Pictured above is my car, a 2008 Honda Fit Sport, parked snugly Wednesday on my street in Sunnyside, Queens. I was lucky to find that spot—just 100 feet from my door—and the rules for that side of the street meant it could stay there until Monday. All of which was great, until road crews showed up Thursday morning, seemingly out of nowhere.
The crews were there to build speed bumps, after having scraped the street one day a few weeks ago, and repaved the street a few days later, each time towing every car on the block that hadn’t already been moved. Both times came with just a day or two notice.
Having lived here for 10 years now, most of that time with a car, I’ve become adept in handling such surprises, and my car has only been towed twice, for any reason. Both times stupidly.
The first time was undeniably idiotic, about three years ago, when I noticed a parking ticket on my car and figured that I’d forgotten to move it, incurring said ticket. So, I thought to myself, now that I’ve already racked up the ticket, why not just let it be, it can’t really get any worse, can it?
I didn’t even bother to look at the ticket to confirm my suspicions, which was very dumb. In fact, said ticket was for allowing my state inspection to lapse, meaning that, having given me a chance to rectify the situation, on the second day whoever decides these things had my car towed, to a lot at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
I went there, expecting to pay some amount of money to retrieve my car, maybe $200. What happened instead was that I was informed that because my car was not street legal, I would have to hire a tow truck to tow my car from the tow pound to a repair shop, which would inspect my car, make any necessary repairs, and certify it as a machine that’s legally able to be driven on the streets of New York.
Around $1,500 and several hours later, I was again back behind the wheel.
The second time my car got towed, around a year later, was because I parked it in an area reserved for commercial vehicles from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday, which was just an act of negligence that might have been even dumber than the whole inspection business. That time only cost me the $185 tow fee, in addition to the fine for the ticket, which was something like $100. The experience at the Brooklyn Navy Yard wasn’t memorable except for a British man who was in the midst of an argument with one of the clerks because she wouldn’t release his American wife’s car to him because his driver’s license was from overseas. But he had retrieved said car from the tow pound before, he said. I think he eventually got it.
Anyway. What you eventually come to accept as an owner of a car in New York City, if you can’t afford to park in a garage, and must, therefore, submit to the streets, is this element of surprise I dealt with this week.
On Tuesday, for example, I got home from work at around 7:30 p.m. Street sweepers would be coming through the next morning. If, like me, you were trying to find a new spot at the last minute, you you may end up parking far from where you want to, like under a bridge somewhere, with bird shit raining down on your car.
But instead what happened was that I found a spot very close to the one that I had, the spot you see in the picture above. I can’t tell you how pleased I was with this! What could have been a half-hour chore had instead turned into a one-minute errand, and my car was safe until Monday. Life was good.
Until Thursday morning, that is, when the crews showed up. Nothing ever goes right here when you own a car. Expect chaos all the time. Chaos reigns.
It could be worse. I used to live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where they clean each side of the street twice a week, not once a week, like they do in Sunnyside, meaning that I frequently had to move my car four times a week, unlike now, which is ordinarily twice a week.
Elsewhere, in places like Brooklyn Heights and Manhattan, where there’s exponentially more competition for spots, it’s not infrequent for car owners to sit in their cars for the entire time slotted for the street sweeper, which is usually an hour-and-a-half, and just chill, moving their cars briefly when the sweeper comes through, and then moving them back. This is because they know that if they leave entirely, a spot may not free up on their street for days, if not weeks or months. I’ve done this before when I’ve lived in other places, and it feels ridiculous. But you do what you have to do.
The thing about doing this dance, like I say, is to accept the unexpected, even if it leaves you with a constant, low-level tension, as you sit in your office and stare out the window and wonder if you’ve forgotten something, and your car is in the midst of being towed, and all the sudden you’re out a sum that will reach into the four figures.
Or you wonder if you’ve accidentally left it unlocked, and you’re in the midst of being robbed. Or you wonder if your rims, which you were told once are very valuable on the secondary market, are in the midst of being stripped. Or you wonder if, maybe, you’re fine, and your car is just sitting there.
It can be enough to drive you mad. What a town.