Sunday, May 21, 2006

Parking

I pull into the lot at the Midtown Tennis Club and almost swoon. Parking. Lots of it.

“Kyle, I predict you’re going to like learning tennis here.” This is, of course, unfair of me to say. You see, I already love it here—and we hadn’t even been inside. I eye the expanse of asphalt with a dreamy look in my eyes, row after beautiful row of brightly painted, yellow-gold stripes. The wide-open, empty spaces. I inhale a deep breath through my nose. Aaah.

Parking, or lack thereof, is part of life for city moms. It’s a subject I presume most suburban parents never have to consider, but it’s something I find myself considering every day, for just about every single child-based activity.

“A picnic at Sunshine Park? Sure! Sounds like fun!” Where will I park?

“A birthday party at the Goodman Theater? We’ll be there!” How will I retrieve my children without getting towed?

“A play date at 900 North Michigan? Huh? Me too? Ummm… Oh, there’s an extra space in your garage?” Whew.

Parking is the reason I wanted to buy our house. It has a driveway. After the showing my husband looked up from where we stood on the sidewalk and envisioned 110-years of Victorian charm crumbling around him. I looked down the long expanse of driveway that led to the alley and said, We have to take it!

You just want it for the driveway, he said.

And the problem there is, exactly what?

My husband takes the El to work. He doesn’t understand.

But my kids do. They even help me with the chant to the Parking Goddess.

You’ve never heard of the Parking Goddess? Sacrilege! I’ll bet you never get Hollywood parking, either. I know it sounds crazy, but prayers, chants and personal sacrifices to the Parking Goddess are all part of a city moms life. If you’ve never circled Lincoln Park thirty times while your Trotters To Go Chicken Salad warmed to salmonella temperature in the trunk and your kids started panicking as they watched the sun set on their picnic at Sunshine Park, then maybe you can’t understand.

I know I’m not alone in believing in the Parking Goddess; I’ve seen other moms in action—sure, different chants, different juju, but it’s all essentially same. We even debate the efficacy of our different rituals, but we all believe in her. Oh yes, we believe.

And you can’t forget, when you get that great space, to give thanks. The Parking Goddess is munificent, certainly—but merciless when thanks is forgotten. I had a stretch where I had to park blocks away from my destination and it lasted for several weeks, all because I forgot to give thanks for the space right outside the veterinarian’s that time I had to lug my nineteen-pound cat inside for shots. The next time the Parking Goddess finally saw fit to grant me a good space, I sacrificed a Volvo.

Every after-school activity and play date is given a lead-time based on time to destination—and time to park. The academy where the boys take Karate lessons is about a five-minute drive from where we live, but we leave 20-minutes prior.

Then there was the summer morning my son Ethan smirked when I said, “Hurry up! We’ll be late for the beach!” He figured it was just more of my dry humor. It was. I was kidding—just, sadly, not really kidding enough. You see, the parking lot at the Lake tends to fill up by 11:00 am.

And I thought my quarter hoarding days were over when we moved out of our apartment and into our first house, with a washer and dryer in the basement. Nope. Now I need quarters for the parking meters. At least in my neighborhood, a quarter buys you an hour. As you head south and east from here, that same quarter buys you less and less. A few times I’ve run out and found myself holding out two dimes and a nickel to complete strangers, Can you spare a quarter? Citiphiles get it. They reach into pockets and purses to help me out. Those of you from out of town, or who just moved in from Elmhurst, give me a wide berth—apparently having been warned about aggressive street people begging for change, even those with Prada bags.

I suppose public transportation would be the way to go, better for the environment too, but I try to imagine getting my kids to Karate on the #11 Lincoln. We’d have to leave the night before.

So instead of being environmentally conscious, I’m parking conscious instead: completely incapable of driving down any side street without thinking, “Ooh, there’s a good space.”

Today I tell Kyle, “Hurry up, we’ll be late for the parking lot—I mean your tennis lesson.”

I want to arrive early, so I can sit there and swoon.

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