Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Reno is not a place you want to be alone in. I was sitting at a table at the Brew Pub on the mezzanine level of the Eldorado Hotel and Casino. At first, I was seated on a stool at a high cocktail table, but I felt a tremor and, as a waitress had yet to approach, I was about to flee. I’d forgotten the reading material I’d set aside to bring with me when I left the hotel room, and I didn’t think I could get through a meal alone at a restaurant with nothing to read. All I had was the little folder that my key cards came in. (My favorite sentence: “For your convenience, the servibar is touch-sensitive, and anything that you move will be charged to your account.”)

But I ran into the hostess, and the waitress said she’d be with me shortly. Before sitting back down, I told the waitress that I felt a trembling. “That’s because you’re on the overhang,” the waitress said. The what? “The road is underneath.” I looked down at the floor, which was planked, like a deck, and remembered that the driver of the shuttle bus from the airport had told me that the five downtown casinos were connected at the mezzanine level, so you never had to go outside. I asked the waitress if it was OK if I moved to a low table. “Sure,” she said. Would it tremble less at a low table? “Probably not.”

It was a little ridiculous: I had chosen to sit “outside.” Although everything is inside, the architectural details say “exterior.” All the restaurants have facades, as in a mall. There is a fountain, as in a piazza. My eye kept falling on a narrow, pulsing, black horizon that turned out to be the lip of the up escalator. As I watched, heads rose over the little horizon of the casino: a guy in a cowboy hat, a couple who could have been shoppers at the Mall of America, a lush holding a beer in a flimsy plastic cup. There was a tournament of "gal bowlers" in town.

This is when you want an iPhone—I could be carrying on conversations with people all over the world! I could be tweeting the bejeezus out of Reno! I have a pen, but no paper. My own beer, a Redhead Amber Ale, in a tall glass, has already left a wet ring on my placemat. As a last resort, I reach across the table for a dry placemat, featuring all the Brew Pub microbrews—Big Dog IPA, Double Down, Wild Card, Gold Dollar, Carano Extra—flip it over, fold it in quarters, and start writing to keep myself company. This is pathetic.

My day began at 4 AM. Three-thirty, actually, but I stayed in bed. It was pouring rain. I swore I would never fly out of LaGuardia again. It is so stupid when you have a home in Rockaway and a free place to park the car, not to fly out of JFK. And yet I am forever trundling my suitcase to Grand Central to catch the bus to Newark Airport, or taking a cab from Rockaway to LaGuardia at dawn. And here I was again, up with the first robin—I could hear him out there, singing in the rain—having to drive to LaGuardia and put the car in a long-term parking lot before catching a flight to Reno via Denver at 7:49 A.M.

Parking at LaGuardia is more expensive and less convenient than the Long-Term Parking Lot at JFK, no doubt because everything is packed into a smaller area. I had checked it out online the night before. It was hard to know which deals were legitimate, but in the end I had paid in advance to park the Éclair, for thirteen dollars a day, in a lot behind the Extended Stay Hotel, or ESH. I found directions to the parking lot online, but I knew they were wrong—you don’t have to get off the BQE and wiggle around on Roosevelt Avenue to get onto the Grand Central Parkway. My parking lot of choice was well beyond the airport. It sickened me to barrel past it on my way to the Whitestone Expressway, in the dark and the rain, unable even to pour a cup of coffee from my thermos without sloshing the coffee all over the dashboard. The directions printed on the receipt I printed out were in a cruelly tiny font, impossible to read by the roof light while barrelling up the Whitestone Expressway in the dark and in the rain. Luckily, I had called the Extended Stay Hotel the night before and had enough of a memory of what the guy said to get as far as the service road off Exit 15, 20th Avenue. There I could stop and read the fine print by the interior roof light in the car. I had to continue to the light at 14th Avenue, turn left and then left again onto the service road for the Whitestone Expressway southbound, and the hotel would be on my right.

I found the driveway and went behind the hotel to the slots numbered 1 through 50 (I chose slot No. 37), put the receipt on the dashboard, as instructed, and lugged my stuff into the lobby of the Extended Stay Hotel. The woman at the reception desk said approvingly that it takes “a cruel woman” to get up early. Her Queens wisdom took me by surprise. As I waited for the shuttle bus, I tried to parse it: The early bird gets the worm: I was early; ergo a $13 a day parking spot near LaGuardia was the worm. I guess it does take a certain amount of determination bordering on cruelty to follow directions past LaGuardia and make a U-turn on the Whitestone to reach the lobby of the Extended Stay Hotel in time to catch the 5:30 shuttle bus to Terminal D, or whatever, in the rain. But what was the alternative?
I had had an extremely complicated weekend (my house guests’ house guests had house guests), and the day before leaving I had the near-deranging experience, as I was getting into the elevator, of dropping my keys—including the car keys—and watching them disappear soundlessly into the gap beneath the elevator door. It was only minutes before the blessed super restored them to me, but it was time enough to calculate the cost of taking a car service to the airport and leaving the Eclair exactly where it was for eight days, in its Tuesday-Friday parking spot, collecting tickets. Three tickets, at $90 each, is $270, plus the car service, and then the inconvenience of not having the car at the airport when I got back and not having it in Rockaway, either. I guess it was worth it.

End of placemat.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

Just like old times—sitting in the car in the rain in my old 7:30-8 spot, on the Tuesday-Friday side of the street, as a predator lurks double-parked across the street. There’s always the hope that the streetsweeper overslept and the broom is still in the garage, but no: thar she goes, flashing and whirring in my rearview mirror. We move diagonally, like synchronized parkers, then jockey back into place, and by 7:40 it’s all over. We are good till Friday.

Big drops of rain roll down my windshield, on the inside. I have sprung a leak behind the rearview mirror. The Éclair has been back in the city for a few weeks now, peacefully occupying space in the Sanctuary, which I held on to over a weekend in Rockaway with a bold maneuver: I drove to the spot with my friend from New Hampshire, and gave it to her with the cooperation of several motorists who were double-parked. (Note that I have spelled "cooperation" without the two dots over the second "o" and see my highly controversial post on the diaeresis on the New Yorker Web site.) And when Live Free or Die left town, on Sunday morning, we made the switch again, this time without an audience.

The night before, I had parked on my own street. Traffic was heavy—it was the day of the Sikh parade—and I was lucky to nose into a spot at the head of the street, with my rear bumper slightly infringing on the crosswalk. I came out the next day to find on the windshield not a ticket but a slip of paper informing me that an accident report could be obtained at the local police precinct for ten dollars. I circled the car . . . the only damage I saw was to the right rear bumper, which had come loose at the flap where it wraps around the side. I could probably fix it with a large wad of bubble gum.

I went to the precinct anyway, out of curiosity. I was told that the ten dollars had to be in the form of a money order, so I went away and came back, only to find out that the report had not yet been filed. The lady told me to call later, and of course I forgot. I was kind of relieved not to have to hang around there longer—it’s such a dingy, inhospitable place. They did not offer me any of the baked goods prominently on display. As time passes, it becomes increasingly unlikely that I will return for the accident report.

Recently someone referred to the Éclair as the Tortilla. I hope that doesn’t turn out to be prophetic.