Monday, May 31, 2010

Crabs (Part 4 of 4) Parking Styles... Not!

          OK, I was planning to post Part 4 of my groundless but hopefully amusing treatise on parking styles, but I see last week’s Part 3 (Lions) had a slower than usual week for readership and I don’t want to bore anybody too much so I’m not going to. I’m almost a little bit sure that it was just all that good weather that distracted loyal readers from the important things in life, like where the Hell am I going to park my car at my sister’s barbecue in Washington Heights this weekend or I wonder what other parking obsessed people like myself are thinking today. But just in case a few of you have decided I have gone off the rails of this crazy parking thing, I’m giving it a rest.
          So, I’m not going to talk about my last made up category of parking styles that 3 or 4 weeks ago I called Crabs in the great native American tradition of naming the strange ways New Yorkers behave after animals. Do you really care that the Crabs (as I like to describe them) are the luckiest of all us parking experts? I think not. Sure we’ve all felt the adrenaline of a great parking conquest and basked in the warm rays of a car in for the night and we could only feel a fraction of these unless we had also experienced the cold isolation of a late night completely unable to find a place of rest. If we hadn’t felt the pain of that inevitable question: Is tonight the night when no parking space will ever open up; how could we understand the happiness of finding even the easiest parking space in the history of all parking spaces? How could we understand that the Crabs really have it the best?
          I mean there has to be a night, at least one night, in my entire life where there just won’t be a parking space. If there can be a perfect storm of Alternate Side Suspended days lasting for 2 weeks, a hydrogen bomb, or a 3- term Mayor, then the laws of probability (whatever they are) dictate that at some time in your life you will not find a parking space all night long. Then, when most of the world is sleeping, do you see what you are made of. What do you do? Stalwartly drive around until morning when the world goes to work and a space must become available? Sleep in your car? Park in front of a hydrant for the first time in your life? Have a total breakdown of everything you believe and find a 24-hour garage?
          We don’t really care how the Crab completely avoids ever having to face these unhappy predicaments. And anyway, truth is it hasn’t happened to me yet. Amazingly, thanks to the constantly changing, constantly moving way of life in this city, I haven’t had to face this kind of soul searching, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know the possibility exists. We all do.
          So I won’t be posting about the Crab’s daily Alternate Side ritual that spares them from this darkest human condition. To be more specific, I won’t describe how anywhere from a half-hour to an hour before the end of their local street sweeping period, the Crabs cheat a little and move their cars to the opposite side and sit in them until the street sweeping regulation ends, thereby guaranteeing that they are good for the following day’s Alternate Side rules when they will make their easy move to the other side all over again. Of course, if parking enforcement comes by, a whole block of cars and brake lights fire up, but usually just being in their car is enough to avoid a ticket. Anyway, now is not the time to post how the Crabs actually enjoy this little ritual of waiting in their cars and have been seen doing everything from reading newspapers and books, helping children with homework, watching movies, blog posting, to just hanging around their cars mingling with the other Crabs. Social animals these Crabs
          Of course, to be a Crab, you or a significant other has to be free and in your neighborhood during the crucial Alternate Side hours which probably means that you or your significant other works at home or is underemployed (which could make anyone a little crabby). And, I won’t even comment on the most annoying part of being a Crab when the street sweeper comes after you have already claimed your tomorrow’s space today. That tractor engine throttling and its snakelike hissing of brushes constantly moving are a dread sound for the peaceful Crab already on tomorrow’s side, but just a little early. Because then the Crab must move his or her car out of the way or else earn the wrath of the Sanitation (and parking enforcement) officials, not to mention feeling guilty for preventing the streets to be swept. This sometimes requires some fancy maneuvering as a whole block of Crabs moves to the opposite side and back again after the Sweeper has passed. I might not mention that on the Upper West Side all the double parked cars on the “good side” makes this maneuver surgically impossible and a slower Crab or two has to leave the block entirely and circle back around at which time there are no spaces left.
          I also won’t relate the story of a friend who happened upon a block of Crabs on 2nd Street just after a Street Sweeper maneuver. His radiator was steaming and he needed directions fast and Eureka! there were several people standing around he could ask. Any innocent who can’t believe his luck in finding a parking space after a Street Sweeper has forced a whole block of Crabs to shift sides was right the first time. It wasn’t luck. The Crabs actually attacked my friend before he could even ask where the AutoZone was. It was unclear who was blowing off the most steam, but they accused him of many heinous crimes not the worst of which was trying to steal their parking spaces. Beware an angry Crab, especially a lot of them.

          So now that I haven’t completed this Parking Styles in 4 types (Sharks, Eagles Lions and Crabs), you may fairly ask what can we conclude from it all. What was the purpose? How will it help me find a parking space tomorrow or the day after? Well, I don’t want you think this was all just a pointless exercise, but rather a scientifically formulated and proven psychology of what happens to people shut in on a small island for a long period of time.
          In a nutshell, this is what I have learned: Sharks can hang out with Lions, but not date. Sharks can marry crabs. Lions are good in public relations and communications careers. Eagles are great friends and terrible enemies and Crabs can hang out with and date anybody they like.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lions (Part 3 of 4) Parking Styles

          Lions stalk a parking space. We’ve seen the nature shows. They blend in to the traffic and charge in an instant. They are quiet and still and always closing in even though you may not see it happening. We’ve all seen them. You drive down the block and wonder if the double parked car is Parking, Standing, or just Stopping. They lurk somewhere around the middle of the block, engine usually off, eyes stealthily looking from windshield to mirrors. They know that someone will be moving off of this block in the next half hour and that spot will be theirs. Probably they live on this block, or have had a lot of luck on this block, or are on the lookout for an ex wife/husband on this block. They don’t have to move. Hey, they choose not to.
          Maybe they are not into wasting gas, want to pollute the air less, have a good issue of Maxim to look over. If you think a Lion is too ferocious a beast for this kind of relaxed activity, just try turning the corner on a block where someone is just pulling out. The Lion, having also just seen this, reverses down that block so fast. His gears whine, his back end recklessly fishtails and he even hits the horn that blares “I knew that space was opening up before you did. Now out of my way!” Before you know it he/she is so into your face just as you pull up to that space, the rear of his SUV looks like an angry beast. Ever see a Lion and a Shark racing full speed at each other? In New York you have.
          A man in my building is out in front in his car most nights of the week and, from the sidewalk, it looks like a lot more relaxed way to park. I have always known him to be friendly, laid back even, so I asked him one night when he was at it the million dollar question. What do you do if a space never opens up? I got a definite sense that my question was an unwanted distraction. I did notice his eyes flicked up to his rearview mirror a few times. Or maybe, he just doesn’t like to think of the possibility of failure, but then he did concede that he has had to park on Riverside from time to time. Then, with no wasted time, no discussion either, he started up his car and pulled a U-turn. He got his space on the other end of the block. In for the night.
          I’ve always envied the Lions. They’re not contributing to that extra 31% of traffic (in some neighborhoods) due to people looking for parking spaces. They don’t have to negotiate clueless pedestrians, garbage trucks that all act like the Mob owns the street their blocking, or other fast driving, suddenly veering drivers looking for parking spaces. They always seem to find a space or else they wouldn’t do it, right? The question is do they have to wait longer than the Sharks or even the Eagles. Maybe it’s not about the least time spent parking. It’s about the “quality time.” That neat excuse we dreamed up to excuse our work obsessed, family distressed way of life might actually explain that how you park is more important than how long.
          Lions have a clearly defined territory and any roaring you hear in the jungle is just a Lion letting you know where their territory is, because when they are hunting you don’t hear them at all. The Lion on my street seemed to have a fall back position, a second territory. Or was that just a way to discourage me from hunting in this one? Lions have been known to flash brake lights, and even flicker reverse lights when you enter their block. Coincidence or an urban roar to let you know whose territory you are in? It’s not as paranoid as you might think. After a long night waiting for a space to open up and then seeing someone else cruise down the block with Eagle-like timing, arriving in front of the only space that has opened up in the last hour could get the best of us thinking up a few harmless threats. Red lights mean danger. So do white ones in this case. Aggressive ways to claim possession naturally occur to the beasts of the jungle.
          Lions are proud creatures. More often than not their vehicles are impressive looking. Usually clean, often snazzy. That, more than any other reason, is probably why I don’t park like a Lion. I try to keep any car I park on the street a little threadbare. It seems to provoke fewer petty criminals and vandals. Turns out our Lion on the block likes our block because he thinks there’s less chance of people messing with his car and then you look at his late model car, and see him washing it on weekends and adding prosthetic bumpers and you see why he wants to preserve it.
          Do less traffic, less driving stress, a convincing roar, and those great looking automobiles make Lions king of the beasts?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Eagles (Part 2 of 4)

          One of the best things about being a Shark is there are a lot of useful hunter/driver skills you can pick up to give you an edge, and most Sharks have their own toolbox of tricks. Some of the wilder ones are pretty off-the-wall, but there are plenty of true believers. You start with the basics like the scientific, those skills that allow you to calculate the array of streets, traffic flow directions, stoplight patterns, and international time zones to be able to run the most blocks without ever having to stop. Most of us do a little of this, at least in our own neighborhoods. In theory this is the fastest, most efficient way to search for anything, right? But what if your efficiency and speed cause you to drive past a space that is just about to be available? After all, on a tough night, any space you find is the one that just opened up. Then speed kills.
          That is where intuition comes in. Almost as mystical as the “eye” (see previous post) but with a higher acceptance rate and cooler rep in most circles, intuition takes a Shark to another level. It’s no longer instinct, it’s something extra and that’s why I am tempted to categorize these parking types as Eagles. From 1000 feet up an Eagle can spot a fish 7 inches underwater. That kind of sight seems pretty magical to me and as these off-the-wall techniques imply a little magic, let’s call those who use them regularly Eagles. Intuition may or may not really work, but if it feels like it does, then why not? The US Army used Astrology in their D-Day preparation. Did they believe? I doubt it, but they didn’t want to leave out any possible resource in their planning, and I don’t want to leave any possible mega secrets to making this parking thing easier unexplored. The premise of intuition is that the “higher mind” somehow can know when a space will be opening up. This “higher mind” guides you to that spot, sometimes by killing time, sometimes by shortcutting you to the exact spot, or both.
          Is it OK to try something that you don’t believe possible? We who park on New York streets have already accomplished what our parents, our friends, what the whole world, said was impossible. Should we stop now? My friend with the “eye” has got some kind of wicked intuition and he’s not stopping there. Don’t you know people that you think are just somehow luckier than others? They are able to beat a ticket, talk a car off a tow truck off or leap tall buildings with a single bound. Everyone knows someone who went to Vegas and actually left a winner (not the Fri night winner who loses it all on Sat). Maybe luck is intuition. Whether it is intuition or luck or just your own personal random parking story, most of us like to believe in something a little larger than ourselves, so I have tried it and, although I am usually a skeptic, it seems to work.
          The days it does work seem magical. It feels like I am using more than 10% of my brain. The days it doesn’t work leave me feeling more like a 7. The trick is to know how to hear your intuition. When is your “higher mind” directing you and when is it some other finely honed parking skill plotting for you a much longer course? It's important to be able to tell the difference because your best instincts will overpower your own intuition in order to get that car moving around as efficiently and as quickly as you can and that’s when you miss out on that great view.
          If you know an Eagle, ask them how they do it. Try it for yourself. Let me know what works. Meanwhile, I leave out hope that if I can just learn to listen more to my intuition instead of a lot of good reasons, I may be a little luckier finding parking. I am getting better at it or I am getting luckier. Maybe I am just getting answers to a prayer. It wouldn’t be the first miracle inspired by listening to a higher voice. We may never know for sure about this method, but I know plenty of people who believe they can do it. Some of the most practical people I know have boasted they are better at parking than most of us. That famous Eagle eye evolved for the eagle’s survival. Well parking skills evolve too. I believe we who must park day to day on NYC streets are even now exploring the frontier of evolution of what the human brain can do.
          Another Eagle type skill is the Mind Control. Mind Control also seems to fit into the Eagle’s powerful gaze over everything as if from a great height. I learned this one in College where young men and women still believe they can control their fate. Mind Control is when you and friends create a story of the person who is going to leave a parking space at exactly the time that you will arrive. The more people participating the better. A car crammed full with students is best. So this doesn’t work well if done by yourself and it works best if you start from about 20 minutes before your arrival. You and friends create this story of a crazy couple who suddenly decide to go out for pancakes and grits, no matter that tomorrow is Monday and a workday, or the Father who tells his daughter to stay put in the all night Copy Shop, that he will drive down to get her. She’ll have to quick change out of that tight dress and heels. You don’t create a story of a doctor who has an emergency call, not unless you want that kind of responsibility. Then by the time you arrive the “force field” of your and your friends’ story makes it happen. Hey, maybe the Eagle’s forceful sweeps back and forth over a body of water actually bring the fish up near the surface. If nothing else, at least it’s a game to distract those annoying backseat drivers.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lions and Crabs and Sharks Oh My! (in multiple parts) and maybe even Eagles

          Those of us who park a car in this city develop our own style, our own approach. Sure we all started out innocent enough, driving around looking for that space that is just around the corner, but once reality hits, once you have seen a dozen corners come and go, not to mention those dinner reservations, the surprise in the surprise party, or the happy expression on your date’s face, you realize this $h!t is hard! Eventually thoughts of survival occur to you. You can’t possibly do this. If you are going to do this, you’ll do it only when you can afford to put up the money for a garage. And then finally, you’ll do this, but you’ll do it better. You'll do it “your way.”
          Sooner or later your way probably falls into one of the conveniently named categories above. Please note that no disrespect is intended toward any species of the animal kingdom (or the mineral, vegetable or any other kingdom) not represented here, and no favoritism, prejudice or other profiling of one species or kingdom versus another is intended or implied. These are just quick but useful symbols to help separate the different parking strategies we use. It’s not like we never move between categories and there may be more categories than that (and I welcome any suggestions), but these 3 (or 4) are worth starting the discussion.
          For myself, I mostly fall into the Shark category. I can’t survive looking for a parking space unless I am constantly moving. The same is true when I am caught in a traffic jam. Better to try an alternate route, any alternate route (even when the experts say it usually doesn’t pay) and be moving in the wrong direction than just standing still in a line of cars that has no beginning or end. Maybe it’s the change of scenery, the different people you cross, the same people you cross in different places, but moving is definitely the best, if not the fastest, way of looking for a space for me. Moving re-energizes my nervous system, recharges the battery that AAA just boosted (the guy tried to get money on the side… again), brings to light any cooling or other running problems the car might be having (before you get on that desert highway), and the finding of a space is pretty straightforward: you get there first, you get the space. A ton or two of steel says so.
          I wish I could say I also possessed the predatory power and persuasive smile of the Shark, but truth is I am probably no more convincing than a single piranha. And single piranha don’t have blockbuster movies or TV specials about them or famously have to move just to breathe. So, every Shark picks up a few skills in their restless hunt. One of mine is knowing where parking is at least legal and, as some of you have figured out, I use a map for that. Another important skill is not falling in behind another Shark looking for a parking space. I mean it’s obvious, isn’t it? Sharks circle. They swarm, but they don’t follow other Sharks. That is just a Movie of the Week yawn fest. A single line of sharks traveling in the same direction isn’t scary. It's a musical dance number. A single Shark following another single Shark around and around might be cute but that is just the beginning of a romantic comedy with the female bound to leave the male Shark feeling stupid and wandering off recklessly without love or a parking space to stand on. This generally makes following any other car a not good idea, but does not always mean following a woman is bad comedy.
          The strategy, like a good Shark, is straightforward. How many parking spaces are going to open up in front of you in one night? About the same as women, I’m guessing. That car you are following is always going to get to that space first, so you follow someone, you are really looking for 2 parking spaces and she didn't even have to buy you dinner. Meanwhile, you are parking for two now and those dreams of ‘Little Bit o Luck’ will not cut it anymore. For this kind of Shark love at first sight you’re talking full Lotto odds now. Hollywood even. And we are tougher than that. If you believe in the 2nd Law of Street Parking that all parking spaces are created open and will eventually open up again (even for people over 30), but rarely two at a time, you want to be out in front when it happens.
          Being out front is not always easy. On a busy night, you have to get a little creative. Go farther off than usual. Circle around. Veer in strange directions that don’t include the sidewalk or into crossing pedestrians. I have trained in the art of passing another car on a single lane street, speed maintained, paint intact. And rejoice the sucker who slows down for a hydrant thinking it’s a space. You need to know the hydrants in your neighborhood and I am halfway past him before he even knows what fire safety feature he has just come upon. Did they really think such a fantastic, two-car length parking space would even exist anywhere but at the end of a movie? Of course, Sharks can be cagey and plenty a Shark has taken care to block me (and I him or her) when they slow down to have a look. Still the 1st Law of Street Parking that traffic must be allowed to flow applies just enough pressure to those annoying frontrunners who try to keep us all behind them that sooner or later you get your chance. Nobody likes a New Yorker in a hurry behind them. A veteran Shark veers off after you pass them anyway. And in case you don’t believe in this 1st law, have you ever, on a one way street, come upon an open space opposite a couple of double-parked cars with a line of cars behind you all trying to catch the light ahead? Talk about your romantic tragedy.
          Another trick, a little less legal, I learned one long and winding night. It was late. Traffic was slow. I had stayed left on the avenue to make the turn as soon as the light changed. I was first, in commanding position for the left turn, the point man for this next block, the guaranteed frontrunner, and this block had a “good feeling” about it. Then out of nowhere a light blue thunderbird comes up along my right side and slowly drifts through the red light. I can still see the reflection of the red light in its baby blue trunk. Then it disappears around the corner. I wait for the light like a good square and pull around the corner just in time to see him or her backing into a space halfway down the block. A real Shark that one.
          There are a lot of little tricks that come in handy when you’re a Shark like knowing the best times of day for spaces to open up or when doormen shifts change or having the “eye.” A friend of mine has the “eye.” Parking with him is always a lesson. I don’t know how he does it but he can spot a man or woman, a group or an entire tribe on the sidewalk or crossing the street and somehow he knows! He knows they are heading to their car or bus and, in the here today gone next second world of parking that is just the kind of edge a Shark needs. He follows or directs me to follow which I do mostly just to prove he can’t possibly know, but he does.
          More on the “eye” and other “Mystics” later.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Car Bomb Thwarted by Tow

          By now everyone has heard about the alleged attempted car bomb in Times Square. No matter how often you see it, it is always a sad and sobering sight when yet another car is hauled away in this city, but this time I was a lot sadder and a lot happier that a car was being towed. This time the city's always alert, always vigilant, vast mechanized army of tow trucks actually seems heroic and has finally found a car deserving of a tow and a parking violation worth fighting. As the image below of our Parking Map clearly indicates, that SUV was illegally parked(!) and they are just dumb out of luck. The NYPD has their car and my guess is will have their man soon enough.
          Now it's the terrorists' turn to suffer. Their vehicle is in the possession of the NYPD and anyone who has been caught in that tractor beam knows what that is like. Let them try to get it back. If the original terrorist attack on the World Trade Center is a fair measure of their stupidity, the NYPD will just have to wait for the wannabe terrorist to claim his or her vehicle. It's either that or else suffer the insult of seeing his or her SUV go to auction, be forced to see his/her SUV purchased for a fraction of what he/she paid for it (but still contribute to the city's finances), maybe one day even have to witness it being driven around by a happy all American family of 3.
          Fortunately, this truly scary terrorist attempt is beginning to look like a pretty amateur operation. It didn't go off. The SUV started smoking before the fireworks and even I know that is just bad manners. The whole thing was expertly defused, the surrounding area efficiently secured and evacuated. And you have to hand it to all the city employees who participated in making this a non event. You know the memory of those brave firemen who went back into the World Trade Tower was on all their minds at least for a moment, but they carried out their emergency measures to the letter and we are all feeling a lot safer thanks to them.
          I know some of you are wondering if Mayor Bloomberg was in Bermuda when all of this went down (see previous post). My guess is that NY Times article inspired that pointed, awkward reference, in his early morning speech, to having been in Washington DC earlier. That would explain the Tux. Looks like he's off the hook on that one which is more than I can say for that SUV.