Alternate Side Parking
I am currently in the midst of one of the oddest New York City rituals, the alternate side parking shuffle. The shuffle is a daily event that spans about an hour and half on streets all across the city. The idea is that cars vacate one side of the street, allowing the street cleaner to come through. It's also a municipal money making machine. Every person I know who has a car gets more than a handful of street-cleaning tickets a year.
A bit more than a year ago I stacked up a fat pile of bright orange tickets, fat enough that I ended up getting towed. I spent very long Friday afternoon shuttling between unpleasant city agency offices shelling out large sums of cash (perhaps even more than this here rickety Volvo is worth) to even more unpleasant city employees who snarled at me from behind bullet proof windows, Once the shelling out of cash part was done, my brother most kindly escorted me to a lot somewhere in Brooklyn where the windows were bullet proof and barred and the employees were downright criminal. It's possible that even more cash was required then, and I'm certain that the car was somewhat worse for the wear, its bumper listing to one side and one of its headlights knocked askew. I then drove it out my parents' house in Queens, where it wasn't required to be moved, and borrowed cars on an as-needed basis for a good long time.
I do, however, like having the car handy for upstate jaunts and the perpetual schlepping art that makes my job oh so glamorous. I've been keyed up enough lately that I'm good to go on 5 or 6 hours of sleep - this allows me to indulge my misbehavior (it still feels like misbehaving even as an adult) of staying up way too late while still waking up in plenty of time to move my car for street cleaning. So, after a while away, I find myself reunited with my car-owning street-parking comrades. On my particular block the shuffle starts at 9am.
This is how it works: 8:58am, I scurry out, coffee cup in hand, in some weird combination of pajamas and street clothes, being tugged along by Ollie who loves cars probably more than life itself. (Her enthusiasm usually means I end up with a good deal of coffee on my already fetching ensemble.) The car gets moved across the street, double-parked. I pop a gallery postcard in the window on which I've scribbled my street address/apt # along with my cell phone number. This is a courtesy for the unfortunate people who don't understand the intricacies of this long-standing ritual that boxes them in to their perfectly legal spot for an hour or so two days per week. (Sometimes if I'm late, I might have a hard time finding a spot to double park in. Squeezing a station wagon into a small slice of pavement with a parked car on one side rather than a curb is not for the sleepy and under-caffeinated.) Once the car is parked, and the postcard is positioned thusly I'm free to return inside for more coffee and some email, listening for the damp thwap-thwap roar of the street cleaner.
When the street cleaner makes its appearance, all the double parked cars light up in unison and follow in its wake sliding directly into the freshly scrubbed spots. And then, we sit. If we don't sit, waiting for the clock to hit 10:30, we're ticketed. The fact that the ticketing happens after the street's been cleaned, not while the cars are double parked, has always been a mystery (and a major annoyance) to me. It's the sort of arbitrary rule that reminds me of elementary school cafeterias - the only logic is that it's the law, not that it makes any real sense.
The sitting part usually takes up an hour or so. It's a nice way to get to know the neighbors. In fact, my neighbor Stuart who lives next door and has a shop up the street, knocked lightly on my door at 9:05 this morning advising me that lately they'd been ticketing double-parked cars (scandal! greedy bastards!) and that I'd be well-served to either find a meter or resign myself to surrendering my schedule to the entire hour and half span of the shuffle. (I chose the latter, which is why this post is so damn long and rambling.) Shortly after the cars moved en masse to their final resting place, my other neighbor, proprietor of the delightful Podunk, came to my window and asked me how I take my coffee, returning a few moments later with a cup just for me (milk, one sugar). For her, the shuffle is a family ritual - she and her husband and their daughter sit snug in their Bug chatting and sipping til 10:30.
I usually listen to FUV or read a magazine, or lately since wireless is nearly ubiquitous, I bring my laptop out and tap away. It's nice to see the neighbors. Monty and Rebecca's daughter Lark has a new puppy named Chicken. The tree lady, a neighborhood activist who is the ferocious guardian of the lovely Gingkos that line our street, just strode by purposefully pushing a shopping cart laden with hoses and trowels and various tree-tending accouterment. The construction workers, a new and temporary addition to the mix, have big ass SUVs with flag decals on them and nice biceps. It's an added interest that doesn't quite make up for the fact that they're building an impossibly tall hotel on the corner of what has always been a somewhat sleepy and charming block. All of it's usually enough to keep me entertained 'til 10:30 when I can go back inside and start my day.