City Life

An Urban Dweller’s Experience in Two Installments.


When he moved to 1367 Union in San Francisco, it was his first experience as an urban dweller. He moved from a suburb, a dense suburb to be sure, but still, it had detached houses, lawns and driveways. Here in the city, houses are against one another and folks live over or under one another and there are always more cars than places to park.

As an introduction to a facet of the urban experience, John, his landlord who lived above him, instructed him on how to call the cops when someone obstructed the driveway. John said he should be ruthless.


The trouble comes from the downhill side of the driveway. At the curb, there is barely space for three cars, and it’s tight. Any big car or SUV makes it almost impossible to fit three, so the front car often extends over the red curb, or worse, over the curb cut of the driveway.


He would be annoyed if the offending car poked its nose over the red curb, and very annoyed if it extended into the curb cut. It was at the very annoyed stage that he would call the cops (actually the Department of Parking and Traffic [DPT]). “Do you want it ticketed or towed?” was always their first question.

For a ticket, a DPT officer would come and leave a $50 ticket for blocking a driveway (now it’s $75), and go away.

For a tow, a DPT officer comes, verifies that you are the complainant and that you want a tow, then calls for a tow truck. Meantime, the officer will affix a ticket. The tow trucks have a contract with the city, and may come from across town, so it takes a while, during which time you get to hang with the DPT officer and swap stories. There have been times when the driver returns before the tow truck arrives. In one case, the car was hooked up to the tow truck, but was not yet “in the public right-of-way,” so she got off with only the ticket.

Over the months and years, he learned that it was too much of a hassle to call the cops if he really, really weren”t blocked in — or out. He also learned that the offenders usually didn”t live in the city, city dwellers don”t block curb cuts, they understand. For egregious, but not really blocking offenders, he resorted to a bit of urban guerrilla warfare such as egging the windshield or putting Vaseline on the windshield wiper. (Nasty, he doesn”t do that anymore.)

Over 15 years, he and John have had maybe six or seven cars towed. Not many, considering. Early on, he asked John how far a car had to be over the curb cut to block John’s big Jeep. John said, “over the crack in the street,” so that gave him a go-by.


One night he got home by bus, from a Giants game. A car was parked about half way over the driveway. John was waiting, parked across the neighbor’s driveway and said he had called the cops. “Good for you, John.” Later, he and his wife witnessed the tow from their window and didn”t think much more about it.

The next day, headed for his early morning walk, he saw this sign on the door. Very creative. That person should be as thoughtful when selecting a parking space.



Actually, depending on how long the car has been “in storage” it’s $280 or more.

He rode his scooter down Union Street, to the flat, shopping part. His mission was to stop into the Second Chance antique store and check out prices on loveseats and easy chairs. He might want to sell a loveseat, might want to buy an easy chair.

First, he needed to park. A wide spot between parked cars is right in front of the store. Wait, there’s a better place across the street between a parked car and a driveway. He tooled across the street to curl into that space and spotted an even wider space in a red zone on the other side of the driveway behind a car parked across the next driveway. He chose that space, and walked across the street to the store.


Not seeing anything he liked, either loveseat wise or easy chair wise he walked out of the store and saw a DPT three-wheeled scooter stopped in front of his scooter. The DPT lady was writing a ticket for a car in front of the store. As he got to his scooter he saw a folded ticket tucked under the bungee cord on the back of the seat.

The DPT lady, a large black woman, crossed the street toward him.

“What’s up with this?” he asked. Being the experienced urban dweller by then, he was resigned, rather than angry.

“The woman in that house called in a complaint,” said the DPT lady.

“How long ago?” he asked. He wasn”t in the store more than five minutes.

She said she was just around the corner. She said she asked a passer-by if he saw where the driver went, but he didn”t. She looked for the driver, but didn”t know where he was.

She was very nice and felt bad about such a chickenshit situation. He took the opportunity to ask her where he could park. She pointed to the two spaces that he had passed up, both fine. And she said she wouldn”t have ticketed him for the red zone if there hadn”t been a complaint. “You know,” she said, “there are people who have nothing better to do than sit in their window, spot minor violations, and call the DPT.” She thanked him for not yelling at her.

He asked politely if there might be anything she could do about this particular ticket.

“No, once it’s done, it’s done. I”m sorry I couldn”t find you.”

So there you have it, The Urban Experience in Two Installments. The aggrieved person that was towed for blocking the garage really was blocking the garage and John couldn”t get into the garage. The bastard should be towed.

This guy was just in a red zone, doing no harm. But heed his advice, don”t ever, ever park in a Red Zone, ever; no matter how benign.


One thought on “City Life

  1. Marcus, this is a riot. We feel your pain. We don’t get blockers, but we do get a few too close just over the curb. Cheers, Paula


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