouth Fury II.