The point! Parking Courtesy!

Joe grew up in the house we both moved into shortly after Cole was born. Joe’s dad built our house on the Northwest side of Chicago more than 50 years ago.

When we moved into our home, there were still lots of old-timers living in the hood, and the parking rules were clear: you did not park in front of anyone else’s house, and a snow-shoveled spot was yours until the snow melted. As the neighborhood changed and new neighbors moved in, these rules were not always recognized and sometimes challenged. Not good.

“Katybeth,” Joe would yell as he stomped into the house after work, “whose car is that?”

“Joe, I have no idea. It was there when I came home from the store. Hi, Honey!”

“Katybeth, do they live around here?”

“Joe, I have no idea. Did you have a good day?”

“*@*@! I cannot believe someone parked in front of our house!”

Joe would then stalk the front window, waiting for the offender to show up. I would try to point out it was a city street, we did not own the street, a parking spot could not be reserved. Joe would look at me and yell in exasperation, “Katybeth, the point is someone parked in front of OUR house!” Ok.

A neighborhood old-timer would walk by, look at the car, scratch his head, and Joe would walk out to commiserate with someone who understood his parking pain.

“Hey, Henry.”

“Hey, Joe. I don’t recognize that car…”

“I know Henry,  someone just parked in front of our house for no good reason.”

“Joe, the point is the neighborhood is changing.”

When Joe came inside he would wander around the house muttering about the lack of common courtesy people showed these days. “Exactly,” I would mutter back.

This went on for years, so I was surprised to hear Chicagoans complain about parking spot savers during the blizzard of 2011. I thought it was a Chicago custom to save parking spots after a snowstorm. It’s not. Who knew? However, it does seem the custom is still respected in old Chicago hoods where almost everyone owns his or her own home.

As soon as the blizzard had stopped blizzarding on Wednesday morning in my neighborhood, the space savers were out in abundance shoveling parking spots and neatly staking them out with a potted plant (its dead fronds trembling in the wind), hot-pink beach chairs, bar stools and coolers, end tables, and a shopping cart all meant as a warning: This shoveled-out space is mine until the snow melts. Occupy it at your own risk.

Some of you will be outraged and wonder, how is this legal? “It’s not right,” you will roar, “First come, first serve! You leave the spot, your loss.” It’s not legal, of course. Squatter rights are being claimed, but can be ignored at your own risk.

I am not from Chicago; and have always felt it was rather rude, and oddly territorial, to claim a piece of city street. “Why not just shovel and hope for the best from your neighbors?” I wondered. When Joe went through his bible phase (another post for another time), I suggested using the “Love thy neighbor” parking approach.

Sunnyside and Oakley, Chicago (thank you Cassy)

Joe just looked at me blankly, shook his head sadly, and said,“That’s not the point.”(Chicagoans say, “that’s not the point” a lot).“The point is having a little F-king parking courtesy. Without it, what good is a neighborhood?” (Chicago people often tell you what the point is, especially if they grew up on the Northwest Side).

Today, while writing this post, I watched a man walk towards his car, it was parked in front of our house. I did not recognize him. Just before he reached his car, he almost took a nasty fall; he stopped and turned as if to confront someone that had pushed him. As he carefully continued on to his car, I wondered if he had gotten the point.

I then sighed and muttered, “Joe, don’t push thy neighbor.”

I’m sure you have an opinion about this; everyone does. Feel free to leave a comment. Odd loves company!


More on Parking Dibs in Chicago. Thank you Nancy for ferreting out these links.

How did parking-spot “dibs” start in Chicago, and what are the rules?

Dibs’ OK on city streets — for now

37 thoughts on “The point! Parking Courtesy!

  1. I am sorry but I think all of the above people with the exception of you need or needed parking counseling! I want to shout this is not 1960! In 1960 there was usually only one car owned by the father of the house. Today families own at least two maybe three vehicles. The fact is there are not enough spaces for all the cars. What is someone to do that is visiting a resident on your block? Where is he or she supposed to park? If I were the police I would ticket the home owners placing any objects in the street. I am sorry it is ridiculous! Joe may have thought it’s f”n courtesy but I do not. I think it is selfish and inconsiderate to others. I battle it everytime I vist my son in Chicago during the snowy weather. I pay rent and therefore a city tax payer and it is wrong and unneighborly to say the least. I’ve met single women trying to drag infants in car seats two blocks because others have polluted the spots with debris to save their precious spot. Outrageous! This is not 1960 and people must move on and deal with the current population and their needs in 2011.

  2. I am a single mom and have been (not by choice) since both my children were very young. I live in a city that regularly sees repeated heavy snowfalls each winter season. Up until last year, I was a car-owner. From October to May, I kept a snow shovel in the back of the van, and I dug myself and my babies out of more snowed-in, snowplowed-in, and otherwise awful to deal with parking spots than I care to remember. And sometimes when I’d had the misfortune to need to go out w/ two children while the snow continued to come down, I had to dig out another spot in order to park again at the end of the day. I have cried tears in a blizzard, digging my way in and out, while my babies cried the car. MY point is, I know the pain of digging out…and digging back in. And still, no offense to Joe, this practice of saving spots makes me crazy. It absolutely goes against any sense of community, any sense of a “being-in-it-togetherness,” that I believe we, as fellow urban dwellers might share. It makes me so crazy, I want to steal chairs…which, arguably, is not very civic-minded either, but there you have it. And mind you, my experience with this has been in high-density urban neighborhoods filled with multi-unit buildings, where any thought of being able to park in front of one’s own home is never an expectation. Friend and fellow artist Stephanie Burke recently began posting a series of videos with the caption, “Thank you dear Chicagoans, for providing so many outdoor breakfast nooks, especially during the season of no patio seating.” In these videos, she and her husband may be seen enjoying their morning coffee in plastic patio chairs in dug-out parking spots. Maybe I’ve been looking at the trend the wrong way all along…

    • The chairs are ugly but someone put a nice lamp in one of the spots in my neighborhood last week. We may be squatters but at least we aren’t thief’s.
      Cassy, I would grab those babies and taken them inside for some hot chocolate; I would help you shovel but someone has to get those kids out the the cold. Might as well be me!

      • A lamp? Not only aren’t you thieves but you want to make sure the spot you are saving have an aesthetic appeal. Maybe we could have a contest for the best decorated snow spot saver?

    • No perhaps you helped some of us see it a different way. I think a lot depends on where you live. Around me neighbors guard their parking spots but they also are quick to step forward to help other neighbors out. The guy down the street has used his snow blower multiple times to clean my walk way for example. Joe always went over and shoveled for our 80 year old neighbor across the street….

      Thanks for sharing your community spirit.

  3. I shovel it, its mine until the snow melts. I have been putting out the same chair for 20 years without a problem. Maybe folks in my neighborhood just get it like I do. There is a single mom down the street with two big boys, They don’t like to shovel her walk or her parking spot, this is not my problem but if she asked me take a shovel to her boys, I’d be happy to assist her. She parks her car on a side street and walks a few blocks. Those kids are the problem not my chair. Hope that young lady who commented is raising kids who will help her out. Not a lot people are these days.


  4. As a “down-stater,” we look with some amusement on this typically Chicago practice. On the one hand, since this winter has been more-than-beastly, I’m inclined to agree with the squatters — after I’ve spent hours shoveling, I wouldn’t want somebody else to claim my parking spot. On the other, I mean, it is kind of rude and selfish, especially when you don’t know the burdens the other guy is laboring under. Thank goodness for my own driveway and garage!

    • It can be looked at from several different angles…unless you are Joe 😀 . We have a garage and I do park in it…The garage take over happened after Joe died..which is another blog post altogether. I think the idea is to shovel your spot while keeping an eye on the bigger picture–if you can help someone it.

      Thanks for dropping by My Odd family!

  5. Joe! Was a Saint. He helped anyone who ever needed help, like me.
    This did not happen in the old days because we all got off our buts and shoveled.
    I wish Joe had pushed that guy just a little harder. Cassy, honey you are always welcome to park in front of my house.


    • A saint??? If he had pushed the guy harder, I would have had to walk out and make sure he was ok..and if he wasn’t call an ambulance, his family… 😀

      Nice of you to offer Cassy a spot, tho.

  6. Wow. This is a difficult delima! I agree that if you spent tons of time digging out you should have somewhere to park, and not let someone else just swoop in…on the other hand…if you need to find a spot to park and there is a spot to park on a public street you should be able to park. If only everyone had a parking garage to go to while the citiy cleared the streets…but I guess not. I’m exhausted just thinking about how to fix this unfixable problem. Hire a new mayor to fix it….?

    On a totally different topic…Katie got her antler yesterday. She’s not sure what it is…but it’s intriguing! She hasn’t started chewing on it, we’re at the “I’ll sniff it, but I’m keeping my body as far away as possible while I sniff. In case it’s dangerous…” Thank you guys!

    • It does just wear a body out thinking about it….

      Sometimes the antlers take time and on occasionally its just not there thing. I have noticed that my Sheltie owners pups are on the cautious took one Sheltie almost a month–of-course his name was Dill Pickle and I thought that might have contributed to several of his problems….

  7. Never had to deal with this situation as we have a driveway and/or garages in my neck of the woods. I do, however, love the photos. Hugs, Diane

  8. Really enjoyed reading this Katybeth. I can see both sides of the story when it comes to dibs. Mountains of snow on congested city streets is just begging to cause an argument. Thanks for spreading some peace and hope. Good read.


  9. The pictures are hilarious!!!! The idea of parking spot saver is sound so foreign to me – well, aside that I am a foreigner, we never have to do that here in Denver, but I’m assuming it’s common for big city like Chicago.

  10. I do not like shovelling out a parking spot and “saving”
    it with some curious item. Although, I have been very
    entertained by what people use to save their spots.
    One year, we shovelled out two spots, because we
    have two cars, and did not save them with chairs.
    Sure enough, by the end of the day, they were taken.
    I make several drives to and fro my house and schools
    during the day, and I could be shovelling a good portion
    of my time. Time I do not have. So, I do not feel good
    about putting a chair in my spot, and I do not feel
    good about neighbors who do not participate in shovelling
    our streets for the good of the hood. A good solution
    would be to ticket cars that remain plowed in after three days, or since this is public parking, the city could plow
    regularly, like they clean streets regularly in the spring and
    summer. On this day, between 9-3, no one may park so
    the street can be plowed. Today, someone took our chair
    and parked in our spot. Now, my husband will have to
    find a spot at 10 pm tonight. Let’s think solution!!!!!

    Barb who grew up on the Northwest side, when parking
    was so painlessly clear!!!


    • Poor Alan! That’s what Joe always said, “When i was growing up people knew there parking place.” Ok he didn’t say that…but he could not understand why people would want to park in front of a house that was not their’s or God Forbid a shoveled our parking spot.
      Hope Alan conquered!

  11. I can see what problems the snow has for all of you. I can only imagine though. I never thought about all the things that you have to do just to get to work, school, to the market or even in an emergency to the doctors and etc. I have a new sense of what life is really like for all of you. I find it annoying to have to scrape ice off my windsheild in the moring and have desided all I had to do is put a tarp over it before dark. Pull it off Im good to go. I have to say all of you are more tougher than I am. I could not funtion with all the adversity and sheer missery of having to face the cold cold world every single day. You are all truely amazing. Praying for a quick return to warmer weather and warmer hearts.

    • The blizzard of 2011 was very exciting but I thought when its over, its over. It never occurred to me large mounds of snow would be left behind. We don’t look as pitiful as the news displays us but a Chicago Winter is not for the faint of heart.

  12. Hi Katybeth:

    I have never encountered “parking spot saving” in any of the several cities I’ve lived in. In Saint John, New Brunswick where I live now, there is a snow ban during the winter after a snowstorm, where cars park in designated snow lots overnight so that the streets can be plowed. They also have “alternate side parking” in certain areas, where you park on the odd-numbered side of the street the first half of the month, and the even-numbered side of the street the second. Both of these measures help the city clear snow more efficiently…


  13. I’ve got to go with Joe here. I’ve got no experience with the issue, but do know that shoveling anything is a bear. It just seems like if it is that clear someone worked that hard to clear a space they’re entitled to it. Legally enforceable? Nope. Just plain right thing to do? Yup.

  14. This is tough. It’s easy enough to be polite and forgiving in good weather. When the snow hits and you spend forever digging out, it’s really rude for someone to take the spot. We are in that gray area:not the middle of the city, not the burbs, and we haven’t had that problem. I might not “save” my space, but I would certainly leave a note on someone’s windshield. Then I would cry.

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  16. As a Floridian I find all of this snow etiquette interesting. It would never occur to me that someone would have to save a parking space in front of their house. We all park in front of our houses here, or in our drive ways,or in our garages. I do think that if I lived in a snow state I would agree with Joe though. I realize this is an unpopular decision but I am going to stand by it. Joe and I are sticking to our guns. A shoveled space is a claimed space, lawn chairs, lamp, bar stools or not.

  17. OH. MY. GOSH. It’s like YOUR Joe is MY Joe and has moved from Chicago to California. Whenever Hot Joe complains about how people park on this street, i.e. “He left so much room in front of him!” I remind him that it’s very possible said car parked in said spot there was a gigantic truck there and then the gigantic truck moved and a tiny compact car parked there afterwards, thus the additional room. Hot Joe will then look at me like I spoke French, shake his head and repeat, “He left so much room in front of him!!” No rationale in that thought process.

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