“I’ve never seen you happier,” my wife told me one day last week. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. As I started to do a little dance around our living room, she looked at me with bewilderment. The reason for my burst of happiness? I had parked our car and wouldn’t have to move it for more than a week.
Most people saddled with vehicle possession just about anywhere in this city can relate to my satisfaction. Unless you’re one of the lucky few with a claim to a driveway or a garage, or you’re wealthy enough to afford flushing hundreds of dollars a month on a reserved spot, you’re like me, and you’re subjected to the regularly scheduled dystopia that is alternate-side parking. These regulations, which affect virtually every residential street, set aside specific days and times (marked by street signs) in which cars parked on one side of the street must be moved to make way for street-cleaning vehicles.
Here is a sign that prohibits parking on a specific side of the street between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday:
Objectively, alt-side parking rules are a civic good: The street cleaners sweep up the curbside detritus that is a fact of life in a city of eight million people, and without an ordinance to temporarily assure that parked cars are out of the way, the accumulated filth would be unimaginable. Just don’t try to convince me any of this is worthwhile on a morning when I have to move my car. I seriously might have to hurt you. Calvin Trillin once said trying to park in the city is “the only thing that matters.” He even centered an entire novel around the parking exploits of a fictional New Yorker. He titled it “Tepper Isn’t Going Out.”
One of the great pleasures of living in New York City is that you don’t need a car to get around. The mass transit options are plentiful and can get you just about anywhere, and this is true even as the subways increasingly become overlate, overcrowded death traps. Cars are for people who need to get out of the city at a moment’s notice. I moved to Brooklyn six years ago, and I had a car for the first two of those years, until I ran it into the ground. My wife and I spent the next three years without a car and it was mostly a blissful time, since we never had to deal with traffic and alt-side parking. But after our son was born we found ourselves increasingly pissing away money on Zipcar and rentals to visit out-of-state relatives on weekends. In February we decided to go back to being car people.
On one side of most streets there is alt-side parking once or twice a week, though in parts of Manhattan I hear it happens three days a week, which is exactly how I envision the seventh circle of hell. I’d sooner ghost-ride my car into the East River than have to put up with moving my car three times a week. I live on a block in which parking is prohibited on Tuesdays between 8:30 and 10 a.m. on one side, and on Wednesdays between 8:30 and 10 a.m. on the other. It’s enough to make me feel like a deranged, paranoid lunatic constantly obsessing over what day it is and where my car is parked.
The penalty for an alt-side violation is a $45 ticket, and I don’t care where you live, or who you are: If you were to try to test these regulations, or if you just plum forget to move your shit, a little orange ticket will be folded in half and placed beneath your windshield wiper. They’re out there, I’m telling you, and they will find you.
Moving a car to comply with alt-side parking regulations requires a strategy. Typically, there is a lot of trial and error involved, along with any number of complicating factors. For example, if the car is parked in what I creatively like to call a Tuesday spot (which means the car must be moved on a Tuesday morning), the strategy will be markedly different than it would be if the car were parked in a Wednesday spot. Wednesday spots are good. I love Wednesday spots. I go into reconnaissance mode trying to secure a Wednesday spot. I’ll explain why in a bit.
A Tuesday spot is a real pain in the dick. This is because the car has to be moved twice: once to a temporary location sometime before 8:30 a.m., then again back to the block on which I live as close to 10 a.m. as possible. You’re probably wondering why I don’t leave the car wherever it is once it’s been moved the first time. But if you wait too long to bring it back, you’ll be shit out of luck when that block’s cleaning comes due. Invariably, the car has to be moved to some other block subject to some other parking regulation—a meter, or a later alt-side time—that requires yet another move. This is what triggers the madcap game of musical cars in which the music always seems to be starting and stopping inside my head. Can I park it there? Nope, too close to a fire hydrant or a curb cut. How about there? Nah, too small. What about—no, no, no ... damnit some other shithead just took that spot. This is how it goes, week after week. And it’s worse than it’s ever been.
When I first owned a car in the city, from 2011 to 2013, far fewer people possessed cars, so it was far easier to develop a strategy. Now, with Brooklyn steadily transforming into nothing but luxury high rises, there are way more people in my neighborhood, and way more cars. The complexity of strategizing requires timing everything just right. My best-laid plan for tackling a Tuesday spot is to move the car one block over—onto a busy, commercial street with meters, and where there is street cleaning every morning between 8 and 8:30. I have to make my move just before 8:30, and I have to pay $1 for one hour of metered parking. My kid has to be at daycare just down the street by 9:30, and my wife works a mile and a half away and has to be in around the same time. So around 9 or 9:15, the three of us will walk around the block to pile into the car, and I’ll make the rounds of dropping both of them off, after which I’m usually back on our block by 9:45 a.m., which is typically after the street sweeper has already come by, and the NYPD has stopped issuing tickets. I can park near my apartment and get on the subway and get to work.
But, as I discovered the hard way, if I don’t time that first pre-8:30 a.m. move just right, everything else goes to shit. One Tuesday, I waited till right around 8:30 to move the car one block over, and it was too late. Most of the nearby metered spots were already gone. I had to circle the block a few times before I was lucky enough to nab a spot just as someone else was pulling out. But in those precious few minutes, the traffic had started to get heavy. There’s a bike lane directly next to where the street parking is available—and parallel parking requires pulling into the bike lane and stopping. As I whipped out of traffic and came to a sudden stop in the bike lane, I suddenly discovered I had cut off a woman on a bike who had been in my blind spot. She came to a sudden stop and pounded her fist on the trunk of my car before shouting something at me. As she zipped by me to my left, I shouted something back at her—and I felt good about it. Only after I parked and got back home did it hit me that I had damn near killed that woman. This is what alt-side parking does to people.
This is also why Wednesday spots are so wonderful. If I’m in a Wednesday spot, the entire process gets streamlined into one maneuver: On Tuesday, just before 10 a.m., all I have to do is move the car across the street into a just-cleaned Tuesday spot. And that’s it. I don’t have to think about it again until the next week’s cleaning. God, Wednesday spots are the best. When we’re home on weekends, I frequently peer through the blinds in one of our front windows, like some CIA spook staking out an ISIS training ground. Only I’m just some hump monitoring whether one of my neighbors has moved her car to go do stuff, which is my cue to spring into action. A real hero.
My quest to lock down a Wednesday spot sometimes turns me into a bad person. Over Memorial Day weekend, my wife had a friend in from out of town. The friend was taking a bus back home at the end of the weekend, and the place where she had to get the bus was not accessible by subway. It was suggested that, when the time came, I could maybe give her a ride to her bus depot. Sure, I said. I can do that, no sweat. But after we returned home in the car from something or other that Sunday, a Wednesday spot was available, and I’m telling you it was illuminated by a ray of light coming down from the heavens. I could barely contain my glee. I also made it clear that I did not want to move my car again that weekend. My wife’s friend wound up taking a car service to get her bus. I felt no guilt.
The only thing that’s better than a Wednesday spot is when alt-side is suspended altogether, usually on a holiday of some sort. I keep the calendar handy, and I even have alerts set up for the alt-side Twitter account, just to make sure I don’t waste time strategizing a move I don’t have to make. Last week, after returning from a trip out of town, I parked in a Tuesday spot but the rules were suspended. That’s when I did that little living-room dance as my wife looked at me like she couldn’t believe she had married such a madman. We’re going on vacation soon, which reminds me: We need to return early enough that Sunday to grab a Wednesday spot. And I won’t be thinking about that the entire time we’re gone, I swear.