NY parking: shrieks, mayhem, cops!



The parking garage below Lincoln Center



By Caitlin Kelly


This post will make you extremely happy you don’t live anywhere near New York City.

I guarantee it.

Let’s stipulate from the outset — as lawyers say — that I generally enjoy amazing New York parking karma. In a city that has removed some 60,000 street parking spots in recent years for bike lanes and rental bikes and who knows why, I’m usually able to find a spot on the street, without a meter or any payment necessary, often, blessedly, right in front of the exact place I need to be.

To park, even on the street, can easily run $10.75 for two hours, and a parking garage (with its 18%+ tax) can pull $30 (at best) to $50+ from your pocket. That’s a fortune!

So, free parking is much prized.


Story One: scene, The Bronx, next to the Bronx Courthouse


It’s 2006.

Pouring rain. I’m late. I’m meeting someone to interview them for my then-job as a New York Daily News reporter. I’m also meeting a freelance photographer, a genial guy named Phil I’ve met before. So I’m frazzled.

I hate being late.

I see a parking spot!

I nose in and grab the spot…but oooohhhhhhh shit. It now appears I’ve unwittingly stolen a spot from someone who had been waiting for it. Part of me just doesn’t give a damn: I’m late, my damn News job is always in jeopardy, it’s pouring rain and I have no idea where else to park!

Then it gets ugly — she starts screaming at me. She’s an old lady. I am alone. I scream back, saying some…hmmmm…intemperate things. She shrieks for back-up and, like some really bad scene from West Side Story, windows in apartments all above us slam upward. Oh, shit.


Now she’s wielding a tire iron.


I call the cops. They arrive. I am shaking with fear. The cops, God bless them, are calm and kind. They listen to both of us.

She finally moves her car out of the way so I can escape.

Phil shows up with my interview subject. I burst into relieved tears. “Oh, the old lady with the tire iron,” Phil teases me kindly. “That’s Caitlin’s usual story.”

Interview subject and I head to the nearest bar — at 11:00 a.m. — and have a whisky.

Story Two: Ardsley, New York, a suburban town north of Manhattan


It’s 2019.

I’m rushing to a meeting with a tutoring agency, with the alluring possibility of earning some extra, needed income.

I’m driving on a very narrow, traffic-filled road and have to make a quick, sharp left-hand turn into a narrow alley that appears to have parking. I move to the very rear of the alley, literally facing a swamp.

This is not a town I know well at all.

There’s no indication this is not public parking — and that my car will be towed away.

I emerge from a terrific and successful meeting to find a tow truck and two men very aggressively  — and with NO explanation why — attaching our car (leased, cannot get damaged!) to their effing truck.

I lose my shit. I’m screaming. I’m shouting.

They curse me, shout at me, keep pushing their attachments onto my car.

I push the driver — a burly guy in his 50s — to get away from my damn car, (yes) and he curses at me and tells me he’s calling the police.


He demands instant payment of $150 cash to get his truck and its claws off my car. We have an amused audience of a construction crew — and another old lady who called the tow company because it’s her laundromat and I’d used one of her spots.

I hadn’t even seen the laundromat itself (hidden behind construction) — let alone her small warning sign, posted ONLY on the construction hoarding right at the street edge of the alley as I turned quickly out of traffic and did not see it.

There were no other signs anywhere to indicate that my car would be towed.

Cops come, two cars, show zero interest in what happened.

Truck leaves with my cash.

I eat lunch at a local diner, trying not to have a heart attack.

I go to Village Hall and tell the story (including my shitty — albeit terrified and utterly confused — behavior) to two blessedly kindly clerks before crying my way home, exhausted.


And, no, it’s not really possible to live in a New York suburb without a car.


15 thoughts on “NY parking: shrieks, mayhem, cops!

  1. Ah parking, the bane of city dweller existence! Laughed out loud when I read “bike lane”, don’t get me started on bike rentals! Hysterical New York parking drama is symptomatic of absurd regulations inflicted on average hard working citizens. Hang in there. 🙂

    I live in Vancouver, my house faces a tall hedge enclosing the parking lot of Children’s Hospital. My side of street is “Resident Only Parking”, hospital side is free parking between 6 am and 6 pm, no parking after 6 pm. Why no parking after 6 is beyond me, but every day at 5:55 pm a city By-Law vehicle appears followed by several tow trucks. At the stroke of 6, by-law officer issues parking tickets, tow trucks follow, within minutes everyone has been towed. It’s a hospital! These people have sick children! WTF? Of note – last year the city replaced 60 unrestricted parking spots along several blocks to the west with a bike lane and dedicated parking for car share vehicles. Yikes. I feel your pain. Sigh.

    1. Tow trucks…do NOT get me started! The guys were so so so horrible and NO one even explained why they were there, assuming I was some scofflaw.

      NOR was this city property but a laundromat. I bet you any money there’s a kickback scheme here.


  2. It’s too stressful driving here in Toronto with so many narrow streets, crazy drivers, construction and careless pedestrians. I tell people to take public transit when possible (and give yourself lots of time).

    1. I go back to Toronto, my hometown, a few times a year and have seen how bad it is now. Scary. I did a week’s reporting there in September and did just fine using TTC and GO trains and buses.

    2. Marge

      The last time I was in Toronto, I stayed in a Holiday Inn that had underground parking. The curve down into the lot was so drastic that I didn’t think I could get my Cougar down there, much less back up. So I got it out of there right away and parked down the road in a lot. Once it was parked, it stayed there for a week and I took the subway to the convention downtown the whole time I was there. It was a great experience!

  3. Well, it could be worse. Imagine Paris on a day when the general strike means that everyone who absolutely has no choice has come to the city by car, and adding injury to insult, the smog is so bad that every brave soul on foot or bike is choking! 😵 Seriously, you do have my deepest sympathy for what sounds like a far-too-costly price to pay for an honest mistake.

    1. The Paris strike reminds me walking home from the 1st to the 15th arrondissement (!) in a strike. That’s a long walk!

      Thanks. Jose and I plan to pursue this further; $150 is a big hit out of the blue. Many many people just wouldn’t have that cash — and every tow truck operator can take a debit or credit card. They were thugs.

  4. wow, amazing you survived both incidents intact, but that’s where motivation and adrenaline kick in. I’ve never parked in New York, and cannot even imagine the process and all involved. glad you are okay.

    1. Right?!

      The 2 local friends I told were absolutely horrified and agree that this was a real bullying situation. It’s entirely possible to tow someone’s car and be civil, calm and not a total asshole about it.

      Not those thugs.

  5. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Friday links | A Bit More Detail

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