As you know by now, we grew up in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, as in New York City. When you think of getting around in a city that large, you think of subways, taxis, and buses. One of the last things you think about is driving your own car. But we had one at first a huge DeSoto, then a Rambler, something else in between I can’t remember and then finally in 1968 a brand new Plymouth Satellite. You will notice that all these brand names are no longer in existence. I guess if we hadn’t had the house in New Jersey, we would not have needed a car, but we used it to visit cousins in Brooklyn and Queens, and being that it was the Sixties maybe we would have had one no matter what.
Now driving in the city is one thing. It required a certain skill set shared by Kamikaze pilots and Navy Seals. It required nerves of steel, the reflexes of a Cougar, and the determination of a madman. If you think some silly amusement park ride you have been on was scary, you have never ridden in a New York City taxi at rush hour. It blows any ride away.
So here we are with this car in the city; the next logical question you should be asking is what the heck do you do with it when you aren’t driving it? Yes, folks, you needed to park it! There I said it: the P word. Dreaded by most city dwellers especially in New York: Parking. Unless you were rich enough to afford to board your vehicle on a monthly basis of one of the many private garages in town, you were once again at the mercy of the streets. There are millions of people in New York City and on most days, most of them are all looking for the same parking spots as you are.
Ok, so bad enough right? But no; some chucklehead in city government came up with the idea of Alternate Side of the Street Parking. This meant that you had to move your parked vehicle from a spot you had spent hours to find, to the other side of the street every Godforsaken day. The idea was to make it easier for garbage pick up and necessary city services to get done, except of course those simple things never happened anyway. But the law stuck, so even if you didn’t need to move your car, you were not going anywhere anytime soon, you still had to move it to the other side of the street at exactly 6PM each night or risk either a ticket or not finding a suitable spot at all.
You can imagine lines of parked cars, the motors running, guys after a hard days work, sitting bleary-eyed behind steering wheels, constantly checking their Timex wristwatches counting the seconds left until six o’clock when everyone in mad frenzy of squealing tires and shouted curses, would vie for the same spots right across the street from where they sat. It became an Olympic competition amongst car owners; who would get the spots first? Who would time their move perfectly so that they vacated where they were before the Meter Maid came by, but didn’t arrive in the new spot too early, as that same Meter Maid would give you a different ticket for that.
It was absurd; it was stupid; it was life in the big city.
Each day, after arriving home from a hard day at work, before he could come up to the apartment and get a well-deserved meal and a shower, Dad would sit in the car, waiting, waiting..for the right time. And he wasn’t alone; in front and back of him were our neighbors doing the same thing. These were people we got along with normally; but for this one time each day, all bets were off. None of this friendship stuff; just get out of my way and don’t take the spot I want!
Sometimes just for some masochistic fun, we would keep Dad company as he waited in the car. We would sit there silently, the engine running, and he would try to make small talk, something he did not do well.
“So how’s school?”
“Well…” I would start only to be cut off by:
“What time is it?”
“Um…I think it’s..”
“We’re going to get a good one tonight”
Now completely confused I ask:
“A good one?”
“Yea…of course …..one of the good spots.”
Now up until that time I had no idea there were good parking spots and bad parking spots; I just thought it was a place to put the car while you went on with your life. But evidently, some were better than others.
“What makes a good spot?” I ask, ignoring all of my experience, and the voice shouting at me in my head saying Shut Up! Don’t ask questions! Let it go!.
But it was too late. I saw the Dad look, as he clenched his teeth.
“Whaddaya mean what makes a good spot?? What do you think makes a good spot??”
“Ummm…..” I was at a loss.
Shaking his head at my ignorance, he explained that a good spot was one under a street lamp; your car was safer there. A bad spot would be one at the end of the block near the intersection where it had a better chance of getting clipped by the aforementioned insane Taxi drivers, or one in front of a storefront where deliveries were made.
I was thinking there was a lot more to this than I thought when the guy in front of us turned on his headlights!
The Game was on! It was time!
Dad gave me a “Shaaaaa” even though I didn’t say anything, and went into combat mode; kicking the car into gear, and effortlessly backing up a few feet to increase the turning radius in front of him, He spun the steering wheel all the way to the left, and hit the accelerator! Vroom! The motor roared! Dad gunned the motor, shot out into the street squealing into a perfect u-turn so within seconds we were facing the opposite direction; he cut it hard right and spun it back left hitting the break and slammed the gear shift into park.
Just like that; within seconds we were on the other side of the street, already parked as other cars honked and cursed at each other, trying to make the same move. It had been masterfully done.
I saw a look of triumph on Dad’s face.
And I understood; if he had to go through this ritual every night, he may as well make it interesting; a test of his skill and timing, not to mention his driving prowess. He had beaten the whole block of cars to the other side of the street, and as I opened the door so we could finally go upstairs and get dinner, I realized he had done more than that. I looked up into the glare of the streetlamp directly overhead.
I looked over at him and he was smiling back at me.
He had gotten one of the good spots.