Wednesday, February 09, 2011


In all the years I have lived in Chicago, with and without a car, I have never condoned the practice of calling dibs after digging out a parking spot. Yesterday, I did it. I caved. I had spent, collectively, about four hours tending a spot right in front of my apartment, digging the snow, piling it on the grass, salting the area around the tires, cleaning off the car itself, scooping up the snow from the car and depositing it away from the road so it would not impede anyone else on the block. I did not drive for days as a result of this effort. The question of whether or not it is ethical, justified, and, damn it, just plain right to call dibs on a piece of city property weighed heavily upon weary head. In the end, I decided that if everyone else on my street was doing it, so would I.

My logic centered on the idea of martial law, or some version of it. Basically it goes like this: in a state of emergency, and a blizzard counts, minus proper authority, a separate entity shall rule. In this case the people of Chicago are the de facto leaders of parking regulations.

This is, of course, bullshit. No one can call dibs on a spot with a lawn chair. Not legally. I did hear a story (from a “friend-of-a-friend” source) about a woman who called the police when someone took her reserved spot and the cop sided with her over the usurper. That story was the last bit I needed to tip my scales on the side of dibs.

Remember the Seinfeld joke about kid law? He had this whole bit about “callin’ it” and how, once a child does this, the other kids know that the called object is solely the property of that child. It was air tight, unquestionable, just. Perhaps this is the sort of experience that is too early and too often imbued within us, leading to unrealistic expectations and bastardly senses of entitlement. We’ve entered adulthood; time to leave the kid rules in the schoolyard.

Nevertheless, I was pissed when I got home last night and saw that my markers—a bucket, box, and broom—were removed and someone had jacked my spot. I contemplated recourse. Should I, like the woman in the dubious story, call the cops and complain? Key the car? Piss on the locks? Break a window?

In the end, I found another spot (a frigid block away) and left a note under the wiper. I penned the first draft of this note, an angry screed employing four letter words and righteous indignation, in my car. This I revised after calming a bit—I thought it better to express my displeasure without great insult. I settled on “jerk” over “motherfucker.”

If there is a universal force that watches over us, perhaps I had offended it with my arrogance. Only a few hours earlier I had discussed this very subject with both my classes. The aim of this discussion was to spot both sides of an argument. I asked if it was fair to claim a parking spot. Almost all of my students said it was. I asked if it was right to assume that no one else should take it. They all seemed to agree with one young man who said it was dead wrong and that he would bust the window of a car if he found it in his space. Was there no argument against calling dibs? “I dug it out, so, um, it’s mine!” That summed it all up. One earns the right to claim the spot after spending all that time and energy. Or so we all agreed. A fine thing, a classroom—we solve so many of the world’s problems. Sadly, the real world does not recognize our authority.

So I’m done calling dibs. The one argument that I cannot beat is the one my brother once voiced: you live in the city, you take all that comes with living in the city, including high sales tax, “vintage” apartments, crime, the fallible CTA, bad winters, and, yes, parking difficulties. If you want a secure parking spot, then move to the suburbs. Suck it up. You choose to live here. You can’t call dibs on Lake Michigan and expect people not to go swimming.

Goddamn, Nick. I hate to admit it, but that argument is tough to beat.