Quest For The Perfect Parking Place

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Finding a space for their cars drives Manhattanites to insane lengths

By Lorraine Duffy Merkl

One reason I’ve loved living in Manhattan for the past 27 years is that I don’t need a car. Whenever I do, I rent.

I’ve always believed that I had the whole “car thing” down, so I’d shake my head in disbelief as my car-owning friends engaged in the insanity of alternate-side- of-the-street parking, monthly garage fees the price of studio apartments and having conversations with a guy whose name is embroidered on his shirt along the lines of, “It’s making a noise like, CACHUNGA. Think you can fix it?”

I swore I’d never become one of them, until this summer’s family circumstances dictated a set of wheels. I struck a deal with Hertz for 42 days that would test whether I could cope with a car.

On July 1, I picked up a white, 2010 two-door midsize Chevrolet Cobalt complete with GPS and EZ-Pass. With the cost of the auto, plus tolls, as well as the price of gas looming over us, I decided that even though I could park at Hertz’s garage for a “mere” $14 a day, I wasn’t going to add parking to our new list of expenses. Surely, it couldn’t be that hard to find a space on the street?

Within 10 minutes and only half a block from my house, I struck urban gold. Convinced now that I had car karma, I was positive there’d always be a stretch of curb with my name on it. And there was, even if it took hours to find.

“You’re becoming obsessed,” said my husband, Neil, six days into “ownership,” as I grabbed the keys at 10:30 p.m. just as our doorman was going off duty, hence freeing up his coveted spot in front of our building.

By day 10, parking fever had spread to Neil, who suggested he take our son to his Randall’s Island doubleheader via taxi, as not to give up the car’s amazing placement across the street from our house. A position I procured by stalking a woman leaving the corner Chase bank.

Although I appreciated Neil’s gesture, I had to laugh at the absurdity: One reason we got the car was to travel to the games, and here we were considering alternatives to relinquishing our auto’s valuable “real estate.”

“Lorraine doesn’t like driving, she likes parking,” was Neil’s response when someone asked me how week three was going. True. Parking gave me a sense of accomplishment. I was engaging in urban warfare and winning—most of the time.

“My sister’s going to park here,” said a college-age girl, who blocked what could’ve been my space, at one point during the experiment.

When Project Car began, Neil made me promise not to throw down with anyone over parking. So, I waved her off. Enjoy the spot. I’d find another.

By my fourth and fifth weeks, parking had become second nature.

As my sixth and final week came to an end, someone asked if forgoing the garage had been worth it. The $588 I saved didn’t seem as big a gain as my realization that there’s always an opportunity around the corner, even if you have to go around the block a few times before it appears.

On August 11, I pulled out of my spot to return the Cobalt, and as usual, there was another car sidling up to take my space. I was tempted to finally ask, “Would you jump in my grave that quick?” but already knew the answer: “Yes,” if it were big enough in which to park a car.

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Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel Fat Chick, from The Vineyard Press, is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

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