Out Of The Parking Lot


Over behind that neighborhood block they’re going to demolish was a parking lot. There still is. The construction plan as I understand it is that after the construction the parking lot will be a parking lot again. But it’ll probably be one of those new parking lots, where there’s little islands of trees so you can never pull forward out of your space. Parking lot designers hate folks pulling forward with the kind of intensity you’d expect for homoiousionism or how many spaces to put after a period or whether there were twelve or thirteen starships like Captain Kirk’s. I don’t know why. I suppose parking lot designers get frustrated, like any of us. And I guess they’re taking out their frustrations by putting trees into their work rather than going outside and berating squirrels or whatnot. That’s respectable. It’s more dignified, anyway, and maintaining your dignity is one of the best ways to make sure people have no idea when they’re offending you. I feel like something’s gone wrong somewhere, but we all do.

Anyway. All those buildings from a couple weeks ago that used to be things? Like the United Nations store that somehow existed? (That has to have been a front for something, right? But why not do their money laundering with something less obviously a front, like a used-quarters store or just a mass of burly men in heavy coats standing around saying “there’s nothing going on here”?) They needed parking, and the lot is still there. It used to be a pretty good space if you needed to park at the hipster bar or the less-hipster bar across the street. There was always lots of space and the parking meters stopped charging at 5 pm.

There’s a bit of parking space behind the hipster bar and all that, but not enough. This is important to city life. Cities drive innovation because they reach a critical density where folks can’t park. This gets people to think about ways to get enough parking in town. There’s no way to do this, but once the mind is focused on the parking hassle, it starts having other non-parking-related ideas, like:

  1. “Invent Google!”
  2. “Have uniform prices for a wide range of department store goods, streamlining business and allowing for hte hiring of more clerks than could plausibly become partners or proprietors of their own businesses!” (If it’s the mid-19th century and you’re one of the new class of department store managers)
  3. “See what it’d be like if you used conditioner on your beard!”
  4. “Be Henry Ford and build internal combustion motor-driven cars! (NOTE: BE HENRY FORD FIRST — MOST IMPORTANT!!)”

That third is a great idea, since my barber mentioned how soft and well-behaved my beard was last time I got it trimmed. It doesn’t make me any money. But any unsolicited compliment from the person cutting your hair is an apple of gold. The others were good bits of commercial and social progress too.

But in the last couple weeks, since the last restaurant closed, the lot’s lost its parking meters. Most of the metal poles are still there, like giant pieces of metal wheat, but there’s nothing on the tops. The easy thing to suppose is that the city figures there’s no reason to charge for parking as long as there’s nothing to park there for. But that implies the city figures it’s worth taking all the meters down now, months ahead of the construction starting. They must be in storage somewhere.

But then they’re taking an awful risk. What if someone loses the key to the parking meter storage locker? And you just know that sending the mayor in to straighten things out won’t work. There are two kinds of city mayor. One is the relentlessly polite boring type that couldn’t argue the fast food counter into taking an order. He’d be useless in settling a storage locker dispute. The other — the kind Lansing has right now — is the brash big-talking type that you remember because he might slug someone and you’d get to watch. That won’t work for the storage locker problem either because the clerk at the locker place would end up punched. I grant we have to take the risk of the storage locker key getting lost anyway. But why add unnecessary months for things to go wrong?

As I say though, that’s the easy thing to suppose. Too easy? Remember that we just learned how a whole road in Russia got stolen. What if someone’s swiping parking meters from lots that nobody would pay attention to? Someone with a couple dozen hot meters could very slightly starve mid-Michigan for nickels and dimes and even quarters. Without this small change what would we put in parking meters? I don’t know, but I bet there’ll be an answer from someone who was just looking for a place to park.

An Impostor’s Dream


So apparently in my dream-world life, I’ve been a staff writer for Conan O’Brien for about five years now and despite that it occurred to me during some kind of special event show that I couldn’t remember having ever had anything I’d written turn up on air, ever. Which is a bit humbling, but what was really bad was during the taping of the show I realized I didn’t even know who I’d give a comedy sketch to, if I ever wrote one, if I ever wanted to see it maybe get on the air, which it wouldn’t. So that’s a bit humbling.

Anyway, I was mulling over whether I had any kind of job that meant anything in the dream-world, when I got caught up in one of those conversations which will not end with the guy playing the Conan show’s newly-minted midwestern-mayor character Roberto Boblo (his primary gimmick being an obsession with what he insists is a gold bar, but which is obviously a plastic hairbrush spray-painted kind-of-gold-ish), who refused to break character as he tried to shake me out of my funk. The upshot of this is that while wandering away from the taping I got hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar area of the Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey.

I think this offers lessons useful for all of us.

Forms of New Jersey Local Government (5)


Under the Plesstown council-manager-mayor system, designed for communities wishing to call themselves villages without having to pay the state Office of Geographic Services’ notorious V surcharge (originally imposed as a temporary measure to help pay for the Second World War, and now used to nearly completely cover the state’s share of expenses from calling up New York City and asking who owns Ellis Island every night), the municipality’s council gathers on the first Tuesday in January after the 2nd of January following an election meeting, with each of the five heads of the municipality’s departments and two ringers. From this body of seven a city manager and a mayor are selected; and the entire body must determine which two aren’t really supposed to be on the council by the end of the March meeting. The guts of this pleasant tradition were spoiled in response to voter anger over the state sales tax in the 1970s when the legitimate councilors just started asking, “whoever’s the fakes, please raise your hands” and they did. Now the fakes are routinely spotted as being the persons on the board who don’t seem to have any hands on them, resulting in most towns moving to alternate schemes of governance. Four villages in Gloucester and Salem counties and the City of Elizabeth still use this system.

Forms of New Jersey Local Government (1)


One of the top 36 most popular ways of organizing a municipality in New Jersey is the Faulkner (1923) Huffle-Manager system. In this scheme, the municipality’s government is organized into a town council, elected in a nonpartisan manner based on who forgets to actually post any roadside signs insisting that they have a name until after the election. In this scheme the Mayor is selected at-large from the council, and is typically surprised when they turn up outside her or his home at 3 in the morning with a big net and tagging collar. The mayor in these schemes has no vote and cannot speak on pending resolutions, but is able to veto resolutions by arm-wrestling any of the councillors. The councillors serve as department heads, typically, the Director of Public Safety, the Director of Public Works, the Lord High Admiral, the Speaker-To-Vulcans, and the Designated Sneezer; in municipalities with seven councillors, one is typically the Alto Saxophonist and the other is responsible for keeping the garage cleaned.

[ On an unrelated note, over on my mathematics blog I do a regular bit of reviewing comic strips that mention mathematics subjects, and just posted one. It’s not deliberately meant to be funny, but for those interested in talk about comic strips with a particular theme it may be of interest. ]