Owen Courreges: The parking mafia

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Owen Courreges

Submitted for your approval, a young, mild-mannered New Orleans female who manages a store on Magazine Street.  She lives happily in an apartment in the rear of her shop, interacting with neighbors and contributing to the fabric of one of New Orleans’ great commercial corridors.

Alas, this poor girl is about to come face to face with a place where reason and good manners have are given no quarter, a place we call…. The “Passive-Aggressive Neighbor Zone.”

On Sunday, May 13, 2012, at approximately 9:00 a.m., this unassuming lady returned to her car parked on a side street near her business. She had recently acquired it as an additional vehicle to use for advertising purposes.  As she approached the car (which was legally parked), she noticed an ordinary piece of paper under one of her wiper blades on her windshield.

The letter (with the street name redacted) read as follows:

This letter was essentially the old Mafioso protection-racket threat. “Nice store you have here…  Hate to see something happen to it.” The real message being conveyed is “play ball or I’ll wreck your property.” It’s extortion 101.

Of course, here instead of asking for protection money, some neighbor was making an illegal demand that this poor lass “[k]eep you [sic] cars off this block from now on.”  On a public street with public parking. This grammar-challenged resident conflates public property with his own which, as we all know, is a very dangerous proposition in this city.

Alas, this is not some fantasy out of the mind of Rod Serling. No, the “Passive-Aggressive Neighbor Zone” is not some ethereal plane where gremlins rip components out of airplane wings while William Shatner overacts in the cabin, or where a bibliophile cries in a post-apocalyptic wasteland because he just broke his reading glasses. It’s much more real than that.

No, this plane of existence is the same as our own. It develops in tightly-packed neighborhoods where parking is a scarce commodity and where people are too dumb and self-involved to understand that they have no more right to street parking than anyone else.  Worse, it is prevalent along side-streets bordering major commercial strips where there is no reasonable expectation of being able to park close to one’s house.

It can also extend to owners of commercial establishments, of course. Astute readers will recall my column from a couple of weeks ago in which I recounted being arrested after I was harassed by a local bar owner who ordered me to leave a public sidewalk he regarded as being “his corner.”  I have since discovered that the responding officer, Terry Baham, failed to mention one crucial fact in his affidavit – that the incident occurred on a public sidewalk.

Problems always arise when people conflate public and private property. Public property is for everyone’s enjoyment; private property can be jealously guarded and is protected from encroachment under the law.  However, even in cases involving private property interests Louisiana allows little avenue for self-help.  Except in exigent circumstances, citizens are supposed to call the police – not take the law into their own hands.

In other words, Mafioso extortion tactics are improper when protecting private interests; they’re downright ludicrous when the person making threats has no legally protected interest at all.

We’re not the only city that has this problem, of course.  In certain Chicago neighborhoods residents will call “dibs” on a parking spot after it’s been dug out of a heavy snow.  They’ll do so by blocking it off with trash cans, old furniture, etc.  If somebody parks in one of these spots anyway, they risk having their car vandalized.  This system of “dibs” has come under criticism in recent years, forcing the city to announce that it would no longer tolerate the practice.

At least in Chicago residents actually invested some labor in clearing a parking spot of snow before laying claim to it.  Here in New Orleans we have residents to claim ownership of street parking for no better reason than the fact that they happen to live nearby.  I believe the Yiddish term for this is “chutzpah.”  The phrase “narcissistic jackassery” also comes to mind.

The moral is this: If you want guaranteed parking, buy your own.  Get a house with a driveway.  Otherwise, bite your lip whenever somebody steals “your spot,” because you know deep down that it isn’t actually yours.  Above all else, get over yourself.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

31 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: The parking mafia

    • I think she’s been frightened off by the letter. It’s a shame, but low-level terrorism like this usually works.

  1. Outrageous and all too common. Look at Faubourg Ste. John during Jazzfest; scads of spots blocked off all day by residents.

    It’s funny, you can sell drugs out of your house and no one says a word but I’ve seen women in their 70s run out of their houses to scream at someone parking in “their” spot.

    • I think there was actually a violent incident last year over this. It’s ridiculous. People buy houses without off-street parking and then act as though they own the parking in front of their house. Apparently some of them even charge for it. Outrageous is an understatement.

  2. I seriously doubt the author took any precaution or gave any forethought to drafting the threat – as in wearing latex gloves – so if it were me and I had some time I might even find a way to run some prints. “Narcissitic jackasses” (nice one, Owen) like this are rarely one off players and some times their aggression might’ve gone too far in the past and maybe just maybe they’re already in the system. Funnier, they’ve told the person approximately where they live!

    ENOUGH of claiming spots already. I’m talking to the adjacent residents of Whole Foods too, ya maroons.

    • I would hate to live next to Whole Foods, which I think is a great example of moronic planning, e.g., building houses rather than a parking lot in the back (the whole place used to be a bus barn). I feel sorry for the nearby residents and consider them victims not morons.

  3. Owing,

    Chutzpah can have a negative connotation, but it’s usually positive. The better Yiddish pejoratives for this instance would be schmuck, putz, shvantz, tokhes.

    In the future, edit your pieces more tightly. You shouldn’t call We grammatically challenged when your own essay, in a failed attempt at humor, is stylistically pretentious (alas used twice…conflate…lass…exigent circumstances…astute readers) and filled with cliches (bite your lip…know deep down…scarce commodity…get over yourself…). One literary offense is as bad as the other.

    Your defense is, But all lawyers write badly. Not true. Read The Friends of Eddie Coyle and learn how to write from it.

    Please change your profile picture.

    Louis Hern, Shvantz

    • Louis,

      I think “chutzpah” is apt. It can either be positive or negative, depending on circumstances. The alternatives you cite are just pejoratives and don’t convey the audacity I’m trying to convey.

      As for my writing being “stylistically pretentious,” I respectfully disagree. I’m not a believer in Strunk and White and the entire modern trend towards dumbed-down writing. If a person can’t read at an 8th grade level, I don’t think they’ll get any real value from my columns anyway. I love the richness of language; I deplore artificial constraints that suck out the intelligence and diversity.

      As for being a lawyer, well, I was a blogger and columnist first and managed to get paid for both, so apparently some people like my writing style. Different strokes, I guess.

    • A couple of adult beverages might be in order. Yikes! If it makes any difference, I write for a living and love the style. (Yes I am well paid too.)

  4. That is outrageous. One does not own what one does not own. What’s complicated about that???

    I must tangent for a minute to answer my friend JPV’s comment though. I live around WF and think I speak for most of us when I say – I don’t usually mind when I have to park far away; the tradeoff is living in a safe, walkable neighborhood. Many weekends I don’t move my car at all. But WF and their patrons do annoy me, and the annoyance is caused primarily by two things: 1.) The number of people parking ILLEGALLY (in driveways, in front of fire hydrants) in our neighborhood, and 2.) The fact that WF does not allow their own employees to park in their lot. Were it not for those two things, I would not feel cranky about it at all…honest.

  5. If I remember correctly, it was the neighbors of the proposed Whole Foods who wanted houses built behind the store because they didn’t want a parking lot. They are probably regretting that now.

  6. “She had recently acquired it as an additional vehicle to use for advertising purposes.” – What, exactly, does this mean? I have seen vehicles “skinned” with billboards and parked at busy intersections or in front of stores as an end-run around signage and zoning laws. I don’t hold much sympathy for this practice and there are parking laws which prevent cars from being “abandoned” for too long in one spot. One girl, two cars, limited parking … I can see how the neighbors might get irritated – not that they handled it well. What’s the “rest of the story”?

    • Curious,

      It’s a classic and her intention is to get magnetic signs for it. She drives it regularly, though. At the time the note was left, it had only been there a couple of days. It had in no way been abandoned or parked for an inordinate time.

  7. david: Someone with a longer memory may be ab le to elaborate, but the residents next to the Whole Foods actually demanded that those home be built instead of providing more parking.

  8. I have seen signs posted saying that if you park in front of their house they will have it towed (not blocking their driveway but literally on the street)… Can they do that? Will a tow truck actually come out? Check out the St Charles side of Magazine at Sixth St (running next to Cafe Rani).. These people actually managed to get what looks like the city’s generic “No Parking” sign & put it at the spot in front of their home. That one was especially irritating to me one day because it was the only open spot. Will a tow company tow your car if you park in “their spot”?

    • Nola,

      Meter maids should know the difference between a genuine city sign and a private one, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on it. Of course, those signs are illegal and I would report them. It’s one thing to mark a driveway, but no citizen can appropriate street parking.

  9. While I agree that the threatening is completely unnecessary, I have to ask – have you ever been in the residents’ shoes? I have. I lived in an apartment, Uptown in fact, where I had no off-street parking. Now, about half the time, the spot in front of my house would be open, a spot that could easily accommodate two cars, and I would park there, leaving enough room behind me for a second car to park. The other half, someone would park dead in the center of the spot, blocking up the space for a second car and forcing me to park at the other end of the block and even around the corner. And it was one of the most annoying things I’ve ever had to put up with. I’m not saying I’m entitled to any parking space, wherever i live, nor that the letter left on the car is justified at all. But the frustration they feel is completely understandable. And before telling us “narcissistic jackasses” to “get over ourselves,” perhaps you should consider doing the same and stop being a condescending twit.

    • Mike,

      I’ve lived in one half of a shotgun double a half block off of St. Charles with no off-street parking. Sometimes parking was bad. I toughed it up and adjusted. Later, I bought a motor scooter that I could park in the alleyway, and when I bought my own house, I made sure that I got off-street parking. I fixed the problem myself and didn’t blame innocent people.

      I had a neighbor, however, who thought he owned the spot in front of his house and complained about it frequently. He even did so when the person who parked there was a handicapped amputee. That’s how I learned that being frustrated over another person’s use of public parking was a truly ugly thing.

      In this case, I know for a fact that the car was not parked irregularly or in any way that lessened the amount of parking on the street. Accordingly, the “frustration” is in no way understandable. You’re citing a different set of facts to justify somebody who thinks that they own the street. The only “condescending twit” here is you.

  10. My old landlady had her own driveway, but she was convinced the spot in front of the house belonged to her as well and could only be used by her tenant. Right after Katrina, when she had no tenant, she screamed at the neighbors for temporarily parking their drowned car in that spot to make room for a FEMA trailer, and she had her workmen dump trash in their yard!

  11. I find it obnoxious when someone takes up two on-street spaces (with one car) in front of my place, or when a nearby event makes it difficult to park, or when someone’s having a party I’m not invited to and all their friends’ parking habits require me have to walk an extra 100 or so feet. It is obnoxious. For about 30 seconds. And then I get over it and get on with my life.

    What I find absolutely unacceptable is threats of physical or property violence against other people who dare make use of public infrastructure they have every right to. From parking issues like this to “sectioning off” acres of neutral ground during Carnival parades, this sort of thing is a disgusting, bullying, antisocial pathology.

    Owen, you are absolutely correct that this is a type of low-level terrorism.

  12. I understand the frustration that one has, I own a home no off street parking. An automobile repair shop parks all of their vehicles that are needing repair in every available spot in the entire neighborhood leaving no spots. I may not own a spot, but I do pay my property taxes. I believe that this auto repair shop should not be able to do business if they do not have ample storage for the vehicles they are repairing.

    • Bordelonsharon,

      It is already illegal to park a vehicle on the street for the purpose of making major repairs, although I don’t know whether that should be read to apply to using street parking for storage by a repair shop. In any event, that would be a good addition to the parking code. Most repair shops keep enough space on hand for the vehicles they service, and those that don’t are abusing public parking.

      I’d talk to the repair shop first, and then contact the parking authority to see if there’s anything they can do. Then I’d call your city councilmember.

  13. Bard Courreges,
    I didn’t understand that you take your bad writing (“I’m not a believer in Strunk & White…”) & unoriginality (Twilight Zone parody) this seriously. So, I paid the entry fee and entered you in next week’s Worst New Orleans Writers Championship. The Nevada State Athletic Commission will corruptly judge the event. You probably can’t win. New Orleans has more highly paid bad writers than any city in the world. At least you are in the right place. Sam Dudley, better known as Bad New Orleans Shakespeare, is the betting favorite for his editing of the “All the world’s a stage…” speech in his production of As You Like It http://noladefender.com/content/pruning-45bard-8expanding-forest in the sculpture garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Because of the rules change allowing music composers into the competition, you’ll be up against the maestros responsible for the Stepping Out, Informed Sources, and Tom Fitzmorris Food Show, theme songs. You’ll also have to deal with contestants entering under multiple thinly concealed aliases. Surely, Dolt Wanker is Dalt Wonk; Composer- Stepping Out Theme is Composer– Stepping In It Theme; Composer-Informed Sources Theme is Composer-Deformed Sources Theme, etc.). You have drawn a rough first round opponent. Bad Luck!
    WORST NEW ORLEANS WRITER TOURNAMENT
    1st Place Prize Money: One Million Dollars
    2nd Place Prize Money: Two Million Dollars
    3rd Place Prize Money: Four Million Dollars
    4th Place Prize Money: Fifty Dollars
    May 23, 2012
    Noon
    Jefferson Parish Sculpture Garden – Underneath the Blue Dog Statue on Vets

    ROUND ONE:
    Tom Fitzmorris vs Bard Courreges
    Sheila Stroup vs Keith Marshall
    Composer-Tom Fitzmorris Food Show vs Composer– Stepping In It Theme
    Rosemary James vs Composer- Stepping Out Theme
    Susan Larson vs Dolt Wanker
    Bad New Orleans Shakespeare vs Alan Katz
    Composer-Deformed Sources Theme vs Stephanie Grace
    Bad New Orleans Shakespeare vs Sheila Stroop
    John Besh’s Ghostwriters vs Chris Rose’s Jowls
    Larry Fortensky, PHD LEH LCV vs The Erect Buggered
    Podiatrist Lawrence Powell, Tulane Humor Columnist vs Dermatologist Alfredo E. Lemon HNOC Humor Columnist
    Rind Fertel vs Rindy Fertel
    Jed Horny vs Joshua Clark
    Richard Cohen vs Composer-Informed Sources Theme
    Patricia Brady vs Chris Champagne
    D. Eric Bookhardt vs Craig Giesecke
    Chris Rose vs Clancy Dubos
    Peggy Scott Laborde vs Lolis Eric Elie May Clampett

    • BARD COURREGES UPSETS TOM FITZMORRIS
      IN FIRST ROUND OF WORST NEW ORLEANS WRITER CHAMPIONSHIP. AND IT WAS A ROUT.

      The Second Round, tomorrow, Saturday May 19th, at the Margaret Statue, shapes up as follows:

      Bard Courreges vs Keith Marshall
      Composer-Tom Fitzmorris Food Show Theme vs Composer-Stepping Out Theme
      Susan Larson vs Bad New Orleans Shakespeare
      Stephanie Grace vs Sheila Stroop
      John Besh’s Ghostwriters vs The Erect Buggered
      Podiatrist Lawrence Powell, Tulane Humor Columnist vs Proctologist Candidate Rind Fertel
      Joshua Clark vs Composer-Informed Sources Theme
      Richard Cohen vs Patricia Brady
      Craig Giesecke vs Chris Rose
      Peggy Scott Laborde vs Jason Hardy

      • BARD COUREREGES OUT-CLICHES KEITH MARSHAL, ADVANCES TO DOUBLE-BARD SHOWDOWN WITH BARD SAM “BAD NEW ORLEANS SHAKESPEARE” DUDLEY IN THE WORST NEW ORLEANS WRITER TOURNAMENT. BARD SAM “BAD NEW ORLEANS SHAKESPEARE” DUDLEY DAZZLES TULANE SECTION OF THE CROWD WITH A THREE LINE SEVENTEEN SYLLABLE SONNET!

        The Third Round, Sunday, May 20th, on the Audubon Park 8th Hole Green, Dolt Wank, First Round Loser, acting as Special Referee:

        Bard Courreges vs Bard Sam “Bad New Orleans Shakespeare” Dudley
        Peggy Scott Laborde vs Composer-Stepping Out Theme
        Sheila Stroop vs John Besh’s Ghostwriters
        Proctologist Candidate Rind Fertel vs Joshua Clark
        Craig Giesecke vs Patricia Brady

        • BARD COUREGGES VS BARD SAM “BAD NEW ORLEANS SHAKESPEARE” DUDLEY DOUBLE BARD SLAM CONTINUES INTO 28th OVERTIME. COMBAT THROUGH THE NIGHT. NO END IN SIGHT. BARD COURREGES HAS TIGHTENED HIS CHEAP TIE. BAD WRITERS FROM ALL AROUND LOUISIANA, INCLUDING A CONTINGENT OF EDITORS FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA – LAFAYETTE PRESS, GATHER AT AUDUBON GOLF COURSE 8TH HOLE TO OFFER CONTRACTS TO THE HITHERTO UNKNOWN BAD WRITERS. MEANTIME, CRAIG GIESECKE UPSETS PATRICIA BRADY WITH HIS DESCRIPTION OF A BLIND SHRIMP –“SHRIMP WITH NO EYES”- DESPITE HER DREADFULLY EXTEMPORANEOUSLY DICTATED LIFE OF MRS. JOHN SLIDELL.

          Due to the Double Bard Overtime and hard feelings from early round loser Susan Larson, Round Four of the New Orleans Bad Writers Championship, originally scheduled for “Susan Larson’s Unlistenable Radio Hour About Books She Has Speed-Read,” will take place this afternoon at 4:30, Sunday May 20th, remaining at the Audubon Golf Course 8th Hole and in its sand-traps:

          Bard Courreges vs Bard Sam “Bad New Orleans Shakespeare” Dudley (in progress, 35th Overtime Period)
          Composer-Stepping Out Theme vs John Besh’s Ghostwriters
          Proctologist Candidate Rind Fertel vs Craigers Giesecke

          • DOUBLE BARD SLAM ENTERS 75TH OVERTIME. SAM “BAD NEW ORLEANS SHAKESPEARE” TRUMPS BARD COURREGES’ 500TH PAEN TO THE TRAFFIC CAMERAS WITH THE TRAGEDY OF BARD COURREGES – PART 6, BUT JUDGES WAIVE OFF APPARENT VICTORY DUE TO AN ACTUAL RHYMED COUPLET & SUSPECTED ACCURATE IAMBIC PENTAMETER . COMPOSER-STEPPING OUT THEME UPSETS JOHN BESH’S GHOSTWRITERS. THERE WILL STILL BE A NEW ENTIRELY UNNEEDED BESH COOKBOOK BUT NOT A NEEDED HAIRCUT, NO WORRY. PROCTOLOGIST CANDIDATE RIND FERTEL BUYS OFF THE JUDEGES & BULLIES HIS CREOLE WAY PAST CRAIGERS GIESCKE.

            ROUND FIVE – WORST NEW ORLEANS WRITER CHAMPIONSHIP

            Bard Courreges vs Bard Sam “Bad New Orleans Shakespeare” Dudley (in progress, 77TH Overtime Period)
            Composer-Stepping Out Theme vs Proctologist Candidate Rind Fertel

  14. I know who you are, Guest. The parenthesis give you away. And as of Saturday you are still alive in the tournament, Guest! “Adult beverages” and a Confederacy of Dunces “Yikes” -you have strong Cliche & Non-Attribution Humor Power. Where you make that big wage, that is important! But I’m not sure how you get past the Master of the Bad Ending. Bad Luck!

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