Space Wars Around the Corner

By Carter O'Brien

Once again I feel the need to clarify the savage law of the land in Chicago regarding street parking in winter. The seasonal sport of "spot saving" is almost upon us.

Back in the pre-gentrified days of Lake View I used to think saving a spot was pretty ghetto—an old crusty couch or broken dishwasher just LOOKS like crap. Believe it or not, back then there wasn't much spot-saving. Most people actually shoveled a spot, god forbid, and it all worked out.

Then more and more people started packing into these already crowded neighborhoods, and you know what? The newer people didn't seem to want to be bothered with shoveling. Perhaps they thought this was something that the city was supposed to do, or that the snow shoveled itself. Either way, I noticed that the people who live in the Fortress of Suburbia used to have the snow shoveled off their enclosed streets and deposited directly onto the public street outside their walls. And last year I noticed that they had not bothered to shovel the sidewalks for two blocks on Diversey and Wolcott. That ought to be illegal. Apparently having a lot of money not only means your dog should be able to take a dump in the middle of a public park, but that someone else ("those" people most likely) should shovel the sidewalks for you.

Two years ago, after shoveling four spots on George Street and watching giant assholes not only take the spots but park up my little Civic's ass so they could avoid ANY work, I lost my patience. I chased after a guy after I saw he had not even bothered to MOVE a crappy little TV tray I had left in my spot but had actually DRIVEN OVER IT. He turned out to be the jerkface landlord of the apartment building next door, and he ran into the basement and wouldn't come to the door. This is the same guy that never shoveled the sidewalks in front of his apartment building, forcing old people to fall all over the damn place and the rest of us to be plain miserable. I didn't catch him, but I left a note on his windshield that was so nasty I was startled it even came out of me. It began, "Attention Motherfucker..." and I will not bore you with the rest. I will note that he never did it again and apparently sold the building a year later. Jerk. We have a date in hell some day....

Anyway, I must emphasize that I don't like the practice of spot-saving. I gave into it grudgingly. But since Mayor Daley endorsed it, and since the people who complain about it don't ever seem to be shoveling spots themselves, it does seem to be fair. At the time when I finally snapped I was forced to either turn into a butthead and steal someone's spot or park six blocks away only to have to move my car before 7 a.m. the next morning. Two bad options.

Many people believe that you are not entitled to a parking spot in Chicago. Well, quite frankly that's a load of bullshit. What do you think street parking is for? Before developers came along and threw up three-unit McCondos where single-family bungalows used to be, and before people decided they needed gargantuan Ford FreightTrain SUVs, there were no parking problems whatsoever in Lake View and Lincoln Park. Neighborhoods south of Lincoln Park and other neighborhoods with lots of high rises have always been doomed, but until the late 80s or early 90s, around Diversey and Southport it was rare if you couldn't find a spot almost right in front of your house.

I do try and follow sane logic, and despite my agitated tone ("Oh, the humanity" about covers it in a nutshell) I do follow some general rules of decency, and they have worked so far.

Rule #1: If you shovel a spot after there has been enough snow to make it difficult or impossible to pull in without shoveling, it's yours. If there are two inches of snow on the street and you try to save a spot, drop dead. I'm not saying anyone OWNS a parking spot. There's a difference. If you do have the right to a spot, be creative and put something truly hideous there that suggests you have no taste, no shame, and certainly no problem causing serious property damage to anyone who moves your junk.

Rule #2: Peeling out of a spot for 10 minutes and leaving a ton of snow everywhere does not count as shoveling. You have not actually removed any snow, you've just sent it into the street and into the spots on either side of you. Lazy bastard! Don't even think of putting that milk crate there, your neighbors have eyes everywhere and they will steal it.

Rule #3: If someone moves your stuff out of your spot, tosses it aside in the snow, and then takes your spot, you are free to pour some nasty liquid on their car, especially if you put a lot of work into clearing that spot. If it took me more than an hour of back-breaking labor, that car would feel my rage. I still laugh thinking of the old man on my dad's block on Wolfram near Southport who actually dragged a chair and hose out and sat there all afternoon icing down someone's car. The cop who lived next door came out and shot the shit with him for a while, and then just asked him to stop. That's justice!

Rule #4: If someone goes a step a further and STEALS your stuff out of your spot (even if it's junk, which I hope it is) and then takes your spot, escalate the property damage accordingly.

Rule #5: If someone has the audacity to take your spot and then put their own junk in it when they leave the spot, that has serious, serious repercussions. That is beyond rude, that is an actual assault to your dignity and to the dignity of humanity. I would recommend breaking windows, scratching a key on every single panel, or knifing the tires. Or even better, doing all three. "Listen to your heart," as Fat Tony on the Simpsons would say.

You may be afraid to take action when someone steals your spot because you wonder how you know if the person parked there was the person who took it in the first place. Well, if it's been less than a few hours I'd say the chances are really, really good. But yes, if you aren't sure, play it safe. Then again, if someone sees a spot that looks too good to be true, e.g. it's neatly shoveled and there is a giant ironing board in the snow next to it, I'd say they ought to know better and stay the hell out of it.

Am I insane? Yes. But try to find a cop who gives a shit when you call up and claim someone iced your car. They know the score. In fact, my favorite quote on spot-saving is from a Chicago police officer: "Even if it was against the law to save a spot, what am I gonna do? Go arrest a chair?"

I love Chicago.

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Copyright©2002 by Carter O'Brien.

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