The Sidewalk Less Traveled

cars in traffic

Normally, one does not look for an open miracle. However, a recent trip to Brooklyn convinced me that the laws of nature are suspended for this fine borough of New York, at least when it comes to transportation. This is particularly evident when driving and is equally true when parking. One soon learns that, in Flatbush and Boro Park, the rules of the road are not written in stone or, shall we say, in pavement. For example, when traveling on a main thoroughfare such as Ocean Parkway, it seems that stopping at a red light is optional. As expected, some beeping and honking of horns does ensue. Ironically, the beeping is not aimed at the offending red-light runner. Rather, it is meant to urge on the person whose light has just turned green. After all, why should a little thing like a car barreling through the intersection at 50 mph stop that driver from exercising his rightful right of way or, even worse, causing delays for the people waiting impatiently behind him?

Intersections are not the only areas where one must be wary. There is also the infamous U-turn. Having recently experienced the lifecycle event of having a child pass her driver’s test – I  survived, I’m proud to say – I am familiar with the three-point turn and the U-turn. I was not familiar with the drive-onto-the-sidewalk-and-cross-four-lanes-of-traffic–to-propel-yourself-across-the-avenue type of U-turn. What a harrowing experience! The strange thing is, while you’re clinging to the passenger-side door, trying not to have a heart attack, the driver, who shall remain nameless but not blameless, was completely unfazed by this literal “turn” of events.

Things only got better. As we drove down the newly-paved portion of Coney Island Avenue, we experienced the unexpected: a pleasantly smooth ride. Our enjoyment, not to mention peace of mind, came to an abrupt halt, however, when we realized that this very wide and busy road had no lines on it – you know, the ones that tell you what lane you’re in or, even more importantly, which side of the road you’re supposed to be on. I mean, even if there was not enough money to finish the job properly, hasn’t anyone around here heard of sidewalk chalk? Thank goodness we were able to escape unscathed.

Driving is not the only area in which Brooklyn sets itself apart. Parking also features prominently in the lives of the tired and weary. As you might know, finding a parking spot is tantamount to earning a gold medal in the Olympics – if you’re talking about a legal parking spot, that is. Tooling up and down Thirteenth Avenue, it is not uncommon to see cars, trucks, and vans double- or triple-parked. This does not faze Brooklynites in the least. Drivers simply maneuver around the parked vehicles, swerving into oncoming traffic, and continue on their way. The only people who lose out are the unsuspecting (out–of-town), law-abiding citizens, whose glee at having found a legal parking spot quickly disappears when they come back to find themselves blocked in.

On a semi-positive note, this severe parking shortage has motivated retail establishments to “think outside the spot.” Some supermarkets now offer – get ready for this – valet parking. I know that if you live in Brooklyn you think this is normal. It’s not. The rest of the world actually has supermarkets with parking lots. Unfortunately for those of us from out-of-town, valet parking at a supermarket causes a bit of cognitive dissonance – you know, the confusion that results when faced with the coupling of two things that don’t really go together.

You see, in the past, my valet-parking experiences were followed by something like walking into a wedding hall, where you’re greeted with a surplus of gastronomical delights that are clearly better than anything you would have prepared at home. This makes the whole valet/supermarket thing very unnerving. Not only are you entering a store where you have to pay for your food, but, to add insult to injury, you then have to take it home and cook it. I think it would be a wise business decision on the part of the esteemed owners of these food establishments to greet the passengers of any car with an out-of-town license plate with a tray of franks n’ blanks as well as a complimentary drink. A cocktail napkin inscribed with the parking number should then be tucked under the wiper blade. This would certainly make this difficult transition a little more palatable (in both senses of the word!).

If there is a silver lining to this story, it is that driving in Brooklyn has, believe it or not, made me less judgmental, even though it did raise my blood pressure. In the past, I always took it as a joke when I saw the bumper sticker that says, “If you don’t like my driving, then stay off the sidewalk.” Now, I realize there’s some truth to it. Just as not every place has parking lots at their supermarkets, so, too, not every place uses their sidewalks only for walking. If I ever move to Brooklyn, I think I’ll produce a bumper sticker that says, “If you don’t like my driving on the sidewalk, you must be from out-of-town. Have a great day!”

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