Free Parking

The little things, that we don’t think about and take for granted, have a way of shaping our days. This becomes so obvious to me in December. It’s not the holidays that fill me with joy so much as the free parking.

The town of Hudson makes their meters free for the month. Businesses cover the meters out front with wrapping paper or festive bags and life instantly becomes more joyful. All those well-worn paths, the gentle gyrations we do to feed the parking meter beast are gone. The freedom is a gentle gift that brings the tyranny of paid parking into focus.

I know a small town world of parking is nothing compared to places like New York and Chicago; London! I’ve written many paragraphs, whole blogs even, about the pain of alternate side and parking apps. Upstate it’s relatively benign – four quarters buys an hour, a ticket costs the measly sum of $10! But these things add up, and so does the constant dance of thwarting the guys (up here, it’s only guys) who write the tickets.

So I started my day working at the bookstore/bar yesterday by strolling on the sidewalk with the festive out-of-towners, and unlocking and entering through the front door, rather than making my way through the rustic back alley where we’re lucky to have parking in back of the building. As alleys go, like a lot of things about Hudson, it’s colorful and charming and pretty safe but a little scary at times.

Coming through the front door I had to bat away baying customers who’d been walking up and down the main drag, Warren Street, for two hours. They were caffeinated and raring to get shopping. This ain’t the city, folks! It’s kind of cute how purposeful they all are, even in their days off, on vacation. Got to get this done! But it’s sweet.

I pulled the door shut behind me and locked it before anyone could push their way in and then ignored the tapping on the glass as there’s a sign on the door with the store hours. Turned on the lights, counted the drawer, poured my takeout coffee into a pottery mug where it would sit untouched until I threw it out six hours later.

Dialed in some music. I can’t bear to have even one customer in the store without music – it’s too intimate, the silence, like waiting on people in your underwear. I popped on Susannah McCorkle’s Waters of March because it had been going through my head since night before. Such a beautiful classic song but there’s something about her version that is alternately life-affirming and soul-destroying. Knowing she’d jumped to her death adds to the feeling. I’d gone online to find out more about her after Fresh Air played a Christmas concert she’d recorded in 1988. One of those names I used to see in cabaret and nightclub ads in New York City but could never afford to see or just always thought “some day, I will.”

Almost ready – I strapped my mask on, and

I unlocked the door. Customers stumbled in blinking, pulling up masks. Some say hi, some ignore me when I say hi. Some literally rear back like they’ve been struck – “You. Spoke? To…me?” Yeah, I remember living in the city…

The bossa nova warmed the room, all the way up to the spectacular wooden ceiling. The customers rolled in waves, my coffee sat untouched as I checked for books in inventory, ordered special requests. A teenage boy with a curly ponytail asked if we had anything by Rim-bawd and my eyes welled up. I didn’t dare correct his pronunciation, thinking that’s something you just pick up in time and what did it really matter anyway? I thrilled to being players in a drama that has been enacted for many years in bookstores everywhere, and hoped his eyes and mind would always be so wide open and unafraid of being wrong.

A lady bought a book I’d placed on an easel on top of a shelf – partly “this looks interesting” and partly “this book is hard to categorize and so small it will get swallowed up if shelved.”

“Oh good,” I said – “I keep thinking that looks good but having somebody buy it is almost like reading it myself!” She looked at me like I was insane and I guess I did sound a little nuts but it had been a few hours and I was getting hungry. “I mean,” I tried to explain myself,” There’s a shitload of books in this store, I can’t really read all of them.” 

That didn’t seem to help. “Well then how do you choose the inventory?” she said, and I mumbled something about the store owner doing a lot of research, and sales reps and catalogs and I started to feel like somebody telling a kid there is no Santa Claus.

“…the spectacular wooden ceiling.” March 16, 2020 – last shift before the shutdown

People started ordering beer. It used to be pretty simple as only the dewiest cheeked youngsters needed their IDs checked but now I can’t see anyone’s face AND we need to check vaccination cards for people to unmask and drink in here. One guy splayed out five vaccination cards and five passports in a row on the bar as his family stood in a line and I suddenly felt like an immigration officer, not wanting to look like I was scrutinizing too hard, like they were suspicious or that I was profiling them and I said “I don’t think I’m cut out for this” and the guy laughed and said it was okay, he was the only one of the group who even wanted a drink.

Bossa nova time had long ago ended after cycling through some Jobim and Caetano Veloso (I’m probably doing a Rim-bawd and pronouncing those both wrong!) and we had passed through three diferent sets each one bookended by Donovan’s Season of the Witch. Is it just my listening habits or does everybody get Season of the Witch when the soundtrack from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid ends? And then it comes up again and again…Nilsson Schmilsson followed by – Season of the Witch. Emitt Rhodes with a Season of the Witch palate cleanser. I met Donovan once at a music festival and he was thoroughly charming but I’m not obsessed with him! But I will take Season of the Witch over silence any day.

Charles came in and stood by the register, asking if anybody he knew was in the store, and what were all these out of towners doing here and how was he going to kill the next two hours. Charles must live in an assisted living community, he draws portraits and tries to get money from the customers for them. He’s kind of a genius about TV shows and sports teams and even though I always threaten to banish him for taking up too much time and space, having him inconveniently around is part of what makes the bookstore/bar home. I’ve worked here for years and there’s been Juicy Jeff who always just wanted a glass of water and everyone claimed was brilliant singing karaoke, and Earl the painter (both RIP) and Bill who sounds like a parrot and collects cans and bottles and the Lonely Trucker and just so many characters who add color to the place. We arrived in the area ten years ago at what was maybe the end of the good old days when the town was still cheap and small enough. Nowadays the visitors outnumber and overshadow the regulars but sometimes we see each other and nod and say hello, then scurry back home to let the visitors have their fun.

Charles can get a little pushy with his artwork but his heart is good and he always makes a point to notice what I’m wearing and compliment me if he thinks I got my shirt/jeans/boots combo just right. Or maybe he does it to butter me up, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter cause he’s Charles and he’s a fixture.

I noticed all the stools were back around the bar which is a first since before the pandemic. I kept checking vax cards and IDs and pouring beer and Season of the Witch came around again. Tending bar in a mask sucks but after awhile you kind of forget. 

I scrolled through Twitter for a sec and saved Jami Attenberg’s New Yorker essay about Williamsburg in the 2000s to read later. I closed right at five PM and felt exhausted. I counted up and cleaned and hauled myself out the front door. Warren Street was dark and almost empty by this point. Just like the old days.

When I got home I read the essay and felt envious – I’d written my own version of a my city was gone piece for the Voice back in 2018 and I thought Attenberg did such a beautiful job of conveying that in-between era of my former neighborhood. It was an era I saw only as a visitor, not a resident, so the old stomping grounds had already slipped out of my grasp. She takes herself to task for being a gentrifier but I don’t see how that works if you’re just a working artist – you have to live somewhere and is it your fault the fabulous always follow?

I could look back from my seventies perhaps and write about what it was like back here in the early 20s, but I’m worried I won’t actually remember the details so I do it now. Happy to have a part-time job to remind me that life goes on as I wonder what my future of putting out work and touring will amount to. I sell other people’s books while I try to write another one of my own, listen to other people’s music while I keep working on music of my own, and check vax cards and IDs to place a beer in front of customers happy to stroll around in this beautiful place I call home.

“Is there anywhere to eat?” they ask. “Is there anything good we should see? Is the parking really free?” I nod and smile beneath my mask, happy to help share a little joy.

Thanks for reading and/or subscribing, I really appreciate it. Here’s to a brighter New Year!

23 thoughts on “Free Parking

  1. Apryl Wimes

    I’m am happy to see you back at the bookstore/bar and proud that you get to do it with style; amazed that you know all the regulars’ names and no one know that you are famous. In a way that’s good in your home town and it beats staying home. Happy Everything, Amy. I love your wit, warmth and stories.

    1. amyrigby

      I love Driscoll and Auger, they were awesome together! And I find Susannah McCorkle so enchanting, especially her take on that song. She contributed some of her own lyrics. Wish I knew more about her, apparently she had been working on some writing about her own life when she died.

      1. Hal+Davis

        I’m guessing they’re here:

        New York Public Library
        Susannah McCorkle papers

        The Papers cover all aspects of McCorkle’s professional singing and writing careers as well as her personal life. … published and unpublished writings and journals, including unpublished novellas and a memoir of her early singing career;

  2. Andy Smallman

    Just a quick note to say that, as a former bookstore employee who enjoyed the ordinary interactions with regulars, that I very much appreciated reading this. It was like accessing a time machine. A happy ordinary and thoughtful new year to you. –Andy (Seattle)

    1. amyrigby

      Thank you Andy! I’m so glad I’ve written down many bookstore moments from over the years as they blur and I might otherwise forget them – I would like to compile them! Happy New Year to you too.

  3. clarke

    very sweet writing, here, and retail is the strangest thing to be on the wrong side of! all the best that ’22 can offer!! xxxcm

    1. amyrigby

      Ha ha! It must be the bar aspect that demands there be music – there’s nothing worse than people sitting in grim silence drinking a beer (for me anyways. Unbearable! Now a library, that’s a temple and should be silent)

  4. don dixon

     “like waiting on people in your underwear” is the greatest phrase ever written…

    jeez, Amy, you just keep getting better!


  5. Michael Murphy

    Thanks, Amy, for the wonderful glimpse into one of your days. I live in a place that has changed, too. It was a sleepier tourist town 48 years ago – I guess I should be happy that it didn’t really explode in popularity till the last ten or so. Was talking to my wife the other night about how details of the earlier years ought to get written down before age clouds our memories. Cheers and best wishes for a great new year.

    1. amyrigby

      Thanks so much Michael. I think this is the longest I’ve lived anyplace since I left my parents’ house in Pittsburgh in 1976. So it’s a whole new thing to watch the changes pile up, even just watching neighbor kids go from little kids to teenagers! I am so glad I’ve written blogs through it all so I can revisit and remember. Happy new year to you!

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