In Queens we lived in a sixth floor apartment with a view of the street. I commuted to my lab job in the Bronx by car, every day over the Whitestone Bridge. Street parking was hard to find amid the anonymous bedroom-borough brick apartments, on streets with alternate-side restrictions and New York’s pedestrian-friendly prohibition of cars blocking the sidewalk at corners by sticking out past the building line.
One night I got home from the lab around ten and was lucky enough to find a spot right across the street from our place. This was especially fortunate in that I absolutely had to be back at work early the next morning to continue a timed process that was part of some big deal we had going on at the time. It would not do to be late. The parking spot was a large one right on the corner, and I slid straight in with my little Corolla, leaving 2 or 3 feet of clearance behind the car in front. I turned off the lights and went upstairs.
The next morning I got up in plenty of time to get to work. After getting dressed I went to the kitchen for breakfast, and from there I happened to glance out the window and across the street at the place where my car was parked. I was horrified to see that another vehicle, a large, old Buick of some kind, had been jammed in behind it. In order to fit the Buick in at the corner, its driver had pushed my car forward, up against the next vehicle, and left me no room at either end. And still, the Buick protruded a good 3 feet beyond the line of buildings.
Aghast, I ran down to examine the situation more closely. It was actually worse than I’d imagined: bumper to bumper, my car was touching both the Buick in back and the car in front, a Chevy. Two massive automatic transmissions daring my little Corolla to try to move them. With a sense of hopelessness, I got in and started the engine, then eased it into reverse to push back on the Buick. It didn’t move at all. Same with the Chevy. No way. I was completely stuck. Trying to remain calm, I got out and considered my options.
Public transportation would take hours. A cab would cost too much money. Getting the guy towed would involve the police and take all morning. Then, I noticed the Buick’s front bumper. It was a piece of chrome plated metal that stuck out 3 inches from below the grille, flat on top, without those little vertical stanchions you sometimes see. At the statutory height for an automobile impact absorption system, it was pressed against the rear bumper of my Corolla. Suddenly, I got an idea.
Using a ballpoint pen, I let all the air out of the Buick’s front tires, lowering the front bumper by a couple of inches. Now, when I put the Corolla into reverse, its bumper rode over the other, and I could back it up an inch or two until it rammed the Buick’s grille. This gave me enough room to maneuver out of the spot.
Back and forth, turn the wheel, ram the grille. It must have taken fifteen minutes. My arms were aching and I started worrying that, still, I would be late for work. Finally, I got my bumper clear of the Chevy in front. Looking in my mirror, I prepared to pull out into the street. And just at that moment, a police cruiser came around the corner. Two of New York’s finest looking for a place to eat their bagels, they began to drive right past. I jumped from my car and flagged them down. The Buick, I pointed out, was protruding beyond the building line. It should be cited. And I got back into my car and drove to the lab.
That night, when I got home, the Buick was still there, in the same spot on the corner. There was a parking ticket stuck under the wiper blade on a windshield that was now spider-webbed by the impact of some club or projectile. The local delinquents, having seen the ticket and two flat tires, had concluded that the car was abandoned and entertained themselves by smashing its windows. There was broken glass on the seats and some had gotten onto the street. Not all that much, really. But the car was a mess. Reflecting that it might collect another ticket in the morning, because of the alternate side thing, I found a spot down the block and walked home.