The Day I Stole a Chair

Today's story by my Daily News colleague Emily Schultheis about the battle of finding on-street parking after a heavy snowfall, reminded me of a crime I committed years ago, when I was a suburban teenager who'd never heard of the practice of saving a shoveled-out parking spot with a chair.

I wrote about the crime in a Feb. 2, 2000 column and thought I'd reprint it here, for stupidity's sake. Because, boy, was I stupid.




All I remember thinking was, "Hey, someone's throwing away a perfectly good chair!"

I was 19 years old, lived in the roomy suburbs, and was driving through snowbound West Oak Lane, desperately seeking a parking space on a blustery winter night.

Then I saw it: A paint-splattered bentwood chair, topped by a cinder block, plopped in the center of a parking spot across the street from my music teacher's house, where my lesson was to start in five minutes.

I sprinted from the car, lugged the cinder block to the curb, put the chair in my trunk, then parked in the snug alcove the chair had been blocking.

I drove home later marveling that 1) I'd found a parking space at all, and 2) that someone had not only discarded a cool piece of furniture, but had thoughtfully anchored it with a cinder block so it wouldn't get blown into the street and crushed.

A week passed before I learned, while showing off my newly dipped-and-stripped chair to an urban-dwelling friend, that I had naively stolen 1) someone's hard-won parking spot, and 2) the chair used to reserve it.

I tell this embarrassing story not just to make you snicker (go ahead, I deserve it), but to broach the topic of snow-parking etiquette - or, rather, the city's lack of agreed-upon, knowable snow-parking rules, which becomes brutally apparent every time we've endured a heavy snowfall like last week's.

Do you "own" the parking spot you shoveled out? For how long? Until schools reopen? Until the next blizzard? Until your neighbor pulls a gun?

What if the spot you shoveled is not in front of your house? Is it still OK to save it with a chair ? Or does your neighbor have a right to put his own chair there?

And what of said chair ? If it's sitting on the street, and it happens to be trash day, is it considered theft of property if someone takes it?

These questions have complicated answers, my friends. Especially since Philly's street-parking etiquette is as idiosyncratic, 'hood to 'hood, as Moyamensing is to Overbrook.

What this city needs is a Snow Parking Czarina, an Amy Vanderbilt of wintertime curbside courtesy, to inform the clueless, calm the righteous and, with wise word or poke in the eye, shame the brazen.

I humbly appoint myself.

Though my employer forbids me to accept a salary for this seasonal position, I consider the workload a deserved penance for ripping off someone's chair - a very nice chair , by the way, which now occupies a corner in my powder room - so many years ago.

Herewith are some purely subjective do's and don'ts for handling the challenges of snow-time parking, each of which I will urge the mayor - himself a rowhouse dweller and owner of many street-parked trucks - to endorse wholeheartedly.

First things first, though: According to the district attorney's office, since none of us "owns" the street, no one can be charged with "theft of a parking spot" if he nabs the spot you cleared. So if you blacken someone's eye over it, the law's on his side.

DO shovel out your car, even if you don't plan to drive it until April Fools' Day. A single, snow-enrobed car takes up 11/2 spaces, front to back. If more than a handful of people on the same block let their cars languish, well, you do the math.

DON'T expect to "own" a space in front of any house located more than one car length away from the outer borders of your curbfront, even if you broke your back to shovel it out. This is the city. If you want a guaranteed space in front of your door, move to a townhouse development.

DO, however, feel free to politely ask a driver to park elsewhere if you recognize him as an outsider who regularly parks for free on your block because of its walkable distance from his downtown job or the happenin' restaurant around the corner.

If he refuses, you may shovel his car tightly into place after he is out of sight.

DON'T lean on the horn of your four-wheel-drive as someone in a '72 Corolla with bald tires attempts many times to back into an icy parking space, stalling traffic behind him. Get out and help before God notices what a mean-spirited slug you are and strikes you dead.

Finally, DO extend the benefit of the doubt to egregious snow-parking offenders. Some of these people are honestly too stupid to know they've done anything wrong.

Believe me, I speak from experience.