The Parking RitualIf you are like me and thousands of other New Yorkers who cannot afford a $350 a month parking space in a safe and cozy garage but insist on keeping a car in the city, you must learn to dance the delicate dance of alternate side of the street parking.
Now, allow me to explain that term for those of you who are unfamiliar with it. In most cases alternate side of the street parking is to allow for street cleaning. All the cars on one side of the street, say on Monday and Friday, must move...well...somewhere else, to allow the street cleaners to come through and clean that side of the street. Alternately, the cars on the opposite side, say Tuesday and Thursday must do the same to allow their side to be cleaned. The time allowed for the street cleaner to come through is generally an hour and a half which is down from the 3 hours it once was a few years ago. Failure to move your car will result in a $65 parking ticket. And depending on the degree of illegality of your parking space (being too close to a hydrant or having your bumper hang over into a crosswalk for example) will result in your vehicle being towed at your expense which, the last time I checked, was your $65 parking ticket plus $185 tow fee, a $70 "execution" fee, and $10 a day storage fee which increases to $15 on the third day. All this must be paid in cash, plus you have the added treat of dealing with the ever-so-pleasant impound lot personnel.
But the truth is, once you've lived here for a while, understand the parking signs and are on top of things, keeping a car in New York is not that difficult--provided of course you don't want to go anywhere. Also it depends on the neighborhood you live in and how that particular neighborhood handles their alternate side of the street parking rules. The handling of this situation can differ block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood and can be as diverse as New Yorkers themselves. I am very fortunate that in my particular corner of the Upper West Side, tucked away between Westend Avenue and Riverside Drive, we handle it in a most civilized manner.
On my street the street cleaner comes through between 11 AM and 12:30 PM. Somehow our neighborhood has fallen into a kind of gentlemen's agreement with the parking officials. We are actually allowed to double park for that hour and a half provided we leave a nice little note on the dashboard with our phone number in case the vehicle we're blocking in needs to move. Now, competition for the double parking can be, like so many things in Manhattan, rather cut-throat. It requires that you be outside at your car no later than 10:45 AM to find a spot to double park. Then you are not to leave your car until 11:00 AM on the dot. Failure to do so can result in a parking ticket.
So, like clockwork, every day at 10:45 we intrepid New Yorkers who refuse to give up our cars, the last vestige of our once suburban lifestyles, come out of our brownstone flats, our pre-war co-ops or doorman digs, get into our vehicles and pull them to the opposite side of the street to double park where we sit until 11:00 AM sharp. Then we go back to our homes and try to live a relatively normal life until 12:15 PM when we must all trek back outside and move over to legitimate parking spaces once the street cleaner has come through. Once again we must stay in our cars until 12:30 and not a moment before.
These 15 minute periods at the beginning and end of the street cleaning can be a great time to make phone calls, catch up on periodicals or read the paper. In the summertime we'll even venture out onto the side walk and exchange small talk with the neighbors. Or we'll roll our windows down and open the sun roofs where one can hear in unison all the car radios our block of uber-liberals tuned to NPR.
There are occasional bonuses, too. For example, there is no street cleaning on weekends or Wednesdays citywide and parking rules are suspended for every obscure holiday of every possible world religion. Holidays like Diwali, Shemini Atzereth and Idul-Fitr bring with them the childhood joy of an unexpected snow day. Oh, we get actual snow days, too.
All in all though, when the rules are in effect, it's not such a bad thing for New Yorkers to be forced to sit still for 15 minutes twice a day a couple of times a week. It's amazing what you can notice in that time: the turning of the leaves, newly planted window boxes, who has a new baby, a new puppy or a new boyfriend. You start to match faces with cars, people with buildings and occasionally even learn a name or two. Suddenly this city of strangers becomes a little less strange and that much more human.
The photos below are: A street cleaning sign on my block, and Double Parking--the Upper West Side's dirty little secret.