Thursday, January 15, 2015

Let the annual winter parking spot games begin!

Almost a month into it, we’ve had next to no snow this winter. Plenty of cold, but only an inch or two of total snow accumulation.

Which is fine by me.

Not that I don’t enjoy snow.

I do.

I especially enjoy being inside during a storm, standing there with my cup of tea, looking out at it. I like how pretty it looks in the immediate aftermath of a storm, especially in the Boston Public Garden, which is right across the street. How quiet it is.

And then…

The footing gets treacherous (especially when scofflaws neglect to shovel their sidewalks). Some folks decide that they no longer have to pick up after their pooch (and even if they do, there’s still the yellow snow to contend with). The gutters fill with slush (and there’s really no experience quite comparable to stepping into a slush puddle that crests the top of your boot).

So while it’s really not good to have a no snow winter – no snow = fires in the spring, etc. – if we have an almost no snow winter, I’ll be fine with it.

But if we do have lots of snow, one thing I won’t have to worry about is shoveling out my car, only to have someone else grab my space while I’m out. This is definitely one of the top benefits of not having a car in the city.

If everyone shoveled out their car, this would not be the problem it always ends up being. But since you’re unlikely to get your shoveled-out spot back, a lot of people do only the minimum they need to get their car out. The rutted mounds left behind turn into ice, which only someone with an all terrain vehicle could get back into, removing a potential parking place from play.

Even if you do want to fully shovel out your call, there’s the problem of what to do with the snow.

You’re not allowed to toss it back in the street, and you can’t toss it onto the sidewalk that someone may (or may not) have just cleared. On many streets, there are no front yards to speak of. The options of where to put the snow you’re so assiduously trying to shovel out from around your car often come down to piling it up between cars, or schlepping it twenty yards to to the corner, where you pile it on top of the mega-mound that the city plows have left, knowing that the city will come around a some point and remove the mega-mound.

It’s really no wonder that so many – in my neighborhood, I’d estimate that it’s easily 2/3’s of all parkers – don’t bother to do more than the most cursory job shoveling out their cars.

Where I live there is, at least, an alternative, albeit an expensive one, in that there are plenty of parking garages around.

In neighborhoods where there are fewer alternatives, a quaint custom has grown up over the years. The person who shovels out a spot stakes a claim to it, leaving trash barrels, old kitchen chairs, traffic cones, empty Pampers boxes, broken Big Wheels… Someone who elects to remove the trash barrel, old kitchen chair, traffic cone, empty Pampers box, or broken Big Wheels and take the parking space, does so at considerable risk of keyed door or worse.

The space saver first became popularized in South Boston, which adopted the practice as a neighborhood tradition and enforced violations to the unwritten rules in its own way — often through vehicle vandalism; occasionally through violence.

The city, for its part, stayed mostly out of it, treating space savers as an issue for neighbors to work out between themselves. But a little over a decade ago, Mayor Thomas M. Menino became fed up with people who abused the privilege and kept their savers out for far too long and instated a rule that space savers had to be removed 48 hours after the end of a snow emergency.

By declaring when they must be gone, Menino pseudo-sanctioned the fact that they could be there at all.

That system has remained tenuously in place — through slashed tires and assaults —into the administration of Martin J. Walsh, who has kept Menino’s 48-hour policy. “We prefer to call it a ‘guideline,’ ” said his spokeswoman, Kate Norton. Walsh has said publicly, on numerous occasions, that he believes in the principle of “you shovel it, you earn it.” (Source: Boston Globe)

This custom actually worked pretty well when neighborhoods were more or less cohesive, and neighbors were more or less known to each other.

If you’d just watched your buddy Charlie shovel out a space, you certainly weren’t going to take it.

But two things happened over time: interlopers interloped, and more and more people got cars. A triple-decker in Dorchester that at one point was home to three cars might now be home to nine cars.

More cars chasing fewer parking places, and fewer people who knew who good old Charley was.

And while I sympathize with the “you shovel it, you earn it” sentiment, it’s not especially practical. And it can be downright scary: would anyone in their right mind take someone’s “space saved” parking place in Southie or Charlestown? Not if they valued their Volvo or their dental work.

Whether for 48 hours or for the duration, one neighborhood in Boston has decided to formally ban the practice of saving a space, and that’s the South End.

Now South Enders who see a space saver are encouraged to remove it. If they are afraid to do so, they can call the city to come do it. And the city’s trash contractors will collect all space savers they see on their twice-weekly rounds, with no grace period after a snow emergency.

I don’t know how calling the city to remove the Pampers box is going to save you from getting your door keyed, but whatever…

In any case, unlike South Boston and Charlestown, the South End doesn’t have as much of an entrenched working class townie vs. interloping yuppie parvenu vibe. Although the South End contains some projects around its periphery, and butts up against a fairly poor area, most of the working class “natives” were gentrified out of the prime spots long ago. In South Boston and Charlestown, as well as in some other neighborhoods, there remain strong ethnic enclaves. So what may well work in the South End, where there were probably fewer slashed tire/smash mouth incidents to begin with.

I don’t recall ever seeing a space saver on Beacon Hill which is, in general, a pretty posh area – with plenty of nearby parking garages.  I was going to write that we are a more mannerly area, as well, but that just ain’t true. People don’t resort to space savers here because most of them don’t bother to shovel out a space to begin with.

I do have a good winter parking story to end with.

Many years ago, when I was still daft enough to own a car in the city, I had shoveled out my car and left to head out to the burbs for a client meeting.

When I returned, I moseyed around looking for a space.

I wouldn’t have minded if I’d have to check in to a paid garage for an overnight, but I wasn’t going to need my car for at least a week, and a week’s worth of $$$ parking I just wasn’t up for.

Miraculously, a man walking down the street gestured to me that he was leaving, and that I could have his space.

When I got to the spot, sure enough, it was the one I’d perfectly shoveled out a few hours earlier.

Sometimes you actually do get to pay it forward to yourself!

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