While I know there are many things to complain about in New York City, one that bothers me the most is parking. At this point in my life I do not even attempt to drive a car in Manhattan, and that is because city rules and regulations have made it difficult if not close to impossible to park on many streets, usually making the only alternative terribly high-priced parking garages.
The Parking Meter
One of the most salient reasons why it is infinitely more difficult to park now is because of the loss of an annoying but nevertheless beloved item – the parking meter. The parking meter was one of those things that were a part of everyday life that I totally took for granted. Walking down the street and passing them along the way never used to give me a reason to stop and study them, but there was an inherent beauty in the parking meter. Like the subway token and the phone booth, the parking meter was an integral part of the city I never appreciated until it was gone.
A parking meter designated a real parking spot. This meant that I could pull up to the curb and be confident that I found a place to leave my car. There was also pleasure in jingling the quarters in my pocket, realizing I had enough time to park there as long as my coins didn’t run out. I liked slipping the quarters into the slot and seeing the black arrow show how many minutes I had to shop or eat or just walk around.
Now the parking meter has been replaced by the Muni-Meter – the hideous invention which I first saw in France 30 years ago. There are no designated individual spots with the new meter, and rarely can I park near one. Usually I have to take a spot almost a block away and then race down the street to get my little coupon to put on the dashboard, giving the ambitious parking agent a chance to ticket my car before I get back to it.
There also can be other people ahead of me trying to figure out the way to get the money into the Muni-Meter to get their coupons. This gives the parking agent even more time to give my car a ticket before I can get back to it.
Besides these very practical complications, there is another reason to detest the Muni-Meter – it is aesthetically unpleasant, having an appearance less appealing than a cereal box. Compared to it the lost parking meter had symmetry and substance, with curves like Venus de Milo and the countenance of a metallic Mona Lisa. As I think back on it now each one did indeed encourage a little smirk on my face because even though I was annoyed to have to pay for parking I was happy to find a parking spot.
Now to get my parking meter fix I can visit little Long Island towns where they are happily still in place. Going shopping or out to lunch in these picturesque villages, I take comfort in backing into a parking spot, taking out my change, and sliding that coin into the slot.
Using these parking meters is bittersweet because it brings back memories of the past when I could do the same thing in the city I love. These days when I go about the city I must take the subway, bringing back memories of my youth riding the trains with the jingle of tokens in my pocket. I have become adjusted to using a MetroCard now, but that too is just not the same. I still miss dropping that token into the slot and going through the turnstile and getting my subway ride through the magic of one little coin.
I mourn the loss of the parking meter as I do other things from my youth like the phonebook, eight-track tapes, and Dad’s Root Beer in big glass bottles. No one ever gave the poor parking meter the respect it deserved, appreciated its integral place in the landscape of the city, and its cultural importance.
Just think about all the people who lost jobs because the parking meter has been replaced. All those repair people who used to fix them are no longer needed. The guys who collected the coins from the meters are now out of work as well, and the erstwhile meter maids of the past are a distant memory.
Come to think of it, Paul McCartney would never have been able to write the song “Lovely Rita” without the parking meter. The titular character would have been off working in some boring job instead of walking around in the sunshine and writing parking tickets in her little white book. Thank goodness for the parking meter.
And In the End
There is not nor will there ever be something like the parking meter again. I have leaned on them waiting for someone or just watching the city go by. Now there is a vacancy that only seems apparent when I look at the city sidewalks and think something is missing.
With parking meters it felt as if I had a fighting chance to get a parking place, but now I know the game of looking for a spot is over. With all the restrictions and limitations now in place, it seems that Mayor de Blasio’s plan to keep cars out of Manhattan is going to be realized. It really feels as if there is no place to park anymore. Rest in peace, New York City parking meter. Please tell the token and the phone booth I said, “Hello!”