Thursday, February 20, 2014

No Savesies?

As I write this, the sun is glistening off the snow pack that has covered my street for the better part of the past six weeks. Temps are forecast to keep rising and, mercifully, the snow should be gone by the weekend.

But for weeks now, Philadelphia and surrounding areas have had to deal with mountains of snow in a continuous barrage, the likes of which I cannot remember seeing in my lifetime.

Sure, we've had large snowfalls in the past, but they seemed to last on the ground a few days, and then temps would rise, rain would come, and the piles of snow would be gone. This year we never seemed to get a break. It was one measurable snowfall on top of another. Again, hopefully that is all coming to an end now.

With the snow have come a number of practical issues that we have all had to deal with, from altered transportation schedules to cancelled school and work days, and, of course, physical labor. The need to continually dig out from the storms. In Philly under Code 10-720, residents have to clear a 3-foot wide path in front of their homes within six hours of the end of a storm.

But that clearing of "a path" only takes care of enabling folks to use a walkway. There is another issue, one that has become extremely heated and controversial over the years and been particularly highlighted this year due to the regularity of the situation: the saving of a parking space from which you dug out your private vehicle.

Over the years we have come up with a number of colorful ways to save the spaces. Some have placed elaborate, creative, humorous artworks in the space. Others have put household objects such as old toilets out there to save a spot. For most, the tried and true method is the placing of lawn or beach chairs in the spot.

These saved parking spaces have caused problems over the years, both here in Philly and elsewhere.
People have argued over them, physically fought one another over them, and people have even been severely assaulted, even shot and killed over them. What makes the idea of a saved parking space during an extreme weather situation push people to such lengths?

There are two sides to every story, or so it is said. For a man who has experienced the good, bad, and ugly of both sides, I think that I can speak on the issue as well as anyone. In winding down what will in the end have been a 28-year career in law enforcement, and having grown up in the tough, close-knit, and difficult parking 2nd Street neighborhood of South Philly, I have seen it all.

On the one side you have the position as formally taken up and aggressively advertised in news interviews and on social media during this recent difficult stretch by the Philadelphia Police Department. That position has become characterized by the simple, catchy slogan of "No Savesies" - that there is no private parking on public streets, and that it is unlawful to block access to such spots, no matter the circumstances.

On the other side you have the position as passionately taken up by a large number of hard-working, blue collar, everyday Philadelphians of all races, sexes, and across all neighborhoods. I know this simply by reading voluminous exchanges on social media and at news outlets: this other side is indeed diverse, vocal, and insistent. Their view: I worked hard to dig it out, then for a short period of time, I deserve access to that spot.

Frankly, I completely empathize with the latter group. I have been digging out cars from parking spaces constantly for over a month now. I know what it is like to get bundled up, sometimes early in the morning, get out in the freezing cold, and manually dig a vehicle out from under and behind a foot or more of snow.

It is hard work, it takes time, and at 52 years of age it is a little tougher now than it used to be for me personally. You do the hard work, straining your muscles, thankful if a neighbor with a snowblower comes along to provide some blessed assistance. Remember, you are usually digging out not just a vehicle, but also a walkway, possibly a driveway, a fire hydrant path, and more.

And in the types of conditions in which we have been faced with lately, you often have to be creative. There is an aspect of engineering and carpentry involved in carving out a parking space that both frees the vehicle now, and that will be reusable later, all while not creating hazards and inconveniences for surrounding neighbors and motorists.

So you do it. You get out there, you do all the hard work. You open up and clear your home walkway, clean a path to the fire hydrant on your street, and free your trapped vehicle so that you can get to the store, to work, to school while also making the space clear enough to reuse later when you inevitably return.

You have done a great job, and you are tired. But now you have to actually go to work, or drive your kids to school, or go to a doctor appointment, or get to the grocery store, or to checkup on a family member. You ease your vehicle out of the parking spot, leave for the doctor office, or school, or store.

And then you return an hour or so later. There is still a foot or more of snow on the ground. There are mountains of snow, both from Mother Nature's original dump, and from the movement around of the piles by you and your neighbors. The usual limited number of street parking spaces is even further restricted by these conditions.

But you're not worried, because you did a nice job of working hard to dig your car out, and will simply put the car back into that hard-earned, well-crafted parking space from which you left just a little while earlier. As you return, your mind finds it almost incomprehensible: someone has parked in the space that you dug out.

Now you can be a well-seasoned, even-tempered, professional law enforcement officer who thinks up pleasant slogans like "No Savesies", or you can be a hot-blooded, mean-streak, quick-tempered "whatever" profession you want to insert here. I don't care who or what you are, I guarantee you that the emotion sweeping over you at that moment will at the very least be described as frustration. Frankly, many get downright angry.

Here is where the truly important part of all this begins to develop. The answer to a simple question will say a lot about you: what do you do now? You really have two choices. You can get out of your car, rage, seek out the interloper, and demand they move, creating a confrontation or worse if they don't. Or you can sigh, move along, and try to find or create somewhere else to park your car, even though that may end up being a block or more away from home.

In those cases, you really have no choice. No matter what, you cannot create a public nuisance or start a fight about a parking space over which you legitimately have no ownership stake. When you purchased your home, it did not come with public, on-street parking spaces. That is a simple fact. You cannot get self-righteous over parking, no matter the circumstances.

In many cases, the person now taking up the parking space may be a neighbor, and you may recognize the car. You may decide to go up to their home, or call them on the phone, and let them know that you are back, politely asking if they will be long. But you had best be prepared before doing so to handle the situation maturely if the response you get is that they have parked and do not plan on leaving.

The bottom line is that, other than the concepts of formally designated handicapped parking spaces and private, clearly marked driveways, you do not own a parking space on a public street. You cannot park in a handicapped space, and you cannot block someones driveway. Otherwise, on a public street, no one owns parking spaces.

There is no formal "law" against the act of reserving parking spaces in the ways that Philadelphians have been trying to do for generations during snowstorms. You are not going to get arrested for putting a lawn chair in a dug out space. However, there are a number of local and state codes, including littering and obstructing the highway, which have fines attached and which can be applied by law enforecement in such situations.

You cannot reserve parking spaces by placing trash bags, a lawn chair, an old toilet in them, by having your kids build a snowman in them, whatever. But perhaps even more importantly, if you do so, and you return later to find that someone has moved them aside and parked there, even that your items are completely missing, you cannot create drama.

We have to be mature and responsible in dealing with any situation, including under the types of difficulties created by nature over the last month. We even have to be mature and patient when dealing with our fellow man during these times, no matter how wrong or ignorant we feel they may have acted.

And also, consider this. If you are young enough, fit enough, and have enough respect and consideration for your hard-working neighbors, maybe you can even use that spot that you just stumbled upon on your own return home, the one someone so carefully carved out, as a temporary refuge for your vehicle while you go and find and dig out another spot on your block.

Not only will this save some hard feelings, it will also give you and your fellow neighbors yet one more place to put their vehicles over the coming days, when parking is likely to remain at a premium. Working together, having respect and consideration for one another, and treating one another with patience and maturity, this is how we will best get through these temporary tough times.

So yes, there are "No Savesies", and you need to wrap your mind around that concept and embrace it. You cannot save a private spot on a public street by placing an object there, no matter the circumstances. It should go without saying that you cannot assault one another or create a public nuisance. But also, you should try to be considerate of your neighbors, the difficulties that they are under, and their hard work.

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