Tempting Fare for Book Clubs – Quindlen’s Alternate Side

9780812996067   Love New York City?  Want to improve your vocabulary? Your neighbors driving you crazy? What do you think about the homeless?  Do you have parking?  Anna Quindlen’s story about lives intersecting in Alternate Side has so much to talk about.

It’s hard to appreciate the value of a parking space unless you do not have one.  In Calvin Trillin’s Tepper Isn’t going Out, the main character jockeys moving his car to alternate sides of the street to accommodate New York City’s idiosyncratic parking rules.  Parking space is sacred, maybe more important than the car.  I could relate – I’ve been there.  In Quindlen’s story, Charlie and Nora have finally scored a parking spot in the private empty lot at the end of their dead end street in New York City.  At first, the description of the cul-de-sac occupants seems innocuous – just another neighborhood – until one of the residents whacks the indispensable handyman with a golf club for blocking his car.

Suddenly, the atmosphere shifts to the underlying currents plaguing this quiet area – not only the mysterious bags of dog poop on Nora’s front stoop or the rats running out from under the cars but also Charlie’s unsuccessful quest for recognition in his career and Nora’s dissatisfaction with her marriage.  With her usual flair for relatable characters, Quindlen reviews the parallel tracks of the haves and the have-nots, comparing lives :  a group of homeowners with rising equity in old Victorian homes to the Jamaican nannies/housekeepers and handymen from the Dominican Republic who serve them; the superficial wealthy founder of a jewelry museum to the fake homeless guy outside the building; Nora’s private yearning for the lost love of her gay college boyfriend to the husband she settled for.  Quindlen uses a phrase to mock them all – “First world problems” – how is it they want something else, when what they have seems so much more.

Quindlen’s stories are quiet yet forceful, and she is on my list of favorite writers; she can’t write fast enough for me.  One of my favorites – Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake – her “roadmap for growing older while still enjoying life” has one of her relatable lines I still live through.  In Alternate Side, she offers an opportunity to examine what is important in life, and how long it takes sometimes to realize it – if ever.  Or – an alternate view might be, she offers a tale of a middle-aged couple in New York City who finally got a parking space.

An Added Note:    My best friend and I were reading this book simultaneously, her on the East Coast, me in the middle of the ocean, and we both loved the words – our favorite is “bespoke,”  but a few others crept in too – eschew, ersatz – you might find more.  And I had to highlight some favorite phrases:

“If all the women who fantasized about their husbands’ passings made them happen, there would be no men in the world.”

“There remained the hand-tinted wedding portrait hanging at the end of the upstairs hall, in which both of their parents looked stiff, a little uncomfortable, almost as though they had not yet been introduced.”

“…since she was eleven, the beginning of a time when, Nora knew now from experience, girls are mean as sleet and should be cryogenically frozen and reconstituted later…”

Related:  Miller’s Valley

 

Do You Pay for Parking?

After living in the suburbs for most of my life and parking in a driveway, the only parking problem I had was moving another one of the family cars, so I could make a fast getaway.  Parking on the street was free for anyone who stopped by to visit or to party to celebrate an auspicious occasion – graduation, birthday, winning the lottery.

When I moved to the city to a condo with more residents than parking spaces,  I became the moving nomad in my car, on the prowl for a space, and praying that one of the ninety year old residents who had seniority – and a space – would die soon to open up a place for the next on the list (I was not at the top).  The parking shuffle well-known to residents of most big cities usually precludes staying in one spot.  Street sweepers have priority on surprise days, meters expire in the middle of the night, and city ordinances limit unlimited luxury hours.

Michael Cooper and Jo Craven McGinty report on  – A Meter So Expensive, It Creates Parking Spots  – in their article for the New York Times.  San Francisco is experimenting with a new program

“which uses new technology and the law of supply and demand, raises the price of parking on the city’s most crowded blocks and lowers it on its emptiest blocks. While the new prices are still being phased in — the most expensive spots have risen to $4.50 an hour, but could reach $6.”

As expected, their effort is getting mixed reviews.  In my neighborhood, the city is considering changing the meters from fifty-cents an hour to a dollar an hour – seems cheap by comparison, but nobody wants to pay for what they could have had for free…

Cooper and McGinty note that Donald Shoup’s book – The High Cost of Free Parking – includes a quote from “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza character: “My father didn’t pay for parking, my mother, my brother, nobody. It’s like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I can get it for free?”

Do you pay for parking?