I can be found every weekend on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, my magnetic north for the past six years, since Roberta, my girl friend, lady friend, companion, tootsie, apple of my eye…take your pick…(the awkwardness of naming older amours), lives there. And I drive there, an activity most people think borders on lunacy…”You must spend the whole weekend looking for parking. What fun can that be? You must spend a fortune on parking garages.”
The fact is that I’ve never had to avail myself of a parking garage…there are very few in that neck of the Manhattan woods anyway. But I have always found street parking, usually within 10-15 minutes. I know where all the fire hydrants are. I know where spaces are likelier to be at certain times of the day. But there are a few times that patience descends to frustration and I get careless and wrongly read the signs of parking restrictions (reading what I want it to say, not what it actually says). And with fanatical professionalism, the parking meter corps in the city, points out my errors, identifies me on a hand-held that contains the minutia of my life and spits out a ticket defining just why I have been cited. There is no privacy anymore. It’s a word that can be dropped from the dictionary, having only historical significance.
But on a trip to the city last month, there was a twist in the usual search for a space that was a mixed bag of good and bad. As usual I turned into the four square block zone that is my OPZ (optimal parking zone) and began my search. Always there is the rueful feeling that this is the day, when the parking gods will not cut me a break and allow me that rather substantial victory of finding a space. There is a high-rise apartment being built in the middle of my OPZ and about 30 parking spaces have been cordoned off, which adds a great deal more tension to the search. It has an almost organic feeling, this OPZ…it moves, it pulses, it teases, it sneers…a living thing that suddenly is my competitor…me trying to burrow into its jurisdiction and it, throwing up defenses to prevent it.
It was 5 o’clock. My anxiety this particular Saturday was heightened, because we had a reservation for dinner (covidly outdoors). I made one loop of my four-block grid, finding nothing. The cars seemed to be packed in even tighter than usual. A feeling of unease crept in. I repeated the loop four more times. Cars were double parked, drivers waiting to fly to a flash of brake lights in the row of parked cars, indicating impending vacancy. These were the coveted spaces, good until Monday morning, no meters.
Finally, I found a space on one of the avenues that border my grid. It had a two-hour limit…until 7 p.m. And after that, parking was free. It was 5 p.m. I’d pay for two hours and since parking was free on Sunday…I’d be good until Monday at 8 a.m. I put my debit card into the machine that dispenses timed parking tickets, bought two hours, put the ticket on the dashboard and left, joyous at my good fortune.
Next day, I went to the car for my sunglasses. Neatly tucked under the windshield wiper was a telltale orange notice of violation. Unbelieving, I read the ticket for the infraction and the cost of returning to the good graces of the parking commissioner. It seemed that I was parked in a loading zone…a second sign placed on the pole above the two-hour limit sign told the sad tale. But, unbelievably, folded along with the ticket and the envelope to send payment was my debit card. I must have dropped it on the street (busy Amsterdam Avenue). The parking enforcer (of blessed inclination) saw it, figured it must have been dropped when the driver fumbled, putting the time ticket on the dashboard. It was an iffy presumption, but it worked for me. It was almost worth the $95 to know that honesty is alive and well and living in New York City.