Friday, February 25, 2011

Back-Seat Parker

Most of the time when people with cars visit me they defer to my parking wisdom. Baby Dee always asks my advice, and I’ve given very specific directions to a friend from Massachusetts, which she has followed with great success. (No parking tickets.) So it was a surprise last weekend when a friend from New Hampshire proved resistant. As she prepared to go out to find a spot on Sunday at around noon (good instinct), she announced—after I had expended considerable breath recommending that she take advantage of Presidents’ Day, when alternate-side parking would be suspended, by driving several blocks to the Sanctuary (though it would probably be full already)—“I’m parking across the street.”

“But then you’ll have to feed the meter,” I said. She seemed not to mind. I had told her how to find a spot the Thursday before, and apparently she did not enjoy my machinations. I laid out for her a three-part parking scheme: (1) At 7:30 A.M., she had to move her car to the other side of the street, where it was good till eight. (2) At 8 A.M. she had to move the car back to my side of the street and feed the meter (1 hour = $5, in quarters). (3) Nine was the best time to look for a spot on an 8:30-10 block, after the street sweeper had gone by, and when she found one [exhaustive directions suppressed; she ignored them anyway] she had to sit in the car till ten. She particularly resented this last part, telling me that lots of people left their cars. And there she was, a prisoner, in a car with New Hampshire license plates, which say “Live Free or Die.”

I just couldn’t impress on her the advantages of being parked a half mile away. She probably suspected (rightly) that I was trying to get her to stay longer. They were forecasting snow for Monday, and if it turned into a blizzard it would definitely be better for her to be in an unmetered spot. Anyway, she found a spot across the street that was good till eight on Monday morning, when she moved to my side of the street and started pumping quarters into the Muni Meter. Fortunately, I had plenty of quarters, because I am one of those people who empties the change out of her pockets every day and takes it to the Penny Arcade to be counted once a year. And being parked right in front of the building did make it easier for her to pack the car. She spent another fifteen dollars—or sixty quarters—on parking, which is at least a hundred dollars less than she would have spent if she had put the car in a garage for four days. And we got to watch three episodes of “Top Chef” together before she left, at noon, when it had stopped snowing.

The highlight of my friend’s stay came last Friday, when the temperature reached sixty-seven degrees, and we cruised up Park Avenue in a Mustang convertible with the top down and the radio blaring. The Mustang belongs to my Rockaway friend the Catwoman, who visited me in Manhattan for the first time. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of the car.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rolling Rolling Rolling

When I went to move my car last week from in front of the Taj Mahal, it was not there—the Taj Mahal, I mean. The car was fine, and made it up over the hump of snow and out to Rockaway, where I left it on the Street of No Parking Restrictions. But the Taj Mahal hologram in the window of the gallery I had parked in front of had dematerialized, and I am not sure if that is just in the nature of holograms or if the gallery has closed.

Not that I will be in any condition to follow up on it soon. Yes, dear readers, the Alternate Side Parker has been sidelined with a pedestrian injury. I had surgery last week on my accelerator foot, and am currently using a Roll-a-Bout to navigate the three rooms of my apartment.

The Roll-a-Bout is an evolutionary leap over crutches, and I applaud it heartily and rely on it heavily, except when crutches are necessary to play on the heartstrings of plumbers. (My recovery coincided with a plumbing crisis: something behind the wall or under my bathroom floor was leaking onto the newly renovated bathroom in the apartment below. Thanks to my pathetic invalid condition, the plumbers were able to find and fix the leak with a minimum of damage or inconvenience.)

I was hoping that yesterday’s mail would contain a valentine from the New York Department of Finance’s Adjudication Division. Earlier this month, I received the decision on my appeal in the matter of the curb cut. The form for this is evenhanded to a fault. It is headed “In the Matter of the Appeal of,” under which find my name and address, license plate number, and summons number(s). Then there is a choice of verdicts: “Upon review of the entire record before us, we find no error of fact or law. The Judge’s decision is upheld” and “Upon review of the entire record before us, we find error. The decision is reversed and the prior payment will be returned.” Below that, it says, in parentheses, “A mark has been placed next to the applicable decision.”

The letter was artfully folded so that the faintly crossed-out verdict fell on the fold, and it took a while to decipher the fact that the judges unanimously (O.K., so there were only two of them) found my appeal persuasive: “we find error.” Yes! It is signed (indecipherably) by two Administrative Law Judges, above a section headed “Codes,” in which the letters “O / M / O / N” are printed, just like that, between slashes, twice, in a space that would accommodate six codes. I don’t know how to decode it, but I figure it means “That first judge was an idiot.”

The point is that I won. But I don't expect to feel the full triumph of judicial victory until I receive that check for $195.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Big Dig

“You need a hand?” I’d call these the four most beautiful words in the English language, especially when spoken by a man holding a shovel and crossing the street to where I was digging out the Éclair. I had left work early to go to the hardware store and buy a shovel—a yellow plastic model with a steel-rimmed blade. It was not ideal—what I needed was a pickaxe—but it was all they had. The Éclair has been out on the street through two storms. She is parked on the right-hand side, meaning that the plow was angled against her. Not only was she buried in snow but tree limbs had fallen on her, and two of them were sticking up on the roof like antlers.

My new friend, Jose, knew exactly what he was doing. He told me to dig out the door first, so that I could get in the car and warm it up. Great chunks of crusty black plow leavings were barnacled to her side. We chipped away at them, tossing clunkers into the street behind us when there were no cars passing. He worked at the front end, and I worked at the back end. On either side of the car was a ten-foot mound. On the sidewalk, garbage bags were piled against the snowbank. I was parked in front of a gallery, and the two men inside, closing up shop, watched to make sure we didn’t throw snow on the sidewalk they had painstakingly cleared. A taxi-driver stopped opposite us, rolled down his passenger-side window, and laughed: "Hah-hah."

We cleared the exhaust pipe and the wheel wells on the street side. After a while, Jose told me to turn on the defroster. He dug a path through to the sidewalk, while I pushed the snow off the roof and the hood and the trunk and the windows. (I was relieved to find no parking tickets under the snow.) He had an excellent shovel, a garden shovel, squared off, the better to chop ice. He called it “my baby.” He kept showing me his technique, and mentioned that he was with the Department of Sanitation. When it came time to move the garbage bags, he said, “I do garbage, too.”

I wasn’t actually going anyplace—word arrived today that "Alternate Side Parking regulations remain suspended Citywide until further notice"—but the weather report was so dire that I felt I ought to do something. We are in for fifty hours of wintry mix: freezing rain, snow, regular rain, and then ice. Imagine that on top of ten inches of old snow. Jose recommended that I come out in the morning and start her up again, and I knew that would be a good idea. I paid him handsomely, and we parted, but not before I took time to admire what a handsome parking place we had carved out. Only then did I notice that the gallery I was parked in front of had in its window a hologram of the Taj Mahal.