Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bad Moments in Parking

You know it is time to get off the street when you have had three bad parking experiences in a row. Yesterday morning at nine, I had to move my car from a swiftly expiring Tuesday-Friday 9:30-11 spot to an 8:30-10 spot before work. I went up one block and down another before finding a spot between a Dodge Caravan and a Toyota Camry. It was tight—those Caravans are so massive that it is hard to parallel park behind them—and my first try did not go well, so I pulled out and tried again. There was no one in the Caravan, and it looked like the Camry was unoccupied, too—that is, until I gave its front end a little kiss with my back bumper. Oops.

“So sorry I nudged you,” I said, jumping out of the car to apologize. The woman behind the wheel scowled and got out of her car to see the damages. Her car was a later model than mine, but its front license plate was every bit as mangled from parking on the street as the Éclair’s, and any smudge I left could easily have been attributed to a preexisting condition. She had to have seen me struggling, and there was a good two feet of clearance behind her, so I said, “You could have backed up a little.” Mistake.

“Well, I was reading the paper and you didn’t have the courtesy to ask me to back up,” she said. She was mean: heavy, with messy gray hair, a rumpled shirt the shade Crayola calls Orchid, and blue polyester pants. A big bunch of keys dangled around her neck, giving her the air of a prison warden.

I shut up and got back in my car, and read my own newspaper. The Times had a story about Dennis Kucinich, saying that in anticipation of his district's being eliminated in Ohio he was investigating the possibility of a run for Congress in the state of Washington. Poor Cousin Dennis. He had to give up his run for the Presidency in 2008 to protect his seat in Congress, and now he might have to leave Cleveland, our ancestral stronghold, to stay in the game at all. I bet he could win in Washington, even as a carpetbagger. Though the Times ignored him when he was running for President, now they are admitting that he has name recognition.

At 9:40, the Warden got out of her car and zipped up a fleece jacket with a Navajo print. She was way overdressed for alternate-side parking—it was a steamy morning. Maybe that's why she was so crabby. Her newspaper was a freebie tabloid that she wadded up in a big ball and threw away. I kept hoping she’d leave, and a cop would come and give her car a ticket. But she patrolled the street as if it were a cellblock and her shift was up at two minutes to ten.

This was the third of three unpleasant experiences, one of which was vicarious. Last Friday, Baby Dee was in town, and we both had to move our cars at seven-thirty in the morning. Dee gave me a ride to my parking space and then went off to find her own. I got home at a little after eight, and Dee didn’t make it back until almost eleven. “What happened?” I asked. “Just a little bad luck,” she said. “There were a million people driving around in that hour or so before the alternate side thing kicked in. I should have done that thing of putting it at the meter until the change came. We did that once before.” I somehow hadn’t had the energy that morning to suggest the three-step parking routine and offer her four pounds of quarters. Usually there are free spaces on Fridays, because people are leaving for the weekend. Dee had driven around for almost two hours, she said. Then, “I found myself behind the street sweeper and all the cars were lining up for a spot to wait until 10:30 and I realized that was as good as it was going to get.” She parked a mile away and had to walk home. Later, she said she had seen a lot of young people in caps and gowns, and figured that their parents had come to town in for graduation and were taking up all the parking places.

As if to punish me for not giving my spot to Dee and trying my own luck, when I wanted to leave for the beach on Saturday, my car wouldn't start. That was the day the world was supposed to end. Was the first symptom a dead car battery? The steering wheel was jammed and the key wouldn’t turn in the ignition. I couldn’t even roll down the stupid automatic windows to get some air while I agonized. I was about to call AAA when a guy drove up beside me who wanted my space bad enough to help. He knew how to unjam the steering wheel (stomp on the brake and give the wheel a good jerk). But still, when I turned the key, nothing happened. I tried jiggling the cutoff switch, an anti-theft device that I have never mastered. Eventually, with some combination of jumper cables, the right key, and a flick of the cutoff switch, the car started and I drove off, bequeathing my spot to the Good Samaritan.

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