Adventures in Car Parking

Hell freezing over, captured for the first time.

Hell freezing over, pictured for the first time.

Before moving to New York, I had a car. Everyone not in New York has a car because, well, walking three miles on a rainy Tuesday night to buy milk and Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast the next morning really sucks.

But things are a little different here. For one thing, insurance premiums are insanely expensive. It’s like insurers think people just drive into each other for sport. The rate quoted to me 15 years ago was three times what I was paying then. I couldn’t afford it… hell, I still can’t afford it.

Then there’s the parking. In the suburbs I would pull up to the curb in front of my house. If my roommates weren’t home, I parked in the driveway. That was that. But New York has a lot more cars and a lot more rules about where, when and for how long they can be parked. Certain streets have meters. Certain streets have schools with restrictions or stores with loading zones. And every street has street cleaning; a big asphalt Zamboni comes around once a week to resurface the grime. Any car in the way gets ticketed.

So, like many New Yorkers, I’m all about public transportation, supplementing with the occasional car rental or Zipcar to get out of town. But sometimes life comes full circle.

We inherited a beater of a car a few months back: a 1990-something Toyota something. Tan. With, like, 12 miles on it. Imagine a lawnmower strapped to a plastic shopping cart, and then dial back the luxury. A little more. Yeah, right there. With multiple weekend trips in our then near future, we figured that having a free car would be cheaper than dropping $500 per rental. Of course a free car is never really free. There’s gas and insurance and various repairs.

And then there’s the mental toll.

Weekly street cleaning means that I — and every other car owner in New York — have to move the car to a new parking spot at least once a week. That would be fine if parking spaces were readily available. They’re not. And that “availability” is further limited by the staggered street-cleaning schedule. Every side of the street is cleaned on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, at least in this corner of Queens. So if it’s Tuesday night, and I’m parked on a Wednesday side, I’m limited to half the possible parking spots in the neighborhood. I can’t park in another Wednesday spot. And I can’t really park in a Thursday spot, unless I want to be moving my car again the next night.

This car-parking thing has been a learning process, and a painful one at that. I figured out that spots are easier to find the further away from home I get, by the Expressway, for example. As for when to park, who knows? Regardless of the time — 7:00 in the evening, 10:00 at night or 8:00 in the morning — parking can take five minutes or an hour. It all depends if the parking gods are smiling. Lately they haven’t been.

The other night I tried move the car on my way home from work. You’d think there would be a lot of coming and going during rush hour as people leave for their commute. You’d be wrong, at least on that day. I drove around for over an hour, finally submitting to my bladder and leaving the car in a spot that would require me to move it again the next morning. Then I got up at the crack and moved it.

On the bright side, the Toyota picks up exactly two stations I want to listen to: classic rock and NPR. For some reason, despite all the granola I eat and Salon I read, I tend to leave it on classic rock. Maybe it’s the witty DJ banter. Maybe it’s all the informative commercials about where I can sell my gold. Maybe it’s so I can be reminded every five minutes that Billy Joel is playing at Madison Square Garden and tickets will be sold out if I don’t call now. Or NOW! Did we say now? Sorry, we meant NOW!

Probably it’s just the music, which despite my penchant for whining guitar-strummers and opaque bleepy-bloopiness, I really enjoy. The station always manages to dig up some Rush or Police or Who. Bob Seger occasionally brings the house car down with a lament about life on the road. “I’m with you, Bobby,” I say to myself as I wipe away a tear. The other day they even busted out this Jimi Hendrix gem, which I blasted so loud that the car shook. Maybe that was just the car. Yeah, it was probably the car.

Moving the car also affords me a little quality time, pathetic as that may sound. Having a family and a job doesn’t leave much room in the day to just be in my own head. We all need a few moments to downshift, to reflect, to see if all this round and round is going somewhere. I think it is, I don’t know. But I’d like more time to think about it, or to think about nothing at all. And that’s good, because who knows how long I’ll be circling the neighborhood looking for parking?

In Defense of Lunch

Lunch_043013I eat the same thing for lunch every day — vegetables, hummus and pita bread. No, I’m not a vegan health nut. No, I’m not a rabbit. No, I’m not a vegan health nut rabbit. I’m a guy who sits at a desk all day and needs to eat.

My coworkers find it a little odd. They find it funny. They find it amazing that my steady diet of vegan rabbit food doesn’t drive me to afternoon microwave popcorn and pod coffee binges. That’s okay, I enjoy the ridicule. My behavior is odd and funny and amazing, at least within the mundanity of office life. It also makes perfect sense. So let’s unpack my lunch.

Lunch in midtown Manhattan isn’t cheap. Oceana, one block over, serves a tasty Salad of Grilled Louisiana Shrimp with mango, young coconut (none of that geriatric, senior citizen coconut), yogurt dressing and cashews for $27. The Capital Grille features a Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, dished up chilled with wasabi arugula, for a price that magically appears on the check moments before you lay down that American Express Black card. What can I say? Bankers like seafood and steak, and investing taxpayer money to make billions, which then gets funneled back into bonuses and expense accounts and spent on pricey lunches.

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Bathrooms, Technology and the Common Man

restroom stallsTechnology is a beautiful thing. It lets us wander the beautiful streets of Manhattan, amidst her majestic skyscrapers, expensive stores and bustling throngs, completely focused on a screen the size of my hand. What better way to connect with the world than to disconnect from it? In all fairness, technology also lets me have a job in one of those tall buildings, creating content for people looking at those tiny devices. I’m grateful for that. Though lately I’ve been feeling a little vulnerable.

Technology also seeps into the private corners of our lives. Take a look in consider the bathrooms in my office. The sinks turn on by themselves, activated by motion sensors that detect hands underneath a faucet. The toilets flush when you step away. They’re even beta-testing a robot that will relieve itself for you, so you can continue working.

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You want how much for a college education?

I think we have a bad connection. What did you say about my pink bag?

I think we have a bad connection. What did you say about my pink bag?

Late last year wifey and I hired a financial consultant to review our finances. We figured the birth of our first child was a good enough occasion to get our financial house in order, if not our actual house. By house, of course, I mean palatial apartment with marble fireplaces, Japanese soaking tubs, servants and scenic views of the Manhattan skyline. And by palatial apartment, I mean one-bedroom box bursting at the seams with diapers, baby toys and the bric-a-brac of life, with scenic views of the Manhattan skyline.

There’s nothing quite like spending money to have someone tell you how to spend your money. It makes me feel rich. It makes me feel important. And when that person validates my decisions, it makes me feel like I know what I’m doing. Here’s someone who advises the wealthy for a living, who takes home way more than wifey and I ever will, telling us to do stuff I already thought to do. That’s money well spent in my [check] book. Now off to the polo pitch for a little stick and ball.

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The curious case of spoon and banana

Presidential elections are a funny business. Every four years, the two parties trot out their candidates, armed with a simple story, which they tell over and over, in various forms, in the hope that the middle class will deliver them to the White House. One of the parties gets their wish; the other capitulates, eventually. The losing party promises to work with the next administration to solve the nation’s problems and then spends four years trying to sabotage everything.

This is how politics works. After five presidential elections as a voter, I thought I had it figured out. But a funny thing happened on the way to the polls this year. One of the two major parties stopped making any sort of sense… at all. Here’s a hint which one. It’s the party that decided to challenge a sitting president with a spoon and a banana. Continue reading

Sidetracked on my way to the middle

So… come here often?

The elevator in my office building doesn’t work sometimes. I don’t mean that in the plunging-40-stories-to-a-fiery-death-to-be-covered-in-gruesome-yet-inaccurate-detail-on-CNN-for-the-next-two-weeks sense; after all, I am writing from this side of the grave. It just has a weird glitch. When the elevator stops on, say, 42, on its way to one of the higher floors, it will forget your floor and head back down.

This happened to me the other day on my way to work. I wasn’t paying any attention to the floor numbers counting up or the digital message scrolling by, welcoming me to the building with the personal warmth that only LCD can offer. The elevator stopped; the other person on it got off. The doors closed, and the elevator continued on. When the doors opened again, I got off too.

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