Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Believe in Miracles, Urban Parking Edition

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons is one by Mick Stevens from a few years back that shows a couple sitting on the beach in the Hamptons. The husband is staring out at the water and says to his book-reading wife:

I can’t stop thinking about all those available parking spaces back on West Eighty-fifth Street.

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of urban car ownership can relate. On those summer weekends when you're in the city, just seeing all those free spaces makes you want to move your car just for the pure, unbridled pleasure of it.

There's a winter version, of course, and that's all those available parking places that no one has shoveled out.

Perhaps because I am one of the few car-owning Beacon Hill residents who does not own an SUV that's capable of bulldozing its way into and out of any parking place - no matter whether it's on an ice floe,  bordered by a hillock of crusty snow as hard as steel, or completely full of slush - I always shovel my car out. And I always hope that my stellar example will encourage others to similarly shovel their space out even though they know that they have no chance whatsoever of getting that space back.

We are not one of those urban neighborhoods where, while it may be crowded, you typically park near your house and, when you shovel out "your" space, the time-honored tradition is that it's yours. All you need to do to claim it is plunk an old kitchen chair in the middle of it. This has been the way it's worked for years in Boston neighborhoods like Charlestown and South Boston. For whatever reason - invasion of the yuppies, too many cars, or the general breakdown in urban comity - this quaint and homey practice has pretty much ended. People who violated the kitchen- chair rule were getting their cars keyed. Complaints were made to City Hall. The City started throwing the chairs away... I think a compromise was reached last year: people can claim their space for a couple of days after a storm, but then it's fair game.

This chair-in-the-space stake-claiming was never done on Beacon Hill. Perhaps we're too la-di-dah. More likely it's because it's always been so hard to find parking here that no one actually parks near their home. So there's little sense of, gee, that's my neighbor's spot. The rule of thumb is: first space you see, grab it.

Despite knowing that I'll never see it again, I still persist in shoveling out whatever space I'm parked in. While I resent those who don't - their not shoveling out makes life a lot more difficult for everyone - I understand why it happens. It's not as if shoveling out an urban car is easy. You can't throw the show back in the street that just got plowed - that's illegal. You can't put it on the sidewalk that just got shoveled. (That's maybe got shoveled - a lot of people don't bother to shovel their sidewalks, either; but that's a rant for another day). There aren't always front gardens - let alone yards - to put the snow in.

No, every shovel full has to either be carefully stacked between your car and the shoveled part of the sidewalk. Or ferried half a block away to some corner snow bank. No wonder that even a shoveling saint like myself will occasionally toss a small shovel full into the street where someone will run over it and it will melt more quickly and more easily.

Fortunately, we have had little snow this winter. (Simultaneously, it's also unfortunate that we've had so little snow, as the snow and cold keep the rat population - which is known to hang out under the hoods of cars - down.)

Last Friday, we had a storm. Nothing that big, just eight or so inches. But it was followed by rains that that turned the whole thing into ice pack that may not disappear until July.

Saturday morning, I hiked over to where my car was parked and shoveled it out in the pouring, icy rain.

On Monday, I kissed that parking space good-bye and headed off to a consulting client.

Monday afternoon, I found a space closer to my house. I was able to bull my way into it through the slushy ice but, fearing that my car would freeze in place overnight, I shoveled the place out, jockeying the car back and forth, in and out, until the space was clean as a whistle. On Tuesday morning, I was happy that I had  done so. I could actually get out on the first try. But I did leave the place with a pang of regret, knowing it would be gone when I returned.

It was.

I drove around for a bit, then spotted a free space on the same block where I'd been parked over the weekend.

The space was full of ice, slush, snow - and SUV tire tracks.

I pulled over, turned on the flashers, grabbed my trusty shovel and started to clean the place out.

A fellow was getting into his SUV a few spaces back and called to me, "Why don't you take this place. I'm leaving."

It was - cue harp music and celestial chorus - the very same parking space I had so assiduously shoveled out on Saturday.

The kind gentleman in the SUV even waited while I drove around the block so that an undeserving person wouldn't sneak in and snag my spot. Which was clean as a whistle. Not a speck of snow, slush, or ice.

The beauty of working as a consultant is that I don't need to leave the space every day. Unfortunately, I do have to take the car out on Thursday. But we're expecting temperatures in the 60's, and I'm hoping that, by the time I return on Thursday afternoon, parking spaces will be pretty much free and clear. I cannot expect another miracle like the one I experienced Tuesday afternoon. I'm guessing that there's only one of those per lifetime.




Every so often, I do get the urge to rant about cars and parking. If you want to see other posts related to cars and parking, check these posts out.

Baby you can drive my car is about my love-hate relationship with thing automotive (i.e., my very own car).

Needle in a Haystack talks about a couple of  companies with parking-place-finding applications. Really.

Pahk-the-kah-ching is about paying a lot of money for a parking place. (And I do mean a lot of money.) 

Look Ma, no hands deals with parallel parking aids for the parking-challenged. (Lexus parallel parks for you.)

1 comment:

John Whiteside said...

When I lived in Boston, I always wondered why they didn't leave the street cleaning parking restrictions in effect all winter, and just send plows in on street cleaning days to deal with the mess. In the South End, the available parking would generally decrease by about 20% during winter because of the snow piles in between cars, and the people who simply didn't drive all winter, whose cars become snow-piles they took up a half spot to the front and back. Given how scarce parking was to start with (though not, at least then, Beacon Hill scarce), that kind of passive space-hogging always seemed sociopathic to me.