It’s a crisp autumn afternoon and I’m in a car hunting for parking on the Upper West Side. Unfortunately, finding a spot in this neighborhood is like trying to find a virgin in a whorehouse. Luckily I’m not driving. I’m convalescing you know.
“Is that a spot?” my friend Alicia says, pointing to an empty space up the street.
“If it’s open it’s illegal,” I say cynically. “A hydrant or a driveway.”
“Can you imagine having a garage in this neighborhood?”
“You’d have to be richer than God.”
We drive up and down the streets to no avail. Riverside Drive is packed and all the side streets are jammed up. Some people are double-parked, waiting in their cars to snag a spot when one opens up.
“There!” Alicia says. “There’s a guy getting into his car!”
Gunning the engine she zips up the street and turns on her blinker. But I already know it will be fruitless. No West Sider will give up a spot on a Sunday afternoon. As we wait the white haired owner of the car takes something out of his backseat, locks the car and walks away. I swear I can see a sadistic grin on his face.
“What an asshole,” Alicia says. “He could’ve just waved us on.”
“This is New York, babe.”
We drive away and recommence our search, but I’m getting edgy. If you haven’t guessed it by now, I have a psychological disorder when it comes to parking. I hate the competition for resources game this town make you play. I knew a girl in Harlem who searched for an hour to find a space and eventually ended up parking ten blocks from her apartment. Screw that.
“Why don’t we just park in a garage?” I say.
“That’s so expensive.”
“The craft fair ends at five,” I say, looking at my watch. “At the rate we’re going we’ll miss it.”
“Just a little more time. We’ll find something.” Alicia is very frugal.
Eventually we find some empty pavement on 80th. But as we pull in I spy a sign that says no parking. I tell her so.
“Goddammit,” Alicia says. “Oh wait, someone’s pulling out behind us.” She starts backing up but the minute the space frees up an SUV pulls in before it has a chance to get cold. Alicia unleashes a stream of obscenities. Now she’s edgy. This parking thing’s going to put a damper on an otherwise glorious Sunday afternoon.
“Garage,” I say. “Now.”
Alicia surrenders and we pull into a garage. The rates are highway robbery but we agree to split the cost. “How long you gonna stay?” the attendant asks.
“About three hours,” Alicia says.
As the attendant’s writing out the ticket I see a couple waiting for their car. “It’s going to take a few minutes,” another attendant tells them. “We’ve got to move some cars around.”
I sigh. When you park in a New York lot you can end up waiting forever as the attendants Rubik Cube your car out of the basement. Knowing we’ll take longer than three hours anyway I pull a five spot out of my wallet.
“Listen, man,” I say handing the bill to the attendant. “I have no idea when we’ll be back. Just keep the car handy. Okay?”
The attendant smiles broadly. “Yes, sir.”
We leave the garage and go to the craft fair on Columbus Avenue. My friend has a thing for hats and when she starts kibitzing with a vendor selling a wide array of chapeaus I decide to get a cup of coffee. Now I’m not supposed to drink coffee post surgery, but a caffeine withdrawal headache has taken up residence behind my eyeballs. I’ve been medicating it with Mexican Coke (Not blow, just Coca-Cola made South of the Border. No corn syrup you know.) but now I want java. So I cross the street and dip into a coffee shop.
“Do you have soy milk?” I ask the barista sheepishly.
“One coffee with soy milk please,” I say, hating myself. I can’t have dairy so hippie milk it must be.
After I get my coffee I drop fifty cents into the tip jar. As I stir some sugar into my cup I look around the shop and see all the seats in the place have been annexed by people with laptops. That drives me nuts. Apparently it drives the owners of some coffee shops nuts too. Some places now won’t provide Internet connections or even tables to sit at – just some stools by the counter. Just get your coffee and get the hell out. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I rarely ever hang out in Starbucks banging away on my MacBook. It makes me feel kind of foolish.
I walk out and rejoin my friend. She’s a slow shopper so I just stand to the side and people watch. Some of the people walking the streets are bundled up for winter while others are clad in tee-shirts and shorts. The temperature is around fifty-five degrees and the wind is picking up, making it feel colder. As the lightly dressed people shiver I silently chide their wardrobe choice. Some people like to think summer’s going to last forever. It won’t. It never does.
After an hour Alicia’s got a new hat and a pair of earrings. As we walk down Columbus Avenue I’m grateful I dressed for the weather – slacks, a black wool pullover and a black leather jacket. I’m not too cold and not too warm. I picked the right ensemble. I also think I look pretty nifty. Are the passing cars slowing down to admire my attire? It’d be pretty to think so.
After strolling along Central Park West and gawking the Dakota I feel a nagging tug in my intestines. Oh boy. I have to go. And post gallbladder surgery, when you have to go it’s epic. Since the Time Warner Center has the finest public toilet in all of Manhattan I go to the second floor to sit on the throne in style. After a quite a bit of time I emerge and Alicia and I go into Borders to look around. My second book’s coming out soon and I’ll be giving a talk here on November 4th at 7pm. (Mark the date.) so I look for a sign advertising that fact. There are none. Oh well.
After we leave the Time Warner Center we try and find a restaurant with a cuisine my digestive system can handle. So we decide on sushi and I order light – tuna sashimi and miso. Alicia has crab legs as an appetizer and a big bowl of seafood soup with udon noodles and shrimp tempura. Though I don’t say anything, I’m jealous. After we eat I tack a fifteen percent tip onto the bill and drop the other five percent into the sushi chef’s jar. A guy I know who sells fish to sushi joints told me that’s the way you should leave a gratuity in a sushi restaurant. He lived in Japan and is married to a Japanese woman so I figure he’s right.
“Thank you, sir!” the chef exclaims. His tip jar looks pretty empty. No wonder he’s happy.
Our West Side jaunt complete, we head back to the garage to get the car. Even though we spent five hours tooling around and the fee is usurious, our car comes out in under a minute. Five bucks well spent. I slip the attendant another dollar “Thanks man,” he says.
“How much did you pass out in tips today?’ Alicia asks as she navigates down Riverside Drive.
I do some arithmetic in my head. Six dollars at the garage, fifty cents at the coffee shop and fifteen at the sushi place. “Twenty-one dollars and fifty cents,” I say.
“That’s a lot,” she says.
“That’s why you can’t go to the city all the time,” I say. “This town sucks money out of you.”
“I spent a hundred on a hat.”
“My point exactly,” I say. “But we didn’t have to wait for our car.”
As we head back to my apartment I think about how tips make life easier – they grease the wheels of commerce and buy a little preferential treatment. But New York is the kind of city that milks tips out of you. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the Big Apple without tipping someone something. We live in recessionary times and not everyone can do that all the time. Come to think I can’t do it all the time. But as I look at the cars packed like sardines along Riverside Drive I smile to myself. If we didn’t go into that garage we’d still be looking for a spot.
And I’d have gone psychotic.