I’m driving up First Avenue at a little past midnight last Sunday when I notice the van is surrounded by taxis and when did that right lane become a buses only lane and I remember “Oh my, I’m in New York City.” How did it happen? Just a few short hours before, I’d been carefully avoiding deer on the road outside of Catskill. Then watching the dark shapes of mountains go by as I rolled down the thruway.
Now, one bourbon on the rocks in an East Village bar and I’m in a Georges Simenon novel – anything could happen but probably won’t and for this I will always love the city. But first I have to park.
I head east and then back west on 13th Street, looking for a place near my brother’s apartment where I’ll be spending the night. The Citibikes are taking up a lot of the meager amount of parking places, what with the funeral parlors and hydrants and schools and the post office. But what’s this – a feasible spot, good until Tuesday morning? Hmm…it sort of looks like it’s in front of a driveway. No “No Parking” sign, no yellow line, but there’s a depression on the sidewalk and a little gate and what could be two narrow old garage doors behind.
Dare I? I go across the street to this fancy looking high-rise with a doorman. He’s tall, black and dashing in his sharp uniform.
“Excuse me, is that a driveway across the street?” I expect him to scoff, but he comes around from the counter and looks out across the street.
“Technically no.” I’m surprised at his accent, or lack of one – for some reason I was sure he’d be from another country. “I’ve worked here two years and seen lots of people park there and I’ve never seen anyone get a ticket. But – there’s a man that keeps one of those exotic sports cars in there, and every once in a while he takes it out for a drive.”
“A…sports car? And he takes it out, what, like how often?”
“Definitely once a month, if that – you know, it’s this exotic red sports car, and only every now and then – you’re probably okay. I mean, I can’t make any promises, but like I said I’ve never seen anyone get a ticket.”
“Well, do you think tomorrow would be a kind of day when he’d, y’know, want to take the car out? Is it a Monday thing, or more on the weekends?”
“You’re not going to be too far away are you? I really doubt he’ll take the car out tomorrow.”
My imagination is spinning – I’m picturing an eccentric gent in tweed who has lived in the East Village for decades plucking an Alfa Romeo key ring off a brass hook on a wall, cocking a cap at a jaunty angle on his bristly grey head and whistling “I Get Around” as he descends a dark wooden staircase to the garage bright and early Monday morning. He fires up his baby who still purrs like a kitten after all these years, then strides around to fling open the double doors, only to find his egress blocked by – a shabby blue van. But he’s that cool, that philosophical about things that he takes it as an indication he has more pressing things to do and calmly switches off the motor until another time.
“I guess I’ll take the chance,” I tell the doorman.
“You’ll be fine, I think,” he says. It’s only later, when I’m telling the story to my brother that I realize it sounds kind of absurd. Was the doorman making the whole sports car thing up? Is he back there now laughing his ass off? Does he know a rube when he sees one? Have I become that rube? After all, I’ve been living in the country for a while now.
In the morning, I rush out to check on the van – it all looks fine. No sign of a sports car. I decide to press my luck and go have breakfast.
Then it’s time to meet my daughter in Brooklyn. I’m heading back over towards the van when I see a dapper guy striding down First Avenue at 13th Street. He’s got sunglasses on, a chic tweed overcoat. It’s – Richard Hell. I haven’t seen him in years and we have a nice chat, catching up. I love his memoir and am sorry I missed his reading up in Hudson a month or two ago. My phone rings and my daughter’s asking “Mom where are you?” I tell Richard I have to go, we say goodbye and then I realize – I’m on 13th Street. HE was just on the corner of 13th Street. Tweed coat. Once a month. Decades in the neighborhood.
I pull away from in front of the garage doors, thinking it’s still a beautiful day for a drive.