Friday, November 6, 2009

From Parking to Parks

It’s 10:30 a.m., and I knead my temples and hover over a toasted, whole wheat bagel smeared with low-fat honey-almond cream cheese, wondering how in the world I’m going to get through my day. I’ve already suffered through three hours of job training for my new front-desk gig at Millennium Tower’s sales office. Now I’m supposed to wander the city looking for metered parking spaces – that have been turned into parks.

“Parks?” I ask my editor at the Guardian when she gives me the assignment. “What do you mean.” This is a statement, not a question. I’m completely lost, not to mention suspicious.

“It’s International Parking Day,” she says, sneering. She’s so matter-of-fact, high and mighty. Like I’m a failure for not knowing about Parking Day. “People plug the meters and turn their spots into gardens, playgrounds, and green areas. You might see asphalt and lawn chairs, or kiddie pools, or board games on coffee tables in place of cars. They can do whatever they want with their spaces,” she says, irked at my unworldliness but inspired by the concept she’s spelling out. My face, scrunched in perplexity, reveals candid cynicism. “It’s about taking back the streets,” she explains flatly with a long exhale. “Turning the concrete into public areas that all city dwellers can enjoy.”

With that, my editor swivels around and retreats to her office. “Parks, Meghan,” she adds while slamming the door and plopping onto her sofa for her second nap of the afternoon.

Rough life.

I go into the assignment blindly (not knowing that a map of the decorated, metered spots exists until after I’m finished), unsuccessfully dawdling up and down the Financial District until finally spotting a rectangle of asphalt on a narrow street in Chinatown. Three kids sit criss-cross on the artificial grass, while Chinese locals and tourists ask questions. Apparently I’m not the only one without a clue.

Blazing sun rays ricochet off a plastic bag full of quarters, which passersby donate to the kids when they figure out what they're doing. Now the Parking Day buffs can plug their meter all afternoon.

“The cops tried to stop us,” one kid tells me with wild eyes. I scribble his words into my official Reporter’s Notebook. “But they couldn’t. This is legal, you know.”

Uh-huh. Good. Keep talking.

I weasel a few more quotes out of the group before moving on. It’s not exactly the rousing, unorthodox display I’d expected to see, but I figure there has to be some bizarre arrangements in The Haight, so I jump on a bus. Turns out I’m right.

Two men stand face to face in a 9-by-18-foot spot in front of their home when I pull up. Their fingers are intertwined, so the audience is unable to determine whose hand is whose. The balding gentlemen peer into each other’s baby blues, one speaking softly and the other wiping a tear from beneath his glasses. I walk a bit closer, wondering what I’m witnessing. A few more words, a kiss on the lips, and then clapping. Lots and lots of clapping.

Is this a gay wedding? In a parking space?

I have my story.

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