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.

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