Alternate Side Parking and the Social Contract

I mentioned some time last week in the comments section that I was having some issues trying to live here and be a mother at the same time. I’m having difficulty with things like grocery shopping, alternate side parking, and just getting around in general.

One of the hardest problems I have had to deal with is alternate side parking. For those unfamiliar with the concept, every other day (for an hour and a half) you have to move your car from one side of the street to the other. Let’s say it’s Thursday right before 1 PM. The street cleaner has come and gone and now everyone from the Tuesday/Friday side has to move their car from that side to the other side to avoid a ticket the following day.

What you get is this: at around 12:45 PM at least five people get in their cars, move them, and sit there until 1 PM. That way, they are guaranteed a spot the following day and don’t have to drive around forever (or park somewhere dodgy, like I usually do) later on.

That’s all fine. I get that mentality. If I had the time and never used my car except to move it from one side of the street to the other, I’d probably do that too. My biggest problem, however, is in regard to our neighbors. The house directly next door is home to an extended family. They purchased the entire three-story home (which is split into three apartments) and three families (from the same family) live there. It seems they have about 5 cars total, but three are there all the time.

And these people drive me crazy. They simply refuse to follow any sort of social contract when it comes to alternate side parking. They don’t take up one spot per car. Instead, they take up anywhere from four to six car lengths. And one of their cars is a monstrous SUV.

Below is a picture taken an hour ago. Behind the tree on the far left, you can make out a little bit of the SUV. That car is owned by the older guy and he lives on the second floor. His car talks. It says things like, “PROTECTED BY VIPER! STAND BACK!” which is REALLY awesome when you have a baby napping. The car in the middle is owned by the guy living on the third floor. The car in the back is owned by guy who I think is the younger brother of the guy on the third floor. He lives on the first floor.

The amount of room in front of the SUV is double the space of what you see behind it. I can’t get a shot of that from here, but here’s an illustration:

And, no, this isn’t the fault of any other car on the street. These guys know exactly what they’re doing. They do it almost every day. Granted, they have no control over how close the car behind the last guy parks in relation to their own, which is why when the red car pulled in late last night after a rarity occurred and someone left, I snickered.

I can’t tell you how angry it makes me. I’m embarrassed by how angry it makes me. I’m embarrassed I don’t have the guts to say something to them about it.

This morning, as we left to see Tobyjoe off to the subway, I decided it was time to write a note. I put it on the SUV, (delicately of course as IT’S VIPER PROTECTED!) On our way back home, I removed the note from the car because it seemed too passive aggressive and pathetic. Plus, I know it’s not going to change anything.

And so…

I’m embarrassed I wrote this. But I simply don’t know what else to do. Yes, I could ask them to stop, but they won’t (and I’m too much of a coward anyway). They do this because they don’t want anyone scratching their precious hunks of metal (they never drive). (Edited to add: I learned from a comment that it’s for another reason entirely. I feel so stupid!)

I’ve watched my mother’s once mint condition, hand-me-down get keyed, scraped, dented, and smashed in only a year’s time. But I don’t do crap like this. Having your car’s bumper destroyed is one of the things you silently agree to when you live here with a car.

I’m not proud of myself for feeling this much rage over something so mundane and simple. I try and do the whole “Embrace it and let it go” thing—you know, breath in, breath out.

But I can’t let it go. It never stops pissing me off. So, I wore patchouli today in hopes of conjuring up some residual hippie vibes leftover from college. Someone’s gotta give and it simply has to be me.


  1. I know how frustrating this must be. We live in astoria, queens and alternate side parking is a pain. I saw this lecture last night that changed a bit my way of viewing things and definitelly made me think about whats worth worrying about in this life. I think you’ll love it too, it’s so inspiring especially for us new parents. If you have some time please watch it, it’s a bit long but so amazing! It’s called Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams and it’s given by Randy Pausch a CS professor at Carnegie Mellon University. (You might have heard of it)


  2. I seriously wouldn’t worry about this if it weren’t for the damned tickets they give out the moment it turns 11:30. Just wish people played nicely and fair. It’d be so much easier to live here. :] (To be honest, I get more upset with the speeders and the light runners. They are just evil and mean.)

    I will check the lecture during our next nap time.


  3. Ah…this is another reason not to own a car. Boston is a wee bit more forgiving – not as much street-cleaning going on, BUT we still decided to give up our car about 2 years ago. Now we just use Zipcar. And it’s excellent. Never have to worry about parking. Never have to worry about dents. Plus, we spend less on transportation than we did when we owned a car and we spend more time on our bikes.


  4. I’d love to not have a car. We didn’t for so long and used Zipcar as well. (Esp in DC.) But I can’t figure out how to make that work either. How do we get Em to the doctor’s office? I feel like now that we have a baby we NEED a car. Well, need is strong, no one needs one, but they really do come in handy when you have a baby and (therefore) a must have car seat. I am not sure how we would have gotten by without one here especially when I was pregnant.

    Anyway, yeah, we got a car. My mother gave us hers after 10 years of driving it. It’s not new. It’s not perfect, but man does it ever come in handy for us living here now that we’re with baby.


  5. people on our block do this so that they can fit another car or two in if they have to. basically someone can grab the keys to two of the (offending) cars and make a space. not the most neighborly thing to do, but it is what it is…


  6. OMG! Keith! That hadn’t occurred to me! I bet that’s what they’re doing JUST incase someone should need it. Like I said, they seem to own up to five cars. Maybe people visit? And they aren’t sure when they’ll be stopping by? Man, had I known, i’d have kept the damned volvo and done it right back. (Can’t beat em, join em eh?)

    Wow, thanks for letting me know that’s what they might be up to. Totally hadn’t thought of that.


  7. I’d tottaly feel the same way. That is wayyyy too much space b/w cars. And that talking car alarm would send me over the edge.


  8. I thought you knew that’s what they’re doing when they block the spots! I’ve even seen them move a car when someone in their gang needed a spot. I’ve never thought of leaving a note but there was SUCH a terrible one when I left this morning (white SUV literally taking up almost 3 spots) that I should have left one. I’ve also pulled in right behind the silver VW Bug once (ROCCO plate) and seen her park and not pull up right behind the car in front. I actually just think some people are that dumb.


  9. Meredith! That’s the SUV you can’t see in my shot! That’s the perpetrator! He’s the one who made me so blindly angry this morning! That’s the guy!

    And he actually MOVED his car UP widening the gap between the middle red car and his but not enough to allow someone between them (or in front of him and the car ahead.)

    I can’t tell you how angry these people make me.

    But they never let anyone in today. They just did this for shits and giggles.

    And, yes, I totally know the Bug you’re referring to. Another offender out front.

    (for the record, folks, Meredith lives on our block as well.)


  10. Have friends with motorcycles come to visit you and make sure they park in between!


  11. egirl, love the way you think! Maybe we should buy a couple vespas for that very reason. (Save on gas, too, right?)


  12. BTW, i am such a freak I will move (or make Andy do it) our car up when there’s a glaringly large space in between our car and the next just because I feel bad that one other person’s car wouldn’t be able to fit on that side of the street. Somehow I guess i believe Karma will get me back one day.


  13. Not a freak. I do the same thing. Ask TJ.


  14. How do we get Em to the doctor’s office?

    umm, my parents used the subway to take us from astoria to chinatown! :)

    i’m sure when we have a kid, the pediatrician will be in manhattan as well. but i can’t imagine why driving a car into the city would ever be a better option than the subway?


  15. I don’t take him into the city. Did I say that I did? I take him to a doctor here in brooklyn. It’s easier driving in brooklyn from one place to another sometimes than it is taking the subway. (I’m sure you’ve been there before, right? Bus sometimes works, but not always.)

    But, to answer your question, I have taken him into the city, it isn’t easy, but I do it. Lugging the stroller up several flights of stair isn’t easy, but it’s been done! I’m getting big arms living here.

    Maybe having a doctor in the city would be easier for us? I have no idea.


  16. Doesn’t anyone drive smartcars in NY? You could park a smartcar between each of those cars and foil their plans!
    That seems awfully selfish to hog the street. Doesn’t anyone have off-street parking in your area?

    My sister and BIL bought a house recently, and they have one car, which they like to park in front of their house. (big lot, should be room, right?) Their crazy neighbours apparently feel they are entitled to park in front of my sister’s house exclusively, and will scream and yell obscenities at my sister if she attempts to park in front of her own house.


  17. ugh! I HATE THIS! it sends me into a blinding white rage and bubbling resentment of shitty neighbors.
    fortunately, there are “douche” cards ( i don’t hesitate to write our bad neighbors infractions on the back.


  18. I feel for you – parking etiquette in American cities used to stress me out so much. Whenever we go back to the US (and hence, have a car) I spend half my time worrying about said car. Ugh.

    We had a car over in the UK for a brief period of time. It was a nightmare. Now, our aim is to live life without a car. For me, it is an environmental thing, in a lot of ways. I can live without a car. For the husband, it is an economic thing. We could never justify all we would have to spend on a car considering how much we would be using it. We rent cars (occasionally) and take cabs when necessary. We don’t have a child right now, but we hope to continue without a car when we do. We are lucky that right now because we currently live in a small city in Ireland and everything we need is within 10 minutes walk (including the doctor who would take care of future children), but even in London we had friends who had kids who never owned a car. I think it can be done, but as an American, I can see the appeal of having a car at your ready! Sometimes I miss not just being able to hop in and go, and I can see how having a child might just make them seem even more necessary.


  19. Is the carseat why zipcar won’t do it for you? I was just reading up on zipcars and thinking about joining (on Susie Bright’s recommendation actually) and wondering if it would work for me. I have to look and see if there’s a pet prohibition because my main reason would be to transport the dog to the vet. Is it possible (if not now maybe when Em is older) to get a car seat that’s relatively easy in and out so zipcar would be helpful? Just reading this entry has totally raised by blood pressure, the little social contract things make me nutso.


  20. Hi there- Its my first visit to your blog, and I just had to say how steam comes out of my ears too when people do that sort of thing. Its totally so they can save a space- I had neighbors who used to do it. I was about to leave a note like you almost did, but another neighbor beat me to it! And it was nastier than I would have written. Amazingly, they stopped. Not that I suggest you should do that! But I just wanted to let you know you are not alone in letting these cases of poor etiquette/social graces/what-have-you cause ridiculous rage. It happens to me all the time (especially on public transportation!)


  21. This happens to me on my street in Los Angeles, too! I hate that we residents can’t park just because somebody’s friend might visit some evening! I get irrationally angry too. I do ask people to MOVE UP or BACK when I see them using space inefficiently but of course I’m not always in the yard to see them.

    I used Zipcar for years in DC and Northern VA but there is a prohibition against pets (at least there was up to 3 years ago). I used to hail a cab when I needed to take my dog somewhere that wasn’t walking distance. Most cab drivers were friendly, and those that didn’t want to take her just wouldn’t stop, so there was never any conflict (she was a 45 lb lab mix, neither huge nor tiny).


  22. You know what? This pisses me off too. I don’t care how many friends they “might” have over at some random time off in the future. You live there with your one-year-old baby and you need to not have to deal with crap like this simply because they’re inconsiderate.

    Don’t apologize for being pissed. You’re waaaaaay more self-effacing about it than I would be. Take advantage of their creativity. I’d go right over there, with Em (preferably when he’s cranky), every single time I noticed it and be really nice and smily (kill them with kindness) and be like “hey! I’m your neighbor from 6B!!! Thanks so much for thinking of leaving some extra space, because I have nowhere to park right now and my baby is grumpy and I’m so glad all I have to do is ask you to scooch forward a foot or so for me to fit in! Are you able to follow me out now? Because I’m ready to move my car. Thanks!!! :-)”



  23. I kind of like having a car. I know that probably doesn’t make me very popular here in NY, but I kind of rely on it for the necessary things. It is low maintenance, gets great gas mileage, and it’s totally paid for. (Plus, it’s old and so insurance is very cheap.) I dunno. I really don’t want to get rid of my car. I know I said I’d love to not have to have one, but I like it. I like being able to drive to the grocery store to get a bunch of stuff if I want to and not have to plan for it. I like taking trips on the weekend. I like getting Em to the doctor’s by driving. (especially when he has his shots. I don’t like to make him get home in the heat or on the bus after having a bunch of vaccines injected into his arms and legs.) :[ I know, I’m probably an over-protective mother and a bit over-privileged as well? But I like having the car and I really do want to keep it.

    So, yeah. I guess I just wish they had less cars and weren’t so greedy and shitty. That’s all. :[


  24. When I lived in Boston each apartment came with ONE parking spot in the garage. One neighbor had two cars and would put one in the spot vertically and the other behind the first car horizontally, making it almost impossible to navigate your car out of its spot if you were unfortunate enough to have the next one over. One day I left a note – not a snarky note, but a nice note. When I came home that evening (I generally used public transportation during the day and left the car) all four of my tires had been slashed. This was 15 years ago and I’m now 47. One thing I have learned over the years is that people who are social assholes are always social assholes. It’s all about them and they don’t understand why you don’t realize that they are entitled to behave any way they want.


  25. I didn’t have a car years ago when I lived in London, and it was marvelous. But the UK has much better public transport – I imagine in New York you could pretty much get around New York and that’s it – you’d be isolated in the city. I would never get rid of my car in America, no matter where I lived. It’s just too necessary to get from one area to the other. Maybe these mega high gas prices will change that! Suddenly, a bus route to work sounds like a deal.


  26. Sid: You nailed it. TJ said, “Don’t bother, they won’t change.” But here I am hoping I can change the world, selfish bitch that I am. Who’s to say that we shouldn’t all be acting like they are, right? heh

    Wow, imagine that? It’s a good thing that most folks are good.


  27. This is one of the reasons we’re thinking of moving to North Carolina. Combined with snow shoveling and having to re-shovel because other people on our street are too lazy to do so. Also because people throw beer bottles and lottery tickets on the ground. Oh, and because they shoot bottle rockets into their neighbor’s windows.

    We’re opting for a smaller town quality of life.


  28. I have to agree with the above commenter: social assholes are always social assholes. We even have the problem here in the south. And we have driveways and guest parking. Residents knowingly break the rules (which they signed when purchased) and it screws up those of us who follow them, or try to be considerate… because it makes total sense to park your car blocking driveways of neighbors, or to stick out of your drive way 5 feet into the road around a blind curve because you don’t want to use your garage that you bought… I’m trying to let go of my rage, but its hard.


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