Lately, I’ve really been treasuring my morning commute. Now, I know that might sound kind of odd, because Seattle is a widely-known hellmouth of traffic frustration and most people don’t really enjoy the daily monotony of heading off to work. But I truly look forward to getting to work to see my friends and cozy up to my ever-present BFF, the computer screen, with a cup of tea. And luckily, my route to work happens to generally be rather short and smooth, and gives me a daily soaking-in of one of the best viewpoints in all of Seattle from the Magnolia Bridge, see below for proof.
I love to sing like a crazy person in the entirely self-imagined, mock-privacy of my car’s interior, where I either think people can neither hear nor see me, or just don’t care if they do. About twenty minutes after passing that gorgeous Magnolia view, I arrive at the northeast edge of downtown, directly below Capitol Hill where my office building is located. Part of this morning commute ritual is the search for a good parking spot. By some bureaucratic oversight, there are a few random patches of all-day, unmetered parking directly above 1-5 and about two blocks from my office. And every morning, those few savvy business professionals who have discovered and cultivated this land of secret parking, vie for whatever empty spots are vacated as residents and other lucky parkers vacate the area on their own way to work.
Over the last year and a half that I’ve had this job, I’ve seen the same group of early-morning parkers gather on the streets, making their laps around the block between about 8:00 and 8:45 am to fight for parking. I’ve seen newly vacated parking spaces stolen right out from under me, and I’ve been the thief myself on one or two occasions. I’ve assigned names to each of these parking community members and have even learned the preferred search times of each driver in order to time my own arrival in the neighborhood about ten minutes earlier than the rest of the pack. For example, Mean Green Prius Man always shows up at 8:15 or later, while Green Volvo Sedan Green Thermos Lady leaves her spot at precisely 8:46 am, every day, and returns at 5:00 pm. Old Man Porsche generally pops in about five or ten minutes behind me, so that we often pass each other and wave as we play our musical chairs-like game and seek-and-ye-shall-find. Some people are awfully unfriendly about it, while others give the all-purpose wave, the Aloha/Shalom of motor vehicle gestures. Though a spot to park my car is nearly always available within a few blocks if I am willing to espand my search zone, getting a spot in the right-out-front “happy strip,” as my co-workers and I like to call it, can really start my day off with a feeling of triumph and glee.
Sometimes shimmying my tank-like Volvo station wagon into questionably viable spaces takes a bit of what I like to call, “touch-parking method,” or require me to get out of my car to check, double check and recheck. In conversations with the local meter maid, I’ve learned that if only 1/3 of your car’s length is sticking out into an infraction zone, all is well—as long as that other majority of your car’s length is in the all-clear zone. I have become a master of parallel parking, Austin Powers-ing my way into some very tiny spaces with well-practiced precision.
Yesterday, I was working my way into a very tight uphill space, when Old Man Porsche walked behind me on the sidewalk. We waved at each other, recognizing one another’s faces from so many mornings passing each other in our cars. Old Man Porsche then walked over to the front of my car, held up his hands to indicate how much room I had, and then directed me into the sweet-spot of the parking space with his kindly hand signals. He smiled at me as he gave a thumbs-up and good-bye wave, and I mouthed the words “Thank You” before he walked away.
I felt warmed by that gesture of kindness all day, not sure why something so seemingly trivial had affected me so strongly. When I got home, I watched two neighbors walk in their front doors at the same time each without saying hello or even glancing in the other’s direction. And then it hit me: in today’s Go-Go-Go culture, there is so much we ignore, so much that we neglect. When we are each increasingly absorbed in our own little bubbles while glued to cell phones and computer screens, cultivating a sense of community just doesn’t seem to happen much. It may be minor in relation to my life and priorities, but sharing a moment with Old Man Porsche made us both feel that we belonged to a larger community and to each other.
I’m fortunate to have a ton of friends and a fantastic office-full of great folks to go to every day, to belong to a wonderful community of writers, to know my neighbors well and to feel like I belong somewhere. But in a world that values the potential to live life anonymously, I’ll take any and all connections I can get, whether it be a friendly hello at the dog park, a smile from a passing stranger, or a little parking assistance from an old man I see every day but have never met.