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Looking for Parking Nirvana
By Kathryn Guta
Those of us who park on the streets of Noe Valley need a bit of pluck and a lot of luck to find a spot. Every day, we urban guerrillas brave fender-benders, road hogs, picky neighbors, and stringent street-cleaning schedules in our quest for a rectangle in the sun.
Unlike in the Haight, street parking in Noe Valley is still doable, but you have to pay close attention. A good memory helps, too. Whenever I park my car, I think,"What day is it? What time is it?" I leave little notes for myself on the kitchen table: "Move car in morning!"
Our street signs list a two-hour parking prohibition, yet we all know that street cleaning actually occurs within a 15-minute interval. You can notice some people parked on the sidewalk in anticipation of the event. Others circle the block behind the cleaning machines, luxuriating in the open spaces of freshly available parking.
If I've been out and about and am not sure whether the meter maids have already come by, I drive up to some parked cars and look for the parking tickets flapping like wagging white tongues on the windshields.
Or if by chance the block is empty, I look for the wet streak made by the street-sweeping truck as it swipes the curb. You'd think I'd be able to tell just by seeing a cleaner street. But I don't know what the road looked like before. It always has cars parked on it.
Weekends are easier. The catch is that you need to arrive home before 5 or 6 p.m. on Sunday. There is an unwritten rule in Noe Valley that by 7 p.m., you should be eating dinner. If I disobey this law, I sometimes have to penalty-park in Diamond Heights and take a hike down into the Valley. That is, unless I come home later, say around 9 p.m., when local restaurant patrons are finishing their meals.
In that case, I usually put on my flashers and wait at 27th and Church reading a magazine, until some sated diner saunters out of Eric's carrying leftovers in a brown paper bag. I have now trained my ears to pick up a car engine turning over a block away.
At 10 p.m., the restaurants close and the waiters vacate their parking places. I figure if I'm still out at 9, I might as well linger over a cup of tea with a friend, waiting to drive home until 9:45. But no later. If I miss the 10 p.m. exodus of restaurateurs, I could be asking for trouble. Last Sunday I was close to tears, scrounging for parking at midnight.
Many of us have gotten notes on our cars chiding us for parking either too close or too far away from a driveway. Sometimes it's a gentle reminder. Mostly it's hate mail.
People have come up and asked me to move my small car -- a Toyota Tercel hatchback -- forward or back. If the person has a driveway, they prefer that my car stays at least a foot away from it, especially if they want to park their second vehicle in the driveway. Some people paint white lines on the street to aid me in making these critical decisions.
There are also red curbs, some of which look official with yellow "S.F.P.D." letters stenciled on them. Others seem to have been painted in the dead of night by exasperated people desperately wanting access to their driveways.
No one likes a parking hog. People who live in the area know exactly how many cars can fit into any particular stretch of curb, and it's maddening to see a car parked in such a way that there is less parking for all. These cars get lots of parking suggestions left under their wiper blades.
When I do find an ideal parking spot at night, I sometimes wonder if I will be able to leave it in the morning. Parking in front of a popular coffee shop like Martha's on Church can be risky business. I have found myself hemmed in for 10 minutes by double-parked coffee fans -- people who won't leave the line at Martha's until they get their cup o' joe.
Some of us invoke a higher power when looking for parking. My friend Jim keeps a parking meter guardian angel on his dashboard. My friend Eileen chants the name of a great athlete she once knew named Kronenberger. By repeating his name while looking for parking, she hopes she can tap into the Kronenberger Power that drove her friend to excellence on the playing field. I myself have dabbled in the psychic realm. I try to clear my mind and visualize a parking space. Sometimes it works.
Like the Wide World of Sports, one can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat when looking for street parking in Noe Valley. What could be sweeter than finding a place to park right in front of your abode? What could be worse than to see someone nose in ahead of you?
But for some of us, parking on the street is worth the hassle. Walking the long distance between home and car keeps the body in shape. The mind is sharpened by having to remember where you parked your car and when you have to move it.
Best of all, street parking costs a lot less than renting a garage in Noe Valley. In most parts of the neighborhood, it's still free.
Kathryn Guta is a regular contributor to the Voice and a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital.
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