HOLLYWOOD—The day of which I speak, the eve of Halloween, was nothing if not Homeric. If Homer had been around to see such a frenzied time and place where mankind has exchanged hooved beasts for thundering gas-guzzling machines, whose smooth aerodynamic carapaces disguise the violence of continuous gasoline explosions that keep the wheels turning, Homer would have created a hero as brave as Achilles and as resourceful as Ulysses; a hero every inch equal the unremitting enforcement of parking laws and a rainbow of curb colors, signifying this, that and the other automotive no-no.
We resident drivers are daily vexed, tortured, harassed, taunted and badgered. May this memoir of one heroic Saturday stand for many.
The morning before Halloween, I pulled into the 7900 block of Fountain Avenue, en route to the laundromat and my favorite cafÃ©. The only parking space available was the green-painted curb, good for 15 teeny-tiny minutes—hardly long enough to start a load of clothes, much less soak my whiskers in espresso. All the voyeurs and revelers pouring into Weho for the Halloween saturnalia had started monopolizing the already slim parking pickings. The whole time in the cafe was constricted by the apprehension that a traffic gendarme may be noting my license plate and monitoring my 15 minutes. Annoying as argyle, uneasiness stirred me, and finally got me out of my seat. Outdoors I saw Yeran, the aproned shoe repairman, gesturing as the officer fingered in some license plate numbers into an electronic pad. My plate numbers! It was a nightmare that came true. I got there just in time to interrupt the process. If Yeran hadn’t been talking to the guy, I’d be making a little donation to the city of West Hollywood. Phew!
From the cafÃ©, I drove to Studio City, where two-hour parking meters line Ventura Boulevard. Well and good. But not when you use all your quarters to get you to the scheduled end of an acting class. On this Saturday before Halloween, the class proved fascinating. As the minutes on my meter dwindled, class kept right on with the evisceration of each new students’ developing character—that had me going cuckoo, running to the meter three times using change my teacher ladled out and going back for more. At least once the meter had truly run out. And in this parking drama there was, as always, sure as Hamlet’s ghost, the specter of the imagined—dreaded officer placing the white envelope under the windshield wiper blade. That’s been the victory of the forces of dread: the Man has convinced us that he is omniscient and ready to pounce the second the parking-meter dial turns red, even though in Studio City and Hollywood, there often prevails a blessed negligence on the part of authorities. I’ve certainly had my share of luck in these places, but not so in West Hollywood.
The Man has been there, ready to swoop in and ticket me enough times where I now feel a Pavlovian dread. At night on Halloween eve, I returned to West Hollywood. This time I had laundry to pick up and the best parking place I could score, after circling the zone a few times, was a bit of red curb and most of my car blocking the driveway to an apartment building. My 9-year-old daughter was blissfully asleep in the passenger side. So there was dread of the parking police moving in at any time to ticket me, dread of a hefty fine for having a young child alone in the car, plus the dread that some Samaritan might alert the cops about a little girl sleeping alone in the car. I was seized by a level of cortisol-pumping anxiety unacceptable for any human being. In the laundromat I quickly grabbed my things without folding them and rushed back to my car. Sleeping Beauty was there.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief that encompassed every pore of my body and soul. I’d lived through another Los Angeles day, another round of cat and mouse between motorists and parking officers, and successfully avoided all tickets. It should be counted as among the greater achievements in this beautiful cock-eyed metropolis.