Monday, February 07, 2011

Click here to view these pictures larger

Dibs Wars

A couple of years ago, the San Francisco Giants rolled into town to take on the Chicago Cubs. We had tickets to the game, which promised to provide more drama than usual, given the presence of the much-reviled Barry Bonds in the Giants' lineup.

As the disgraced slugger stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, the crowd came to its feet. And booed.

The raspberries rained down on Bonds, each one pelting him with the verdict of cheater. Because even though he's yet to be convicted of a crime, we've all pronounced Bonds guilty of abusing steroids.

I didn't join in the razzing, partly because of a strong contrarian streak--the more everyone else does something, the less inclined I am to take part--but also because I didn't feel it was my job to judge Barry Bonds. Of course, plenty of other people felt that it was. Plenty of other people felt secure that, under the same circumstances, they would have just said no to drugs. They would have acted with integrity. They would never cheat to gain an advantage over the competition.


We all have a little bit of larceny in us. As evidence, I point to the side streets of Chicago, currently littered with chairs and buckets and, in one curious instance, a Casio electronic keyboard. I speak, of course, of dibs.

Dibs, for the uninitiated, is a quaint Chicago tradition of holding your parking space following a snowstorm, using whatever castoff garbage you can find around your house. As a result, our streets currently look like a cross between an open landfill and a contemporary art installation. The point is that after you've allegedly spent hours digging out your car, you have a right to claim that strip of public pavement as your private spot. To which I again say, bullshit.

Though the mayor himself has tacitly endorsed dibs, much as he has cronyism and corruption, the practice has plenty of detractors--some have even likened the subject to abortion, Sarah Palin and "Glee" in terms of the polarizing reactions it produces. I would call that an overstatement, except for that I participated in a heated comments-section war on the Internet a few weeks ago and emotions regarding dibs do indeed run high.

The trouble with dibs is that, just like steroids, it's ripe for abuse. Plenty of people set out their placeholders in spots that they didn't personally shovel. I've seen one con artist on our block drag what looks to be a portable toilet for a disabled person from space to space. (I do NOT need to know what's going on his household with that particular piece of equipment taken out of commission.) Wherever he finds an opening, he marks his territory. Then there are those who will call dibs under the flimsiest of circumstances--if two inches of snow falls, they're out their with their chairs and buckets, despite not having so much as needed to shovel a single flake. In the absence of any regulation or oversight--Is there a time limit on dibs? Nobody knows--and what with the mayor and his minions essentially turning a blind eye, people can twist dibs to suit whatever purpose they want, for however long they want. In short, they cheat.

The real issue, of course, has nothing to do with snow and physical exertion and everything to do with the fact that there are too many cars in the city and not enough parking spaces. Our condo building has 26 units, so factor minimally 26 cars. We can't all fit in the handful of spaces on our street. If you don't snag one of those cherished slots out front, you have to park around the corner or around the block, or around the block from around the block. Admittedly, this sucks, especially when it's cold out, or late at night, or raining and you've just brought home a shitload of stuff from Costco or Ikea. But that's part of the charm of living in the city. We don't have garages and this allows us to feel superior to people in Naperville. It's a trade-off.

Then along comes a snowstorm and people suddenly use dibs as an excuse to get what they've always wanted, a guaranteed parking space. An advantage, much like steroids, over every other poor sap with a car. Once one person does it, more are sure to follow. Because if you don't, if you clear your spot but fail to "own" it, you'll find it filled with some other vehicle whenever you arrive home from work or dinner or whatever activity you deemed more important than holding onto your parking space. Just like you would any other night of the year. Normally you'd move onto the next opening, but courtesy of dibs, they're also taken--by a cardboard box, a ladder or a pair of folding chairs. (I must say, I do appreciate the whimsy of people who face their sets of chairs toward each other, as if passersby will stop for a chat at this makeshift street-side cafe and share a cup of hot cocoa.) So you circle and circle and swear that the next time it snows you won't be such a chump, next time you're calling dibs.

Kind of how if everyone else were doing steroids, you would be tempted to take them too--just to level the playing field. When the rules of the game shift--they go from non-steroids to steroids, from non-dibs to dibs--you either get on board or you get left behind. It doesn't matter whether you think the new world order is wrong, or even illegal, because holding onto your ideals won't help you keep your place in the lineup or find a parking space.

Personally, I think dibs is crap. I not only think it's selfish, I find it galling for people to think that by setting out a Casio keyboard, they can somehow claim ownership of a public street. If I shovel my sidewalk, can I tell you not to walk on it? Mostly I hate that dibs is indicative of an every-man-for-himself mindset.

A mindset I was sorely tempted to give into. Last week, it took me an hour and a half to shovel the two feet of snow entombing our Honda. While I was out laboring, I watched a steady stream of cars drive down our street, searching for a place to park. All the openings were claimed, natch, some by cars and some by portable toilets. I knew that the second we moved our car, one of these vultures would swoop in and benefit from my hard work.

"We are so doing dibs," I told my husband. I was about to retrieve a pair of plastic lawn chairs from storage when Dave stopped me. He'd been talking to a couple of neighbors from our building, all of them likewise digging out their cars, all of them likewise opposed to dibs. One guy even went so far as to walk across the street, take the chair holding a space, and chuck it into the facing yard. (What keeps other people from doing this? Fear of retaliation. If you appropriate a dibs spot, who knows what vengeance the "owner" will take on your car.)

So now we were being pressured to do the right thing, instead of the wrong. Dammit. If Dave had come home five minutes earlier or five minutes later, we would have felt perfectly comfortable participating in dibs--because everyone else was doing it. Once we learned otherwise, the decision became more difficult--cave to the mob and give ourselves the same advantage they had no problem claiming or stick to our principles and find ourselves screwed. I imagine there's a point when Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa faced this same dilemma. Just like everyone who calls dibs, they took the easier path. Think about that, ye dibs proponents, the next time you're tempted to boo someone for being weak.

For our part, we compromised. Instead of putting out plastic chairs, we've yet to move our car. It's like we're still in the game, but sitting on the bench, waiting for the rules to change back to normal.


Blogger andshewas said...

i have more of a problem with the people who don't take the time to shovel out their cars and leave a pile of snow, thus rendering a whole parking space unusable more than i have a problem with people clearing a spot and claiming dibs. dibs happens once every 5-10 years. let it go.

3:56 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home