Posted by: distributorcap | March 21, 2008

Driven to Extremes

I need another break from Bush. The thought of his Royal Scumbag drives me to extremes.

For those of you who have never driven in New York City, it is an happening quite unlike anything you have experienced. Yes I know that traffic and road rage and Laura Bush-like drivers exist in Boston, Alabama, Oregon, San Antonio and other assorted places – but this city has a special place in one’s heart for prilosec (or xanax)-induced moments.

Let me state that I kept a car in Manhattan on and off for almost 12 years. And for the first 4 years or so I did not have a regular parking lot….and for the last 8 years I did have a parking lot in the West 60’s — that was a 20-30 minute subway and a bus ride from my apartment in the East 70’s.


While driving in Manhattan has its own set of rules and adventure, parking a car is nothing short of a special challenge – mentally, physically and emotionally. It is the ultimate game of musical chairs. Consider that some blocks can have a population of 8,000 people. Those same blocks can maybe park 100 cars on the street. Needless to say demand far outstrips supply.

Every block in Manhattan has rules when it comes to parking. Some have meters, some have forbidden zones (hospitals, churches, schools during school time etc.). Every non-metered block in the residential neighborhoods (the East Side, the Upper West Side, Greenwich Village, Gramercy Park etc.) have what is known as “alternate side of the street parking” (aka ASS-P). ASS-P is when one side of the street is prohibits parking during certain days/times, but the other side allows it. Supposedly it is so the streets can be cleaned (and that does happen on occasion). In reality it exists so no car parks itself and never moves. You need to move your car before the ASS-P kicks in, and can re-park when the clock ends it.

The penalties for not moving are severe. A ticket starts at $110 (and grows if you don’t pay or have outstanding tickets). Often the infamous “window sticker” [which reminds you that you are parked illegally] gets pasted on a side window – and trust me, they stick — they take forever to remove. Denver “boots” (a metal hasp attached to a tire, making the car immovable) are very rarely used — but I have seen them. Or the worst of the worst – you get towed to the Westside Pound – which is truly hell on earth (if you don’t count watching Bush give a press conference). If you are ‘lucky’ enough to have to venture over to get your car out of the pound (and I have had to do that) – it is a scene right out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The attendant is a cousin of Nurse Ratchet and the guy who gets your car is a dead ringer for MacMurphy. Then you get to pay a king’s ransom for its return. The tow fee is $185, and don’t think you get to store it at the pound for free — that will set you back $20 per night after the first night (the pound is not a cheap parking lot). And to top it off, you must pay all your outstanding parking tickets (if you have any). Cash and credit card only – no checks. (when I went it was cash only). If you are on a date and this is how it ends — you will not being getting laid, but you sure got fucked by NYC.

To complicate matters, the ASS-P rules are completely different in every neighborhood and often by street. Days where parking is taboo differ, but do have a some sort of pattern — some have no parking on Mon-Wed-Fri alternating with Tue-Thu-Sat, some are Mon-Thu/Tue-Fri, some are Mon through Fri, some Mon through Sat. Outside of Manhattan it is often just one day a week on each side.

Times also vary – you can have no parking from 8a-11a, 830a-10a, 10a-1p, 11p-2p, 8a-6p, 11a-1230p, 9a-1030p, 6-8a. Every permutation exists. So like a Chinese menu – your street has days from column A and times from Column B. My old neighborhood – the Upper East Side, the rules north 72nd street and east of Fifth Avenue were no parking on one side Mon-Thu/8-11a, and no parking on the other side Tue-Fri/8a-11p. Below 72nd Street the times were 11a-2p or 10a-1p (it varied), but the same days. Of course there are exceptions, as 5th Avenue in the 70’s had no parking 8a-6p. Some were no parking ever. Got it?

If you have a car and are too cheap (or poor after spending $2500 for rent) to spend $500 for an indoor lot 20 blocks away (like I was), you learn these rules FAST! And you set them to memory. And you know exactly which streets have which rules. And you know where every red zone, hospital, church and fire hydrant is.

The NYC Dept of Transportation, in their infinite generosity — cancels ASS-P on a variety of holidays – 34 in all. All the standard legal holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day, Christmas etc are included. But so are ALL the religious holidays like Passover, the Asian New Year and the obscure Feast of the Assumption. And most of these holidays change dates from year to year. I didn’t learn my Jewish holidays in Hebrew School, I learned them from the NYCDOT parking calendar. Every driver in NYC can tell you when Shavuot is each year. And what other Jewish guy (other than me) would know the Immaculate Conception is on December 8th. Around 15 years ago the Muslims complained their holidays weren’t included, so New York being the diverse city it is, added 6 Muslim holidays including such easy ones to remember as Idul-Adha. For me, it was just 6 less stress days. Remember back in school when you listened to the radio during a snowstorm to see if school was cancelled. Well I listened to 1010 WINS to see if ASS-P was cancelled. Fortunately, even ¼ of an inch of snow was enough to keep those poor street cleaners home and us drivers in bed.

The Process –

Basically you just drive around and around and around looking for a spot. Your eyes adapt to hunting and pecking pretty quickly. Avenues (like 3rd, Lex) are a waste since they are all metered (except Park Ave. – no meters), streets are better – though some had meters. Waiting on a street for someone to leave was usually not a productive method. Small cars are easier (Mini Coopers find many more spots than Lincoln Continentals). What made the driving even more frustrating was the fact the lights going crosstown (east-west) were not timed – so you could only go a block or two before stopping. You DON’T follow a car that is also looking for a spot (they are usually easy to pick out). Watch for someone walking with their keys out. Know the rules. Keep water and food in the car. Have a CD player or iPod. Learn where the churches, fire stations, hospitals and schools are – you can’t park near them. Don’t EVER be nice and give someone a spot. If you will be vacating your spot before ASS-P kicks in, it is always easier to find a spot on a street that will have ASS-P the next day.

Plan your parking according to the religious holidays – if Passover falls right (like on a Thu-Fri) you can have 4-6 days of parking freedom. Don’t try to can hold a spot by having someone stand it the space – it doesn’t work – they will get run over. Some streets are better than others – know them. Be very careful of getting too close to hydrants – those meter maids will measure. Total time to find a spot – I used to average 15-45 minutes finding a spot – there were days it was over an hour (a lot due to the untimed lights). There were days it was never going to happen. Forget metered spots – you have to throw four quarters in every hour. Be prepared to enter a lot. Figure you will walk a good distance to your destination.

VERY IMPORTANT – if you find a spot, write it down. I cannot tell you how many times I walked around looking for my car since I couldn’t remember where I parked. Yes, it was something out of Seinfeld episode.

If all else (and patience) fails – there are tricks of the trade. I saw people put dumpsters over fire hydrants. I saw people park their cars on the wrong side, get out of the car, and change their license plates (so the tickets would be issued to a wrong plate – I guess meter maids never looked at the window registration sticker). I saw people put tickets on their windshields. I even once saw a couple of guys get out of a car, and pick up a parked car and move it in front of a church so they could park.

The last resort (assuming you are unemployed or have a nice boss) was to just drive around for a few hours when ASS-P is in effect and then get to a street 30 minutes before ASS-P ends. And then just sit in the car til it ends — in case the cops come, so you could move, and then move back. Bring food and a newspaper. Or hire someone to do it for you. There are people who spend their entire day moving cars – and get paid for it! In this bad economy, I would consider it. NYC has professional dog walkers, why not professional car movers.

Worst neighborhood to park – Chinatown, nothing else is even close. Easiest neighborhood – Upper East Side. Most lenient ASS-P rules and the most spaces. Especially west of Lexington, east of Fifth Avenue and north of 72nd Street. Except Lenox Hill Hospital on 76th Street – that was a bad block. The Upper West Side is also tough. Some neighborhoods have a lot vandalism. Have a car alarm, the club and an ignition kill. Don’t keep ANYTHING in the car.

If all this sounds too much, take the bus.

And by the way, if you park in a garage — the above posted prices DO NOT include (as the sign says) the 18 3/8% parking tax. So add $101 to the already bargain basement price of $549 for a monthly spot. If you live in Manhattan and can document it — it is only 8 3/8%.

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Responses

  1. OMG I could not do this, I would crack, I would just start crying. OMG.

  2. Holy hell! You live in a parking nightmare.The ass-p program sounds more like an ass-backwards deal.I’m not even gonna tell you how many cars I could park @ my house.

  3. You just reminded me why I hate NY. I only worked there for a time many years ago.

  4. I thought one of the advantages of living in Manhattan is not needing a car?With buses and subways and trains and the tiny size of the island, why would anyone have a car?Being a Californian, having a car to me is like having air and water — I can’t imagine not having one.This is one of the myriad things about Seinfeld that always made me laugh. Jerry, George and Kramer all had cars and they always managed to find a perfect parking place right outside their building.Aw, the magic of television!

  5. Dammit, dcap, this might be one of your greatest posts ever. Hilariously cruel! Cruelly hilarious! Not that I ever planned on attempting to park anywhere in New York, but you have cured me of the tiniest remnants of that.

  6. I had an anxiety attack just reading your post. Note to me, stay the hell out of NY city.

  7. DCap – Boy do I know this angst. I got a $65 ticket last Saturday for letting my meter expire on York Ave. and 85th Street. I guess I was at my friend’s house for longer than the 1 hour limit had allowed.But considering that I was there for just the afternoon, I bit the bullet and found a parking lot on 88th running an $11 special — out by 7:30 p.m. I think next time, I’ll invest the extra time and hold onto my cash and take the LIRR into town.

  8. I was only silly enough to drive in Manhattan one time, and the driving wasn’t bad, but the parking was insane. Never again. For pure terror behind the wheel, though, nothing really compares to Boston. I will NEVER drive a car in that city again (and I drive in the District of Columbia without hesitation). My mom still lives in the rowhouse in Philadelphia where I grew up; the street was built in 1901, so parking wasn’t part of the neighborhood plan, so my mom is one of the crazy people who put trash cans and lawn furniture out to save her spot. She really envies the driveway at my house in Silver Spring, which she refers to as the “frickin’ parking lot”. Hysterical post.

  9. Get with it D-cap, you have died and gone to hell. The yellow light you blasted through? That was the bright light at the end of life….

  10. Wow, there is no way I could remember all that. I’d definitely lose it if I had to worry that much about parking.

  11. Have you read Tepper Isn’t Going Out? You’d get a few good laughs out of it!

  12. Of all the things that I learned about you from reading this blog this may be the most shocking…You have a CAR?Who knew?

  13. Oh – and talk about lots, I felt like I found a real “bargain” when I stayed in the city 3 weeks ago today.My price tag for housing the Honda on 53rd St in a garage, from 4pm on Friday until 6am Saturday was only $37!Ka-ching.

  14. They should ban all traffic in Manhattan and make all you guys ride Segways.After the initial protest I think people would be happier.

  15. Is that where comedy central is filmed?:)I’ve never been to NYC, and having no suicidal tendencies I know of, probably won’t be. But it did occur to me that the best driving in that city – is where you can see the city in your rear view mirror!

  16. Eek! You need a jet pack.

  17. Sweet Friggin Jaysus! You have now taken me down memory lane DCap. As a former resident of Boston, I have experienced all these scenarios. I sold my car within 3 months of moving there (getting tired of the tickets and expense) and was quite happy to rent a car when we wanted to go ‘out of town’ for the weekend or a holiday. I didn’t see anything about shooting people over parking spots in your piece. When I lived in Cambridge, after a huge snowstorm, I actually witnessed a resident shoot another human being over parking in ‘his spot’, on the public street. The shooter had just cleaned the snow out of the parking spot and was going to get his car when someone moved in a took it. You can’t make this shit up..

  18. Pack and move to Florida!

  19. Whoa…no wonder you thought my $15 ticket was peanuts! I went back to B town the following week and parked again. I got out and made sure I wasn’t sticking too far out. This time I was only 8 inches from the curb so the last time I must have been sticking out by a foot…so I deserved that ticket I must confess.

  20. Garage fees in NYC are bigger than car payments- and often rent in cities like my San Antonio.I live only four miles from downtown and have my very own driveway to park in.If I lived in NYC I’d gleefully dump my car.

  21. Duuuuuuuuude,My hat’s off to you for putting up with that. All that fun and crowds galore too?Oy. I’ll deal with the fires, the earthquakes (we laugh at the fear of earthquakes like you laugh at traffic wussies) and the skin cancer.By the way, last night a woman was shot here in “a road rage incident” involving a cop and a victim who disappeared. Gotta love our ‘newz’ eh?

  22. That’s why I drive a WWII era sherman tank. They don’t have the nads to ticket me! 😉

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