On Sunday, August 1, I moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I packed the VW and we drove to the Upper West Side, 171 W 81st to be precise.I unloaded my goodies from the car and loaded them into my Airbnb spot. Then we circled the block to find a parking spot on the street. I hate paying for parking; I believe parking is an unalienable right in the car-dominated US of A, and it shouldn’t cost anyone a dime to park a car. I am a hopeless idealist, an incurable romantic, and of course I have no idea how the world lost so much of that. I’m gonna keep it going as long as I can.
Finding a parking spot on the streets of New York is about as challenging as an expedition to the South Pole. I’d advise anyone to take provisions; you could be imprisoned or lost in your own car for days. Lots of cars line the streets, evidence that other mere mortals have done the undoable. Risking total disillusionment, I drove around in circles long enough to become really dizzy. Finally, on 78th street, fairly close to my building, sweet victory was mine, on the corner with Amsterdam Avenue. I embossed “78th street” on the delicate fabric of my brain, secure in the infallible grip of my memory. The hour was noon, and my belly was beginning to rumble.
I found a small and quite good Indian restaurant called Swagat,
at 411A Amsterdam Avenue. Inside there was a welcome quiet. Absent was the blasting disco music that’s everywhere else. The people who make it all happen there are delightful, authentic Indian people, with big warm smiles and lovely dark skin.Before the food came, I started a conversation with a lady named Libby, a South Carolina native but a bona fide Manhattan resident of 35 years. I told her my love stories. She told me of two of her three husbands and the nearby brownstone where she lived. And she spoke with great delight about a place called Wave Hill, suggesting we go there.
Some years back, she told me, a friend found a garage for her to rent, and she obtained a car. That gave her a real thrill since she could leave the city under her own power, and at her own hour. Notably, she explained that the Alzheimer-stricken husband of one of her friends had to move ‘way uptown for assisted living, and Libby often drove her friend to visit him there. We had been talking about the force of God in our lives, and she said she was certain that God wanted her to have that car.
We lingered in the restaurant ‘way beyond the close of the meal. We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to stay in touch. I was back on the street again, walking along Amsterdam Avenue toward 78th Street, where I thought I’d parked the VW. But there was no VW there. I widened my trail, going a few blocks up and a few blocks down. My VW was nowhere in sight.
A half-hour hour later, I found the Indian restaurant again and consulted the waiter, who was helpful and sympathetic. He said, “You should take a picture when you need to remember.” Duh. I’d done just that at least once before, just not this time, when it really mattered. Getting lost in New York is similar to getting lost in Iowa farm country: everything looks the same, especially on a cloudy day when you can’t find the sun. The difference—and the devil—is in the details. The visual fabric of any street in Manhattan is far too complex for a newcomer like me to master quickly and then recall with ease and certainty. In the Iowa countryside, there’s almost nothing to look at, nothing to remember. The big difference is there’s no one to ask for help in Iowa, and if you get hungry out there, you’re really out of luck. In New York you can duck into any number of places for something tasty. There’s plenty of those near my spot.
The man at Sawagat also told me the police station was on 82nd streetand that I could make a report there. So that was my new plan. As I got nearer the station, cop cars became much more numerous. They were a welcome sight. At least I knew I wasn’t lost.
The cops were friendly, smiling, helpful humans indeed. One pleasant-looking young guy asked why I was in New York. I told him that I was trying to figure out where home was. He replied, “New York’s not home. People are assholes here.”
“So where will you go?” I asked him.
“Florida,” he replied, “I’m gonna take my pension and my retirement and go to Florida.” My parents spent some of their last years in Florida. My quiet, genteel mother hated Florida: “Too many New Yorkers,” she said.
A guy behind the thick glass window with a little slot in the bottom told me that another officer would drive me around the area in a cop car to help me locate the VW. Wonder of wonders, what a welcome this was on my first day of Manhattan residence. “You don’t have to do that,” I told him. He replied, “You gonna turn down a free ride in a cop car? It happens all the time. People forget where they park, and then they get pissed at us when they realize what they’ve done and where their car is.” Maybe he’s right about those assholes. Even a moderate amount of driving in New York could make an asshole out of the most patient saint.
So we—me and two of New York’s finest—looped the area in a Ford Fusion hybrid for about a half hour. I began to think that my car had been stolen. Visions like thisbegan to torment me. This was once a Subaru WRX. My guess is that it was in a thief’s hands at the time of the crash. It was the best-crashed car I’ve ever seen. Then an odd calm became me. I was completely at ease with the fate of my VW, whatever it was.
“They don’t steal VWs,” said my driver. “They steal Hondas and big vans, so they can load bikes inside and carry them off.”
We were stuck in a very tough little traffic jam caused by a car rental place that used the street as its overflow parking lot; everybody wanted to return their rental car on the same day at the very same minute. We languished there for five very long minutes. The driver tried the car’s siren. It didn’t work. He was pissed. “I want that street cleared,” he said. He looked at his sidekick. Sidekick got out of the car to dissolve the jam. Unsuccessful, he returned to the car and started fiddling with his mobile phone. A few minutes later, he left the car and tried again. This time, he loosened the blockage. We drove onward and headed west. I caught a view of the Hudson River. And when we headed uphill, back east again, I caught a view of a white VW wagon with Iowa plates—my VW wagon—on 78th street, but a whole block farther west, on the corner of Broadway and 78th.
Call me nuts. Call me incredibly forgetful. I hadn’t even considered walking in that direction. And I would never have imagined even in my wildest, utopian-romantic-idealistic dreams, that the fabled and mighty NYPD would help me out as they did. Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect, indeed!
PS/A manual gearbox is the most effective anti-theft device. But nobody steals VW diesel wagons anyway.