Parking Karma

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One newscast item in recent months generated a slew of phone calls and e-mails. It wasn't about war in Iraq, budget deficits or Medicare reforms. It was an announcement that alternate-side-of-the-street rules were suspended for an unnamed religious holiday. Well? ...people wanted to know...WHAT religious holiday? As any observant Muslim or connoisseur of parking could have told them, it was Eid al-Adha - a three-day festival commemorating the annual Mecca pilgrimage. Eid al-Adha is one of more than a dozen ASP holidays added in the last three decades. Just last year, the City Council issued a Holy parking edict exempting Ash Wednesday, Asian Lunar New Year and Purim, thanks to an ethno-religious coalition that included Councilman Simcha Felder from, Brooklyn.

Felder: Purim is one holiday that we've been trying for years, ever since I'm a kid, we're trying to get this alternate-side suspended as an accommodation to make it easier to go to synagogue, to fulfill the obligations of the day without being ticketed. And thank God - and thank the speaker - we finally got it done.

It might not be a bad idea -- sparing Purim celebrants the need to move their car. Purim frequently involves much alcohol. For religious Jews, it's sort of like Halloween plus St. Patrick's Day, in its partying, if not quite its theology. But Felder says fear of drunk driving had nothing to do with getting the ASP rules suspended for Purim.

Felder: We live, thank god, in a congested city, there's just no room for anything, that's one of the most wonderful things in the city, people come here to get squashed... but on a holiday, that's what we're talking about, give us a break, like you're giving everyone else a break, so we don't need to run around moving our cars and be able to enjoy the holidays. There's an expression in Yiddish: " koved david...I don't need respect, but I don't want disrespect." So that's the issue with the holidays -- we don't want anything special, we just don't want anything less.

There's no risk of that. Orthodox Jews all but pioneered the association between parking and religion. Traditional Jewish law prohibits driving on the sabbath - and on Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and others. So even before the Sanitation Department's ASP Calendar became a symposium of world religions, Jewish holidays were well represented. Newest to the fold is New York's Asian community. For Fred Fu, President of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, suspending parking rules for a day is a stepping stone to even greater things for the Lunar New Year.

Fu: We want people to know that Lunar New Year is not only a festival for Asian countries, but is a very important festival in America. So first step is try to make on the street no parking, like Christmas. And that's the first step. Later on, we can try to put it through the states as a national holiday.

Calvin Trillin wrote what he considers the world's only novel about parking. He's also the ex co-editor of "Beautiful Spot: A Magazine of Parking."

Trillin: I think the whole suspension on Feast of the Ascension and various things like that is really a magnificent window into NY ethnic politics. Of course the way politics works in a place like NY is, 'Well, you give the Jews one, you give the Catholics one, you give the Muslims one. I wouldn't be surprised to see it balanced eventually, so that the Jews throw in Tisha B'Av and the Catholics with some saint's birthday, and the Hindus - my god, the Hindus haven't even started yet. - You think it's time for them to? Well, I think they could take advantage of the current situation, sure.

Trillin won't speculate about the connection between parking and spirituality. But he thinks the number of religious parking holidays probably has outpaced the observance of those holy days.

Trillin: I'm sure there are a lot of lapsed Catholics running around on some of those feast days, thinking, "Thank God, The Feast of the Ascension or the something of the Ascension or the Blessed something else is here, so I don't have to move my car." It doesn't mean they're going to go to church. It just means they don't have to move their car. And, of course, parking for some people in NY is a religion, so it works out.

Actually, people sometimes do end up in the pews because they don't need to move their cars. Well, sort of. Father Joseph Browne, of St. Ignatius, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Father Browne: In my whole career - I've been a priest, what, 45, 46 years - I think I remember one person telling me they came to church because they heard on the radio that alternate parking was suspended. It was All-Saints, which is November 1. That's not it's primary purpose, as you know, the faithful are supposed to be called in other ways. But those things happen, too, I'm sure.

Among the street-cleaning crews, the new holy days of parking generally have not been greeted with solemnity or celebration. Those "working the brooms," as they say, don't get the day off. And they don't linger back at the base with their feet up on desks, according to supervisor Carl Ferra.

Ferra: They're off from the brooms, some people, but they're never off. We're going to the districts, and we gonna be doing collection, baskets - your street baskets on each corner that people use - and the lifting part of it, maybe the baskets or the collection, that's hard, that's heavy work. A lot of the men, they're not happy. They'd rather be on their broom.

Ferra says with religious holidays, secular holidays, weekends and snow days -- all manner of things can pile up in the gutter. And it can take weeks to get the curbs back up to snuff again. Ferra doesn't know if anyone has gotten are any more religious because of all the holidays, but he says some people do seem to believe in magic: they want the streets cleaned, but only without moving their cars.

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