Keep Your Cones Out of My Parking Space

Sadly, street justice doesn’t work

Shoveling snow sucks. I’ve never met anyone who sees fresh powder in the forecast and is giddy with the thought of clearing off their driveway or digging out their car. I’ve spent all of my life in the Delaware Valley except for one year—when I was in Syracuse. I know from snow. If you don’t make a living driving a truck with a plow, busting your hump to scoop up the stuff is miserable.

I also live in Philadelphia and own a car that I park on the street. Parking sucks more than shoveling. My time limit for cruising my usual neighborhood loop in search of an open spot is about 45 minutes. At that point, I just pull over somewhere I won’t get towed and resign myself to cutting the Parking Authority a check.

So when I heard that Darby Township will hand out fines of up to $1,000 for anyone caught saving a parking spot that they’d dug out, it seemed ridiculous. This is a time-honored tradition across much of the city, and there’s a certain code of honor behind it that I respect. Call it “snomerta”: You know I park here every night. You know I shoveled my car out this morning. You move my lawn chair or my recycling bucket and park here? You might find your car up on blocks, pal.

In my neighborhood, though, there’s no spot saving. On a dry day or a snowy one, when I hop in my car and pull away, I know someone will take my place in minutes. It’s unfortunate that I sometimes plan trips based on how tough it will be to park when I come home, but that’s life in the city, unless you have enough dough to pay for a monthly garage or a nice pad with its own driveway.

Sometimes our culture needs changing. In this case, Darby has the right idea, even if the plan has a few holes. There should be a grace period—say 24 hours after a storm to claim whatever dry ground you’ve uncovered for your ride. After that, the public streets belong to the public again. And I’m still puzzled by how these fines will be handed out (“Excuse me, miss. Darby police here. Is this your parking cone?”). Maybe they’ll dust the lawn chairs for prints. When there’s money to be made, you can bet the township will work out the kinks somehow (and if this works—i.e., no one gets shot—you can bet Philly will follow suit).

As much as I hate digging out my car and then looking for a new place to park later, I hope Darby succeeds. That code of honor? It’s in every gangster movie, too. That doesn’t make organized crime an aspirational lifestyle. For every jerk who takes someone’s spot for no good reason, there’s someone else who did their own shoveling and has been driving around in vain for an hour. If there was a way to figure out the difference, I’d support the street justice approach. Until then, keep that shovel handy when you drive away and keep that patio furniture where it belongs—in your yard.