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Sympathy for the street sweeper

INSIDE/OUT

As my roommate Elizabeth and I moved into our new apartment in

Burbank, we found ourselves confronted with a question that needed a

quick answer before it destroyed the harmony of our living

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arrangement: Who would get the garage space?

The tenants in our complex are allowed only one parking spot per

unit -- additional cars have to park on the street. I didn’t want to

have to park on the street, and neither did Elizabeth.

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But smelling an opportunity, I used the garage space as leverage

to get what I really wanted -- the big bedroom (or bigger bedroom,

really -- the apartment is a two-story linen closet). Go ahead and

take the parking space, I told Elizabeth magnanimously. I’ll park on

the street and take the larger bedroom as a consolation prize.

Elizabeth smiled and readily agreed. Score! I mentally shouted. I

get the big room! All she gets is a measly parking spot. And she

thinks she’s so smart!

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I quickly learned that I had made a huge mistake. Before I cut my

deal with Elizabeth, I had taken a look around and saw plenty of

available parking up and down our block. But what I failed to realize

was that we had moved in on a weekend, and moreover, in the daytime.

So at 7 p.m. Sunday, after I had finished unloading the last boxes

from my car, I drove around to the front and -- slammed on my brakes

in astonishment. Parked along the street were cars, nose to bumper,

as far as I could see. You would have thought a neighbor was hosting

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a Rolling Stones concert.

And so my parking headaches began.

I found that if I get home early enough from work, I might find a

parking spot reasonably close to the apartment. But if I work late or

run errands before coming home, I’ll be lucky to find parking in the

same time zone. This is only a slight exaggeration.

The worst time for finding parking is, of course, on

street-sweeping days. I’ll get home and see an entire side of the

street devoid of cars. But this, I learned much to my wallet’s

chagrin and the city treasurer’s delight, is an optical illusion. The

truth is that gorgeous expanse on one side of the street isn’t a

bunch of available spaces. It’s a marketing ploy by the city’s

parking enforcement division.

“Look, I just need one space,” I tried explaining to any city

official who would listen. “Ten feet of space, is all I need. I’ll

sweep it myself, I swear.” But to no avail.

On street-sweeping days, it doesn’t matter what time I get home --

there’s just no parking to be had. I tried a few times to park on the

wrong side of the street, checking throughout the evening to see if a

spot had opened on the other side. But, darn it if at least 20 of my

neighbors weren’t doing the same, and as soon as a space freed it

became a mad race to see who could grab it first. Even then, I might

have had a fighting chance if my married neighbors hadn’t worked as a

team.

“Honey! A spot! Quick! Stand in the street and save it for me!”

Which wasn’t right, but what was I to do? I doubted a jury would

be sympathetic to me running over someone in a bathrobe and curlers

just so I wouldn’t have to walk a few blocks.

On nights when I come home feeling particularly tired and am

loathe to spend the next 20 minutes searching for a spot, I’ll park

my car on the empty side of the street and promise myself I’ll get up

early to move my car to the other side.

This is extremely risky behavior, and I don’t recommend it to

anyone. For starters, I have to remember to move my car in the

morning, when my as-yet-uncaffeinated brain hasn’t kicked into gear.

After two parking citations, I finally started taping a note to my

alarm clock that reads: “You’re parked on the wrong side of the

street! Get outside and move the car, you fool!” It takes a sense of

urgency for me to get out of bed early.

But I’ve also discovered that daylight doesn’t necessarily mean a

spot on the legal side of the street will be available. I live close

to the Burbank studios, so most of my neighbors are in the acting

business. In other words, most of them don’t have jobs, or regular

ones, anyway. So on many mornings I’ll read the note on my alarm

clock and rush out to the street, only to find that not a single car

has moved from the night before. On those mornings it’s everything I

can do not to start banging pots and pans together to get those lazy

thespians moving.

“Wake up! Early bird catches the worm, sleepyheads”

Just a couple of weeks ago, I woke up to the sound of rain

pounding furiously against my window. Ah, I thought to myself. No

need to move my car. Who’s going to street-sweep during a major

Pacific storm? I rolled over and went back to sleep, not realizing

just how seriously the city takes its revenue streams. When I walked

out to my car awhile later, there was my pink parking ticket,

carefully wrapped in plastic to protect it from the rain.

I’ve recently taken to prodding my neighbors to try to maximize

the use of the space we have. I’ll slip little sticky notes under the

wiper blades of cars that say, “Hey! If you pull up closer to the

driveway, you’ll free up four extra feet of much-need space!” or “Try

parking nearer to the end of the street! Parking is at a premium

around here, and we all need to work together!”

So far, my efforts have yet to yield encouraging results. But I’m

going to give it awhile.

If my sticky-note campaign fails, my next step is to start writing

letters to City Hall, demanding that officials do something about the

terrible congestion on my street. I figured I’ve paid them enough

money in tickets by now to at least put a down payment on a parking

garage. I even have a great idea on how to finance the rest of it:

Build the garage on a spot where there’s street-sweeping, and in a

few short weeks, it will have paid for itself.

* DAVID SILVA is the city editor of the Leader’s sister paper,

the News-Press. His column runs Saturdays. Reach him at 637-3231, or

by e-mail at david.silva@latimes.com.


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