Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Parallel Park

It took me a full half hour this morning to get into position to park: a twenty-minute walk to the car (in a distant 11:30-1 spot) and an agonizing ten-minute drive to a nearby 8:30-10 block. By 8:50 A.M., I was double-parked and waiting for the broom. It came at about nine, later than usual, and by 9:02 I was happily situated in front of a building whose doorman kept popping out to sweep up ginkgo leaves. A generous spot in front of me was claimed by a silver Lexus at 9:09.

For a while last week, I was a two-car family. A friend came down from New Hampshire late on Thursday, and we were up at eight on Friday to find her a spot. I didn’t want to worry her, but I was not that optimistic. Friday was Veterans Day, and alternate-side parking was suspended: it is never easy to find a spot under those circumstances, because no one moves. Then again it was a Friday, when people sometimes leave town early for the weekend. Still, Veterans Day meant a Veterans Day Parade, and veterans driving into the city to march in it.

My friend was at the wheel, crawling along, looking for a spot on blocks where I know there is no legal parking, and I kept waggling my fingers at the road ahead and saying, “Zip along.” We drove east, we drove north, we drove west. “Stop!” I said. “I thought I saw a spot. Back up.”

“I don’t like backing up,” she said, and she inched backward reluctantly to the spot I had seen, in front of a fire hydrant I had not seen. Oops. Zip along.

We drove west, we drove south, we drove east again, and I saw a possible spot near a fire hydrant and directed her into it. I swung open the passenger door, intending to hop out and see if we were too close (we were), and a car that was squeezing past us had to swerve to avoid getting doored. I apologized left and right, literally: to the driver on my right and to the friend on my left, who had had visions of a delightful weekend spent shopping for a used car door. I never don’t look when I open the car door. There must have been something about driving around with my friend that made the streets feel like my own driveway.

Yesterday, the Times ran an Op-Ed piece about how the alternate-side parking calendar fosters tolerance ( “Alternate Side Parking Brings Peace”): it “is actually a model for managing the challenges of diversity.” It is true that car-owning infidels are fine with Islam if it means we don’t have to move our cars on Idul-Adha. Occidental parkers love Asian New Year, and parkers of all persuasions celebrate the Jewish holidays. Perhaps Jewish car owners feel more kindly toward the Blessed Virgin Mary when alternate side is suspended for the Immaculate Conception (coming up, on December 8th). Many religious holidays—Passover and Easter, for instance—are determined by the sun and the moon. Parking (or, rather, not having to move your car on these precious days) makes you feel you’re part of something bigger than you are—a part of history, a child of the universe.

But as a religion in itself, Alternate-Side Parking has a major disadvantage: it doesn’t offer much in the way of an afterlife. About the best you could hope for is to be reincarnated as someone who can afford a garage.

We drove south, we drove west, we drove east, executing a U-turn as necessary.

The author of the Op-Ed piece, Alan Draper, is identified as “a political scientist at St. Lawrence University.” His idea is that the European Union, some citizens of which have exhibited xenophobia, could use a little of the spirit that animates alternate-side parking. In fact, on Veterans Day my friend and I were thinking about Europe. Our fathers were both veterans of the Second World War. My father was in the Infantry, and was part of the Normandy Invasion. Besides England and France, he did a tour of duty in Alaska, and after he got home he never wanted to go anyplace again. Her father was in the Air Force, a bomber pilot who got shot down over enemy territory and sent to a German P.O.W. camp. He traded the cigarettes in his care packages for chocolate and sugar to scrape together the ingredients to make fudge. After the war, he was famous for his prisoner-of-war fudge.

Finally, at the far end of the block, between a car and a crosswalk, there was a space for us, in the last spot before the river. I realized later that we two daughters of veterans of foreign wars were parked in the same spot, two blocks apart. Talk about parallel parking.

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