Synchronized parking

Walking down West 15th street at 8:50am the other day, I watched a big NYC street sweeping truck rumble down one side of the street.  That side of the street was clear of cars because of New York’s alternate-side parking regulations: it’s illegal to park on the north side of 15th street from 8:30 to 10:00am on Mondays and Thursdays.

So far, nothing remarkable going on here.

Then, within seconds of the street sweeper passing by, three cars, as if on cue from some invisible maestro, swung simultaneously to the other side of the street, with the grace and unison of synchronized swimmers.  I’d never seen cars do ballet before.

The sign said no parking until 10am, but at 8:51, they’d moved to the other side of the street.  Were they all ready to wait another 69 minutes, or do they know that once the street sweeper passes by, they’re not getting a ticket?

The exact point is that I don’t know the answer here but they do.  Why?  Because they’re the real insiders, who care the most (about that parking spot), who know how the rules are played, who understand all the constraints and limitations and where rules can be bent.

There are a lot of rules that are in place for good reasons (we need clean streets), lots of norms that tell us what we can and cannot do that are a great guide for our actions.  And there are those that aren’t.

Figuring out which is which takes time.

This is why there are no shortcuts, why mastery takes 10,000 hours, why people who seem to bend the world to their will soon discover, once they’ve done it once, that they can do it again and again.

(It’s also why caring the most matters.  Whether those folks in the three cars waited there for 5 minutes or 69 minutes, they got those parking spots for free for the next three days.)

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For those who liked yesterday’s post about Kevin Kelly, his essay from the book is available on Kevin’s blog.

3 thoughts on “Synchronized parking

  1. Brilliant insight Sasha.

    The value of “playing the game” or pursuing a dream day-in and day-out isn’t simply to suffer, it’s to figure out the rules and where they can be bent. Not just the rules of the world, but our own internal rules that we might not be aware of (e.g. I can do 15 pullups if I want to feel good, but I can do 25 if I want to bend my own rules and really push myself).

  2. Nice one sasha.

    I worked from home in the west village for about 6 years, and this was one of my favorite rituals. I always thought that “having to park” during my work-day would be a liability. Instead, it turned into .. yes .. a fun ballet every Tuesday and Friday.

    The REALLLY fun part is when someone who isn’t an “insider” throws a monkey wrench in the ballet (not knowing the dance). All hell breaks loose and the ballet turns into one of the most stressful moments you could possibly imagine. 🙂

    After doing it for 3-4 years, you could start to tell who the insiders were … who wouldn’t screw it up … who you should park behind … what newcomer might completely screw up the system (and, worse case, cost you your spot).

    It was an unbelievably intricate process that I miss dearly (moved out of the west village a year ago).

    And when you got to really know manhattan’s alternate side parking calendar, things got REALLY fun. for instance, knowing that … say … next Tuesday was some obscure holiday during which street cleaning rules were not in effect added a whole new twist because it opened the door for having free parking for a whole WEEK instead of just 2-3 days. Magical. 🙂

  3. @dbuj – That’s so true. I don’t miss having to do that dance, but there was something funny about watching the same people join you in a weekly ritual.

    Sasha – you did have to stay in your car or you might get ticketed.

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