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?