A Metaphysics of On-Street Parking in Lower Manhattan

by Mary Padilla

Having joined the IRP last semester, I have found that this has required me to up my game. And in no aspect is this more evident than in the matter of finding the requisite on-street parking following my commute. While defaulting to paid parking is theoretically an option, to do so would be to forgo the essence of the experience. For, properly construed, the discipline of on-street parking, I have learned, is not only paradigmatic of the intellectual enterprise with which I am now engaged, but in some sense transcends it.

Unlike its suburban counterpart, which might be likened to shooting fish in a barrel, finding parking in the West Village operates on a higher plane, involving a more refined and nuanced form of metacognition, situated somewhere between Eastern thought and the creative process. For an empty parking space cannot be willed into being, invoked by desire, or called forth by an appeal of any sort, however sincere. One can encounter it, rather, only through forfeiture of agency. It requires a searching of a particular type, one that involves the use of a species of open awareness. It is necessary to employ a form of alertness that permits you not to miss the thing that is sought by going by too quickly, intently focused on the pursuit of…that very thing.

And if a space should present itself, it would not be because of anything you could do…or do right…or not do…or not do wrong. It would just be – there – just so…or else it simply would not. It would in fact materialize more as the result of trying not to try than as the effect of trying. Only then would it present itself, so clearly what was wanted – was needed, even. It could be gained only when not looked for directly, but only by indirection, lest it be driven away by the bright glare of focused attention. For it would reveal itself only to a more drifting mode of surveillance, a contemplative state of ungrasping to be attained through a willingness merely to set up the proper conditions…and then to wait.

And if then nothing came, that void where the space should be would constitute its own statement. For on-street parking is a gift. It is not a right, or something to which we can in any sense be entitled. If it should appear, then we can only be grateful for something that we can in no way deserve. And if it does not, we need to find a way to be comfortable with this reminder that the point is the process, the exercise of seeking that which cannot be sought, but only found.

Since starting at the IRP last year, Mary has discovered that for her a major part of the experience is the drive down from northern Westchester. Approached in the proper spirit, it provides extensive time for thinking, as well as the opportunity to practice classical voice. Now that she no longer has an 8:30 study group, as she did in the first semester, she no longer even has to leave home before dawn.