Thursday, May 22, 2014

Out of the Loop

It has been almost a year since I wrote something in this space, and that's partly because I've been writing a book (on grammar, not on parking) and partly because I seem to have lost my parking chops. Last Sunday I lucked into an incredibly rare spot, good all week except for a three-hour period on Thursday. I had passed up a man standing by a car with keys in his hand, and slammed on the brakes. "Are you by any chance leaving?" I asked. "Yes, as soon as my wife gets here," he said. So I backed up and idled while he touched up his car and we both waited for his wife. I should have turned off the motor, but how was I to know that she was taking a sauna or something? Finally the man came to my car window and said, "I'm going to move so that you can park, and I will wait here for my wife." He spoke with an Indian lilt. I couldn't believe he was being so nice. "It's a beautiful day," he said. "So we can be nice to each other."

Four days later, I showed up at the car with a clipboard and my notes, ready to work in the car for three hours. I was surprised that most of the other cars were gone. I hadn't been there long when a cop came by and said, "You have to get out of the loop." I know I'm giving away the parking spot, which is against my religion (where else are there loops?), but that's what he said: "You have to get out of the loop." I asked for how long, and he said, "Ten, fifteen minutes—just till we clean."

This was actually an opportunity: I remembered that I needed gas. I got out of the loop, and went to the gas station down by the river, put in forty dollars' worth of regular (this car has only a ten-gallon tank and used to not take more than twenty dollars' worth), and considered using the vacuum cleaner. My interior needed cleaning, and I had enough quarters in my ashtray. But there was a tiny traffic jam in front of the vacuum (someone was parked and someone else was putting air in his tires), so I headed back to the loop. Ten minutes had passed, but the cop had been so laid back that I felt I had plenty of time.

I got stuck behind a truck on my way around the block, and sat at a light, and when I finally turned into the loop, every single spot was taken! Where had all those cars come from? The parkers were socializing, sneering at me as I passed. Clearly I was not in the loop. Fortunately, I didn't need a spot that was good for a full week, so I found a spot that was legal right then and there but would mean I'd have to come back out in the morning. Across the street was a full block of empty spots that would be good in an hour and a half. Judging by the leaves and litter, the sweeper hadn't come yet. I waited. The sweeper came. I moved. I waited another hour. I tried to work, but I was too distracted by having been shut out of the loop.

At the time that I was interviewed for this piece about alternate side parking by Alex Dworkowitz, posted on The Awl (, I was still in the loop—still happy enough to take a mezzo self-portrait with the single blossom that my wisteria produced this year. It has recovered from the hurricane.

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