Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Parking Spot, Part I

In order to fully understand today's post you have to know two things.

First, what led up to it. Second, just what a parking spot means in New York City.

Unless you have experienced the aggravation, rage, fear and desperation of trying to park your car in New York first hand, it will be difficult to comprehend...

There is a bitter saying, often repeated from the confines of a rubber room or holding cell that "There are a million cars in New York City and only one parking space." Of course this is a gross exaggeration. There are far, far more than a million cars in New York City and only one parking place.

We really wouldn't have needed our car had Seth not worked in a section of Brooklyn that, literally, was four buses away. By car, we were a fifteen minute commute. By public transportation, it was endless.

Regardless of what neighborhood we called home, parking was impossible. A nightmare. A competitive odyssey that took longer than your actual drive, required guile and tenacity and often ended in tears, threats or yelling.
Sometimes it was downright scary.

You'd start to feel the tension as you approached your block which you then drive down because miracles do happen (the Mets winning two World Series, for example). There could be, despite the odds, a spot on your street or maybe even in front of your house.

If that happened, it was a subject of conversation for years.... the kind of thing you'd relate in a eulogy ("Gramps accomplished many things in his life but nothing compared to the day in 1977 when he found a parking spot in front of the house.") or to your great-grandchildren as they crowded around your wheelchair at the home. It's an event so rare, they'd never tire of hearing the tale.

But it never happened.

You'd sigh and start the process of "driving around" in wider and wider concentric circles until you'd spy someone with keys in hand. Then, slowing down you'd either creep after them and, if they actually were pulling out of a space, you'd get as close as possible, blinker on, so no one else could slip in.

Or, you'd forgo the subtleties and drive over to them to ask directly, "Ya gettin' out?"

If the answer was yes, untold joy would ensue. If the answer was no -- they were just retrieving something from their car or worse, just holding their keys as they walked -- you'd feel pure animal hatred for this charlatan, this poser who'd raised your hopes for nothing.

Eventually you'd find a spot.

It would be, more than likely, several blocks from the house. You'd grab all your possessions and carry them home since anything left in the car could tempt a vandal. Many a car window was smashed for the 43 cents visible in the ash tray.

Many people would remove their radios, too. I'll bet those of you outside of New York don't even believe that but it's true.

We were pretty confident that no one would molest our car because we owned old, uninteresting vehicles. For years, it was an ancient Chevy Caprice that we drove until, to open and close the front windows, one had to grab the glass and pull or push it up or down into the doors.

With false bravado we'd say "If they want it, they can have it!" But we didn't mean it. We loved that car and installed a "kill switch" in the arm rest to tilt the odds in our favor.

Another obstacle to parking in New York City is the diabolical plot known as alternate side of the street parking. Designed to allow curb-sweeping street cleaners to do their work, city dwellers must leave alternating sides of the street empty of cars from two to four times a week for no less than two hours.

If you were parked on the wrong side for one split-second over the allocated hour, you would receive a hefty ticket from the scores of meter men and maids who waited, nostrils flaring like race horses at the gate, to fake-saunter (if they saw you heading to your car to move it, they'd break into a run) down the block, ticket book in hand.

Car owners were forced to lurk by their windows, lights off, often running out late at night in pajamas to grab a spot, often beaten to it by pajama clad neighbors who were quicker on their feet.

Those who couldn't find spots would double park, often hemming in those needing to leave causing enough honking and yelling to wake the dead and really, really annoy the living.
Violence was never far from the equation and every once in a while, we'd read about someone who'd gotten shot in a dispute over a parking spot.

So, now you have an idea of the importance of a parking spot. Tune in next time for part two. It's all about getting your car stolen...three times.


  1. Yes, it still is this bad. I get into a fight abut once a month.

  2. Don't fight, gotta roll with it.

  3. April, what a lovely thing to say. You made my day!

    And I love the beautiful beads you make!

  4. I wish I didn't have to own a car but my area of the country has yet to figure out public transportation. Everyone would rather sit in traffic for hours.

  5. Silly me- I always assumed that Seinfeld episode about parking was a huge exaggeration.

    Sometimes being in Houston is a good thing. We have lotsa parking to go along with the heat and humidity.

  6. Sometimes I get very upset over the amount of time we all waste sitting in traffic but now, Michelle, I use it constructively--I worry!

  7. If anything, Michele, that episode downplayed the situation!