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Parker's lot not a happy one

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Parking around MIT, we are told, is an impossible proposition. Yet those of us who, for various reasons, rely upon cars for transportation soon discover the regular cycles that campus traffic follows; one quickly develops a sufficiently acute feel for the situation to know instinctively where the parking spaces are going to be on a given hour of a given day.

In recent weeks, I have been especially disturbed by what seems to be a malign perturbation of these delicate rhythms. The river side of Memorial Drive (on which it's illegal to park before 10 am) has been parke solid at 9 instead of its usual 9:30. My secret, last-ditch, when-allelse-fails parking space is usually taken. Some poor soul, no doubt having reached a hitherto unattained state of frustration, left his Fiat in Lobby 10.

It was while postulating a relationship between my observations and the return of Halley's Comet that I encountered my Harvard friend, self-styled follower of obscure societal trends Standish L. Plebney IV, hopping out of a Saab on Ames Street. (Standish Plebney isn't quite his real name, but self-styled et ceteras have to be careful these days.)

"Plebney! What brings you here? You aren't cross-registered this term."

"No, I just did some shopping out in the 'burbs and I'm catching the Red Line back to Harvard Square. Like my new car? Just got it two weeks ago. Garage-kept, one owner, had only 30,000 miles on it ..."

"Wait a minute! You bought a car but you're leaving it on Ames Street and taking the T back to Harvard?"

"Well, sure. Have you ever tried to park near Harvard? It's faster to leave it here and take the subway than to cruise around the Square in heavy traffic three or four times till something opens up."

"You ALWAYS leave it on Ames Street?"

"Oh, no. Saturdays and Sundays I put it in that garage over on Vassar Street. It's safer there, and it stays cleaner, too."

I suggested to Plebney that his actions were indicative of questionable ancestry.

"Look, you MIT folks have it good. Harvard has virtually no parking for undergrads, and all the surrounding streets are permit parking only."

"But how would you even come up with a deranged scheme like this?"

"Don't tell anyone, but one of the Harvard deans suggested the idea to me when I went in to complain about the parking situation on our campus."

"I can see the headline in the Crimson now: `MIT a fine parking lot, says dean; saves university millions in construction costs ...' "

"Now this guy down the hall from me has a really great deal," he continued. "His sister is a student at MIT, but she doesn't have a car. So she got him a real, live MIT parking sticker by claiming that the car is hers."

"So it's not just you?"

"Heck, no. Some of the guys I know have gone so far as to put MIT decals on their cars to deflect suspicion. It's demeaning, but it's better than parking at Harvard and getting towed."

"Then any of these cars could belong to a Harvard student -- even that one." Standing out amid a sea of rusting Dodge Darts, VW Rabbits, and once-great family station wagons was a shiny silver Japanese coupe sporting an assortment of MIT stickers, with a plush stuffed MIT-Museum beaver on the back shelf and an out-of-state vanity license plate with the letters "BEE VER". I indicated it to Plebney.

"Why, of all the cars her, would you suspect that one belonged to a Harvard student?"

"I'd suppose someone from MIT could spell better than that."

"Anyway," he pointed out, "you can't complain about my using up parking spaces that MIT students need. That space across the street has been vacant the whole time we've been talking."

"So what's wrong with that?"

"It bothers me to see that space empty when some Harvard student is probably right this minute getting a ticket for idling in front of a fire hydrant in the Square. An un-parked space like that offends my aesthetic sensibilities. It's like, uh ..."

"An un-graffitied subway car to a New York teenager," I offered.

"No, more like an uncarved block of marble to a sculptor."

"An undefiled skyline to Philip Johnson."

"A blank piece of paper to a calligrapher."

"An un-napalmed Vietnamese village to --" I was interrupted by the arrival of a mud-crusted, bumperless Beetle with a pushed-in passenger-side door. The rear window had been cleaned just enough to disclose a huge BOSTON UNIVERSITY decal.

"Well, this neighborhood's certainly gone downhill fast. I don't want my Saab associating with the likes of that," said an indignant Plebney, who then hopped into his car and sped off toward Mass. Ave.

Now if we can just get rid of those damned BU students we'll really have something.