Tipping the Balance of Power in NYC

new henryForget Mayor Bloomberg, forget the NYPD. Any New Yorker knows who wields the real power in the five boroughs. It’s the street cleaners. That’s right, you heard me. Those guys rule the streets unopposed. Every New Yorker with a car lives in fear of one day making the unforgivable mistake of parking where the cleaners want to sweep.

The street cleaners’ schedules are posted on every side of every street on every block in the city, multiple times, so you can’t plead ignorance. You may not park your car on the street during posted times (usually an hour and a half time slot) or something really bad will happen to you and your car. I am not sure exactly what will happen because every time I have asked, the only answer I’ve gotten is, ”You really don’t want to know.”

In practical terms, these signs mean you will be forced to move your car at least once a week, sometimes twice, depending on the neighborhood. At the veterinary practice where my daughter works, they make an announcement over the loudspeaker five minutes before street cleaning begins so employees who drove to work can run outside and double park on the opposite side of the street for an hour and a half. Pity the poor unknowing visitors who get blocked in because they made the mistake of parking legally.

In our many trips to New York to visit our daughter and son-in-law, we have been trained to obey this regimen. We have been given advice on which streets and which blocks will require the least number of moves during our stay.

At first, when I suggested this constant concern over the location of one’s car was onerous and people should complain, I was told I just didn’t understand. New York was a densely populated city and these types of rules were required to keep things civilized. Perhaps they were right and I just needed to get over it.

And I have to admit, with all the warnings, I finally began to worry about the consequences of messing with the street cleaners myself. I had become one of the many who lived in fear of forgetting where I parked and finding my car alone on a block during posted times. I had even begun to take the additional precaution of noting the location of my car and cleaning times each time I parked, creating an event in my iPhone. A notification popped up every hour starting the day before I need to move my car.

So now, maybe you will understand why the story I am about to share is so shocking.

It was a normal Thursday in most ways – street cleaning on the north side of 20th Street between 5th and 6th in Park Slope. John and I moved our car from a Friday spot on 22nd when cleaning was over. Sara and Paul were picking up their new baby, their first child, our first grandchild, at New York Methodist hospital. We all met back at their apartment.

John and I decided to go into the city for a while. When we left the apartment, we noticed two empty Thursday spots right in front of Sara and Paul’s apartment . It was about 11:30 am. Street cleaning was over. These were good for a week. Prime spots. Where was Sara and Paul’s car? We walked down the block a bit and then we saw it. Paul had parked across the street in a Friday spot! What the heck! He would have to move it in less than 24 hours – with 2 hot spots less than a half a block away!

I immediately pulled out my cell phone and called him. “Paul,” I said, “You’re in a Friday spot.” I tried to keep the shrillness out of my voice. He hesitated for a minute and then said, “What?”

When I realized he had no idea what I was talking about, I smiled. Those bloody street cleaners had just lost a little of their power. My grandson had tipped the balance. He was already exerting amazing influence on my daughter and son-law-law in his two short days on earth. I think this was a good thing. For myself, I planned to cancel my iPhone event and learn all the verses to Mocking Bird.

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