Positive Energy

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m waiting for an appointment in front of a building on Riverside Drive. Grey clouds hang low in the sky while an eastward breeze carries the laughter of children playing in a park past my ears. I look up at the dour sky and wonder for the millionth time where the sun has gone. New York has felt more like Seattle during the past week and if the sun doesn’t show it’s face soon I’m afraid we’ll have to resort to human sacrifice. Maybe we can burn up some politicians inside a wicker statue. Hey, it couldn’t hurt.

I lean against the building’s cool masonry and look at my watch. My appointment’s running late. I shrug internally. After several months interviewing people for my book I’ve gotten used to delays and complications. As the wind ruffles my hair I decide to kill time by looking at the people walking the streets. Clusters of schoolchildren paroled from their daily captivity loudly clot the sidewalks, forcing the dog walkers wrangling the pampered canines of the Upper West Side into the streets. An old lady dragging a cart full of groceries pauses to let a group of energetic children pass by and sadly shakes her head. Maybe she’s annoyed at the foul language the kids are using. Maybe she’s remembering her own girlhood and wondering how time passed by her so fast. I’m not in her head so there’s no way to know.

A man carrying several shopping bags emerges from the building I’m leaning against and walks up to a parked car with Jersey plates. As soon as he pops open the trunk with the remote on his key fob a passing motorist screeches to a halt, makes an illegal u-turn, and pulls alongside side the man and his car.

“Hey,” the motorist asks. “You leavin’?”

“I’m gonna be a while,” the guy with the Jersey plates replies.

“How long?”

The man shrugs. “A while.”

The motorist shakes his head disgustedly and drives off without saying a word. Nice.

I smile to myself. That motorist is a perfect example of the vultur area stativa Novum Eboracum – The New York City parking vulture. In a city where free parking is a commodity as valuable as food and water, these rapacious Manhattan residents will run red lights, cut people off, and steal spots other drivers were patiently waiting for. I’ve actually seen people get into fist fights over parking spots. And in the winter? Oh, it gets much worse.

The man from Jersey goes back into the apartment building. After a few minutes he reemerges with several more bags. As he’s arranging them in his trunk another parking vulture makes an illegal u-turn and swoops in.

“You pulling out?” the driver, a young man with his baseball cap on backwards, asks.

“Nope,” Jersey Plates replies.

The motorist screeches off, saying nothing. As Jersey Plates loads his car a gaggle of parking vultures repeat this predatory cycle several times.

“Can you believe this?” Jersey Plates asks me after another frustrated motorist pulls away. “The minute you touch the door handle they’re on your ass.”

“I’m from Jersey too,” I reply. “I believe it.”

“Drives me nuts.”

“They’re like vultures smelling dead meat a mile away,” I reply.

“Not like this in Jersey.”

“Unless you live in Hoboken,” I reply.

“Oh brother,” Jersey Plates says. “That place is awful for parking,”


Another another parking vulture in a Volvo swings his car around and asks if the man is leaving. Jersey Plates waves him off.

“You know something?” Jersey Plates says. “I must be a jerk. I actually enjoy telling these people to go away.”

“You’re not alone,” I reply. “Calvin Trillin once wrote a story about a man who sat in his parked car until his time on the meter expired. When motorists hunting for spots asked him if he was leaving he’d reply that he paid for the spot so he was going to stay there. Drove ’em nuts.’

“Calvin who?”

“Calvin Trillin.”

“Sounds like a funny story.”

“Wonderfully sadistic.”

As I watch the man finish loading his car I remember the one thing I truly DESPISE about Manhattan – the parking. There’s never a spot when you need one, the byzantine signage about parking rules is confusing, and the meter rates are positively usurious. In New York, a dedicated parking spot can cost as much as a home in the Midwest. I once read about a woman who was closing on a two million dollar apartment. When she asked where her parking spot would be, the realtor replied that she’d have to shell out $200,000 extra for a spot. The woman took a pass on the apartment. I don’t blame her. Maybe she moved to Jersey.

Once, when I was toying with the idea of living in New York, I inquired at parking garages about the monthly fee to store my car. The prices were astronomical. When I did find a garage offering monthly parking for around $300 a month I was elated, only to be told there was a two year waiting list. Many people who live in New York don’t own a car, that’s fine, but I’m the kind of guy who has to have access to mobility on demand. I don’t like having to race to Port Authority to catch the 2:00 AM bus or risk waiting an hour for the next ride home. I don’t like the thought of renting a car to go to IKEA or make a leisurely jaunt to Connecticut. If there’s an emergency I want to be able to get in my car and go now.

I feel sorry for Gotham’s car owners. One Manhattan friend of mine is often forced to park several blocks away from her building and, when she does find a spot, she has to get up early to move her car so the street sweepers can pretend to clean the street. “I know people who move to Long Island City because they’re sick of the hassle,” she once told me. “At least there you get your own spot.” In NYC owning a car is an ordeal. And that whole process of playing musical cars, spending valuable time hunting for a spots, or running outside to feed the meters can grind you down. Sure, the law of supply and demand’s at work. If you want to live in the Big Apple with a car that’s the price of admission.

I don’t like the competing for parking spots when I drive into the city. The whole process activates my “survival of the fittest gene,” causing me to become irritable, angry, and downright rude. When I was hunting for a spot on the East Side with Brown-Eyed Girl a few weeks ago, she noticed my agitation. I was forced to confess that searching for parking can throw the less savory side of my character into sharp relief. New York’s parking predators piss me off. But I’ll be the first to admit my upset stems from the fact I more like them then not. I’m a vultur area stativa Nova Caesarea– a New Jersey parking vulture. And there are times I’d like to clear NYC’s crowded streets with a 20 millimeter Vulcan cannon. Good thing tank busting armaments are off limits to people like me.

Over the years several Manhattanites, Brown-Eyes included, have noticed this character flaw and advised me to “be positive” when looking for parking. “Throw your good energy out into the universe and good things will happen,” one friend used to tell me. “If you’ve got in your mind that you can’t find a spot you won’t.” I used to think that advice was crunchy granola bullshit. During my years in seminary and mental health I spent enough time around people who hoped for the best but got steamrolled by life’s problems anyway. As a result of that and other formative experiences, I tend to pay more attention to life’s negative aspects instead of noticing what’s good and uplifting. In some ways that worldview has held me in good stead. It’s enabled me to read horizons quickly and identify dangerous situations before I get hurt. That’s a real strength. But like any strength it’s also a weakness.

Ever since that women died in my arms a few months ago I’ve thought long and hard about the beauty and terrors of life. Seeing someone shuffle off their mortal coil has a tendency to reset your priorities. And as I’ve journeyed around the country, encountering different people and situations, I’ve been forced to admit that I’m sometimes a little too cynical for my own good. So, much to my surprise, I’ve been trying to be more positive about the situations I encounter. And you know what? It tends to work. No, I’m not throwing away bitterly won experience. I still call bad things like I see them. But I”m trying to be a more open to life and it’s possibilities.

Is there something mystical about all this being positive stuff? Probably not. I still think saying “throw your good energy into the universe” is akin to abracadabra. But being positive has measurable real world benefits. Quite simply, the more open and positive you are the more positive people and situations will be drawn into your life. Like attracts like. And my angst about parking is illustrative of this. When I’m upset about hunting for spots my blood pressure goes up, my muscles clench, and my vision tunnels to such a degree that I literally cannot see the spots around me. But if I go in being positive, the resultant relaxed physiological state it induces is better suited to achieving my goal. My vision is better, I’m thinking clearer, and my reflexes are more acute. I don’t miss the parking opportunities around me. And that’s a mindset I’m trying to bring into my entire life. But don’t be surprised if you see me fuming about parking in NYC from time to time. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. I’m a work in progress.

Jersey plates finishes loading his car, takes of his jacket, opens the driver’s door. “How long you think it’ll take for someone to grab my spot after I pull out?” he asks.

“Twenty seconds,” I reply.

The man from Jersey laughs. “Less than that,” he says.

As the man pulls away from the curb I activate the stopwatch feature on my watch. The spot is taken by another illegal u-turning parking vulture in 8.6 seconds. As I watch the driver, a smartly dressed Upper West Side woman, clamber out of her car, I feel the urge to complain her about her illegal u-turn bubble up my esophagus. Then I think to myself – be positive.

“Good job on getting that spot,” I say to her.

“Thanks,” the woman replies, smiling sweetly. “You’ve got to be quick in this town.”

As I watch the woman click away atop her high heels I feel like adding, “You have to be positive in this town too.” But I don’t

She’d probably think I’m a nut.

42 thoughts on “Positive Energy”

  1. Zayrina says:

    Thank God for the mid-west.

  2. DaveM says:

    fantastic 😀

  3. Amy says:

    Not a nut. Just not wasting perfectly good energy on situations you can’t control. Sounds smart to me.

  4. Consultant Calamities says:

    Great story Waiter. I’ve missed you!

    Weather is terrible and rainy up here in New England, as well.

  5. Carrie says:

    I love the way you wrap up the story. Very good story, too.

  6. JoeInVegas says:

    She smiled, so she probably was thinking positive thoughts before that u turn.
    With the huge parking garages and lots here it still bothers me to hit San Francisco or San Diego and have to pay to park. Bummer.

  7. Mike Purvis says:

    New York is also a dense, pedestrian-friendly city. I’m glad places like that exist, and would be happy to see car-lovers move elsewhere and take their cars with them.

    For me, the bus and train are perfectly adequate, and when they’re not, I’m happy to arrange for a rental. Those who feel differently can jolly well pay for the privilege, either by dealing with parking costs, or by dealing with having to live in a more car-friendly city.

  8. Amelia of Gradually Greener says:

    There’s been a lot of good discussion on transportation blogs down here in DC about raising rates on metered parking (and reducing the amount of free parking). People go nuts when they hear about this, but it really would be better. More revenue for the city, and it would encourage people to use public transportation more. Plus, if we’re such a capitalist society, why aren’t we pricing a high-demand, limited-quantity commodity like parking at market price? Businesses complain about higher parking fees leading to decreased business for them, but people prowling around for parking can’t go into a store and buy something anyway.

  9. clm says:

    I agree about the positive energy-I got in the habit of chanting “parking karma” when I lived in Chicago looking for a parking spot, and found it kept me clam and found me a spot most of the time!

  10. Jimmy Rogers says:

    I totally agree with you on the positive stuff. I’ve been disappointed by people many more times than I thought I would, but I just don’t see anything valuable in being negative about it. Staying positive (but not giddy) will allow you to keep a clear head and definitely invite others to think of you in a better light.

    Oh and your thesaurus might need the day off after that post (New York, Manhattan, Gotham…)


  11. Leann says:

    Did you do a post about the woman dyeing in your arms? Cause I think I missed that one.

    Could not do the parking thing. Just driving in Portland drives me crackers!

  12. Leann says:

    Oh and how is putting positive energy out into the universe any different than like attracts like? Same thing it seems.

  13. Heather says:

    I’ve gone a long way with positive thinking…I really think that’s the only way we got to own our own restaurant. ‘Cuz we quite certainly didn’t have the money to do it, but did it anyway. So maybe a mix of positive thinking and balls 🙂

  14. Tom says:

    I live in Hoboken, and keep a car. I have a few tricks for getting reliable spots (or at the very least, cheap tickets) – but I’m moving 6 blocks to a much less parking-friendly area of Hoboken. I’ll probably keep my car where it is, 6 blocks away.

  15. siltedrepose says:

    My husband is currently undergoing treatment for depression. I read some of the literature and this post reminded me of it. Your thoughts affect how you feel. So if you’re thinking good thoughts, you’ll feel good, and thinking bad thoughts can make you feel bad. They have to be honest thoughts, though. You can’t fool yourself. I have to admit though, I hardly ever think good thoughts about driving or other drivers. And I live in a small city.

  16. Erin says:

    The Gods of Parking like bad jokes. Tell a bad joke, at the conclusion, there will be a parking spot within the next ten seconds.

  17. Nightmare says:

    All the more reason to live in the Midwest where parking isn’t an issue!

  18. Jimothy says:

    “…the fact I more like them then not.”

    Er… you don’t say…

  19. Zarrah says:

    I am a real skeptic. I believe in brainwaves though. Ten minutes before I need a parking spot, I start sending thoughts to the people in the store I need to go to that they have to leave. It works. Used to drive my ex-husband mad that I ALWAYS got a good spot. Just try it!

  20. Patricia says:

    I seem to be the only one in the family who can actually ever find an empty parking space in the mall’s car park 😀

  21. Anton says:

    Hey Steve, can you at least check the weather report in Seattle before comparing it to NYC? They just went 29 days WITHOUT rain.

  22. Thomas says:

    This is why those of us in “flyover land” laugh at the stuck-up attitudes of New Yorkers. No sane person would want to live like that. Come out where the people are nice all the time and housing costs less than a tenth of what you’re paying.

    Just amazing.


  23. Moshizzle says:

    “I’m not in her head so there’s no way to know.”

    I wish more people walked around thinking that way.

  24. mccn says:

    1. I use Zipcar. That way, I can go to IKEA pretty much when I need to, and don’t need to fear the Port Authority bus, but I’m not paying for a car to have an apartment on Park Avenue.

    2. Please, please, please please tell me the opening line of this post was not a reference to the execrable Nick Cage movie The Wicker Man, or I will shoot myself in the head right exactly now.

  25. Ricky says:

    I think part of the whole zeitgeist of Manhattan is that there are so many people, so densely packed, that you don’t need a car. If there were parking spaces for all of the people that lived there, it wouldn’t have the same quality that it does. It grew up before the car was omnipresent; cities that experienced their boom more recently have a different feel.

  26. Anonymous says:

    It should be a pain in the ass for people to have cars in Manhattan. That’s the whole point — if it was less of a pain, more people would have them. And in a densely populated city, with bad enough traffic as it is, where would they go?

    Plus, with good public transportation and cabs, you don’t need a car. If you want a car, then you have to put up with the hassle/expense.

  27. splatgirl says:

    Speaking of positive energy and the universe, have you seen “What the Bleep Do We Know?”? I’m an on-again, off-again skeptic myself, but it sort of convinced me that there’s more to the power of positive thinking than being a wishful optimist.

  28. Anonymous says:

    What Anon 25 said. Complaining that you can’t find a parking spot in NYC is like complaining that you have to drive everywhere in suburbia. Of course that’s the case – that’s the whole point. NYC is one of the few places in this country where you truly can live without a car. Yes, some New Yorkers can afford to have them without much hassle. But people give up a lot to live here (including ready access to cars) for good reasons.

  29. paul says:

    Not too long ago it hit the news in Boston that one parking place, off Commonwealth Ave. (in THE Back Bay), went for $300,000. The average, however, is a little lower than that!

  30. Suzanne says:

    And to think I parked in a garage for Jury Duty yesterday. Stayed there all day and only paid $2!

  31. Eric says:

    My (carless) NYC resident friend has a “theory of expectivity” about parking. It’s a form of positivity: you keep in your mind an image of having no trouble finding a space – you expect the space to be there for you already.

    If you don’t find it – you weren’t expecting hard enough. 🙂

  32. Lola says:

    I’m a life long city resident and have never owned a car. It is one of my favorite perks about living in an urban area. I have a 15 minute walk to work and can afford to pay city real estate prices because I don’t spend 30% of my budget on car payments, insurance, gas and parking.

    It’s a lifestyle choice and I find it quite rational and environmentally responsible. I could never live in the suburbs, but I don’t judge those who enjoy it. If people who live in large cities insist on having a car when you really don’t need one, especially with car share programs like Zipcar, then you deserve the aggravation that comes with it. Although, positive thinking can never hurt.

  33. AnonyMousey says:

    Yes, the Power of Positive Thinking. The Secret. My mother-in-law puts her energy into finding parking spots on Long Island, because that’s what’s important to her.

    I’m pretty sure that’s what’s wrong in the whole Darfur situation. Those people just don’t want it enough, they’re too negative about starving to death. If they were just more positive about it all, food would rain from the skies and the grinding heel of the Sudanese government would lift. The ethnic conflict would resolve itself, if only those lazy emigres would starting wishing for a better life.

    Yeah. This *is* my last visit to this site. A month between postings only to have “The Secret” regurgitated along with a 75-year-old monologue from the Catskills about parking in Manhattan (oh, it’s tough! And in other breaking news, Prohibition has passed the Senate and will be enacted into law!) is pretty thin gruel.

    For those of you who enjoy your fare pre-chewed, read on in placidity.

  34. Margot says:

    If you are looking for monthly parking, now is the time to call some garages and get a great deal because their business is down and they are looking for customers. Or you can wait a few weeks for some great deals. My company, Park It! Guides (http://parkitguides.com) has just negotiated special monthly rates with over 250 garages. Just sign up for our newsletter on our site and we’ll announce the program soon.

    For hourly parking, check out Central Parking, which just started flat rates of $15 – $30 for 6, 12, and 24hr parking. Icon also has some great $10 deals, and Alliance Parking has online deals if you pre-pay.

    Hope that helps.

  35. amanaplanacanalpanama says:

    Not your best work, Steve. I’ve been a big fan for a while now, but this entry just seemed to be missing something.

    Got any old waiter stories you haven’t told yet?

  36. YeahToast says:

    I disagree, my favorite palindrome, I think this was a really nice post. Love the introspective thoughts on positive thinking, ESPECIALLY when it comes to driving. I survived Pittsburgh rush hour holiday traffic through positive thinking and bubble blowing.

  37. Michelle S. says:

    I like to think positive thinking works, but all I did was get shit on.

  38. Decorina says:

    Parking karma. Just don’t let your karma run over your dogma and you’re gold.

  39. deborah says:

    I think that when we’re born the gods take turns picking which babe to bless. The Parking Gods blessed me.

  40. Clay says:

    Steve, you should use more affirmitive action in your daily life. It would help you advance your career and give you a more positive outlook. Just follow the example of Miss Minnesota from 1995: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYT7ZbFZND8

  41. MoreAndAgain says:

    I’m glad you realized there are Jersey parking vultures too. I encounter them everytime I accompany my mom to ANY mall in New Jersey. And, don’t let it be GSP. If you’re not a vulture or a stalker (we’ve basically started following people to their car) you wind up spending an hour looking for a spot.lol.

    Also, even if being positive doesn’t actually bring parking spots to you, it will keep stress from shaving years off of your life. I’d rather have the years over the closer parking space anyday. Also, I don’t mind walking, but to each his own.

    Oh. . . and Long Island City actually is in New York City. It’s in Queens.

  42. RenNY says:

    I am one of the car owners in NYC. With a 110 lb mastiff, I don’t have too many options about getting out of the city otherwise.

    When I am parking, I sing a song to the tune of Sandman.

    Parking gods, fulfill my dream
    Find me a spot before I scream
    Don’t make me drive around in the cold
    Find me a spot before I get old

    Works like a charm. 🙂

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