Saturday, July 22, 2006

My life in parking -- a short history

And so proudly I hailed that my car was still there...

That is one of my morning mantras. Owning a car in San Francisco is always a mixed blessing. I've heard it said that every day there are something like 650,000 cars in this city and 450,000 parking spaces. Zipcar has this current ad with a statement on the order that during the average year, a person spends 350 hours having sex and 450 looking for parking. Uh, hate to admit it but the disparity is much greater than that for me. Three hundred fifty hours? If only. Four hundred and fifty hours? If only just that many.

A number of years ago, our builidng looked into turning our otherwise useless basement into a garage. Bids ranged from $75,000 to $250,000 and could easily be double that today. I could park my car on the sidewalk every day and the cost of the tickets would be a fraction of the cost of opting for that conversion. So, even though my little Saturn is nine years old and long ago paid for, I still wish it had a safe, easy spot to park it.

A car is always both a liability and an asset in San Francisco. And it can have a huge impact on by social and love life. Sometimes I just don't want to hassle with leaving a comfy parking spot to get out of the neighborhood. And during the rainy season it's even worse when the option of walking or taking PT is a soggy, nasty mess. And stress in any relationship is heightened when parking is involved. I definitely have learned never to give or take advice on parking. Only fools get out and make those hand signals to "help" you park. It just looks like spastic dance and makes me want to floorboard it and run the person down on the sidewalk. So knowing that parking often has mirrored other things going on in my life at the time, here are a few snapshots of a decade of the eternal quest for the perfect parking spot:

November 1996 -- I sign a two-month lease on a spot at the Fifth and Mission garage. (I was desperate and had a flight back to my home at the time in two hours.)

February 1997 -- I move my 1993 soft-top Jeep (ridiculous, I know, but I bought it before turning 40, needing some form of release after being marooned from New York back to the Midwest) to a parking lot at Hoff and 16th. It has a chain link fence and was a favorite alley for hookers and heroin addicts. You had to use a key to open a padlock to get in. It has since been transformed into a children's park.

August 1997 -- A miracle! A new owner buys into the building where I rent a garage apartment smaller and 10 time costlier than the first one I rented at age 21 in 1978. The new owner does not have a car, and I move the Saturn I traded in for the Jeep into the garage that is 50 square feel larger than the apartment. I feel like I am in Walnut Creek.

April 1998 - I move eight blocks to after buying into a TIC, and must relinquish my secure garage spot for street parking. During the next 18 months my partner garners $1,200 in parking tickets. I garner just less than $80 of my own over the next eight years.

November 1998 -- While I am on a trip to Seattle, the same boyfriend calls in a panic that he found the passenger window of the Saturn smashed in. Nothing was taken, just literature in the trunk from work ruffled. I settle everything with the glass company long distance and return home 48 hours later as if nothing had happened.

October 1999 -- A month after my parnter and I have transitioned from being a pair to roommates, I go to renew my parking sticker and discover that there are $700 of his delinquent parking tickets that must be paid before I can renew my sticker. On one day in July, he got an unfathonable four tickets in 12 hours. For the first time in our five years together, I let him know just how pissed and violated I feel. For the first time he writes a check on the spot instead of saying "Oh, don't be so anal, I'll get to it." We have been good friends ever since.

March 2000 - Against better judgement I park in front of the ballfield two blocks south and find that a ball has shattered my windshield. The repairs eat up my entire $500 deductible.

June 2001 -- Against beter judgment I park in front of Buena Vista School. In the morning I discover that my rear liscence plate has been stolen (the front one is still in tact.)

November 2001 -- Coming back to my place in the SUV (why, oh, why in SF!) of the beau I'd been with for three months he becomes increasingly stressed that he can't find parking. It's after 9 p.m. This is normal. I keep calmly suggesting options. He becomes more hostile even though I am keeping calm. "This has never happened to me before on a date!" he says. (Okay, so it's my fault. All those cars hogging spots are mine, I want to say.) Disgusted by what I consider to be his over-reaction, I blurt out, "Well, now it has." We break up the following week.

May 2002 -- A jerk puts a neatly typed note on my windshield: "If you had moved your car up two feet, two other cars would have been able to park instead of you hogging two full spaces. Be more considerate or next time the parking karma gods may slash your tires!" Well, I agree that people should not hog spaces, but I fit my car into the space that was available at the time, created by the other cars that could have pulled up closer to the drives at each end of the curb. I learn to avoid parking in that spot in the future.

September 2005 -- Someone cuts the decal off my license plate. I spend two hours at the DMV the day before heading off on a two week trip to D.C. and Virginia, waiting for my replacement. Tip I learn from a street-savvy granny in my writing group: after applying the decal cut an X into the decal with a razor blade.

July 2006 -- Parking is becoming almost impossible in this neighborhood. There is rampant construction going on, and at least 25-30 spaces have been sacrificed to the undoubtedly needed PG&E and other projects going on. But couldn't they have done them in phases instead so many at one time.

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