Kirsten Levingston moved to Montclair in 2008. She works in the city and writes on the
side. In “Welcome to Montclair” she explores the quirks of this special town. This column marks her debut. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post and Baristanet.
This column is not about religion. It’s about parking. Which for a third generation Los Angeleno and lapsed Catholic (12 years of parochial education — Go Bishop Amat Lancers!) can be a spiritual experience. There was no Bat Mitzvah or Quinceañera to mark my coming of age. When I turned 16 a margarine-colored Ford Fairmont appeared at my door. I suspect my dad may have discovered the ’79 rectangle-on-wheels in a tow lot. Betty Boop, I called her. When Betty and I arrived for the first time at my college dorm, an apartment complex near the University of Southern California campus, we circled the block only twice before I glided her in along the curb a few feet from the front door, perfectly positioned for unpacking. Time doesn’t erase precious memories like those.
Fast forward to 2008 when my family moved to Montclair. Knowing we’d be commuting to NYC during the week, my Realtor encouraged us to get our hands on a monthly parking pass for the lot at the Bay Street station, the New Jersey Transit train stop closest to our home. Since the lot is five stories high, row upon row of spaces climbing into the sky, I figured getting a pass would be easy enough. When I contacted the Parking Authority, though, I learned Montclair was no longer issuing permits for Bay Street. Instead of securing a pass I landed a spot on the permit waiting list. When the parking official unfurled a scroll the size of Santa’s naughty-and-nice list, inking my name on to its crisp page, I realized there would be no parking permit under my tree any time soon.
The parking person predicted it would take about six years for me to move to the top and gain the privilege of shelling out upwards of $600 annually for a pass. Three years later when I checked back I was still nestled in a triple digit spot, nowhere near the top. Impatient, I put out word on the street among friends and Realtors that I’d pay top dollar if a Bay Street pass, shall we say, turned up. Isn’t that the way everyone gets hot NJ sellers like Springsteen tickets? Ten years later, nothing had materialized. Over that decade I’d found creative ways to access the lot: arriving before the rooster wakes or after the Brian Lehrer show ends, or driving in quickly on the tail of someone entering with a permit. I wouldn’t encourage that last option.
Once, I arrived at the lot just as the parking attendant was bringing out the “LOT FULL” sign, the soul crushing signal to the permit-less that Bay Street rejects you, that you are being banished to a lot blocks away, from which you will be sprinting to your train as you see it pulling in to the station just as you slide that gear into park. But I digress. That morning the attendant caught my eye and nodded, mercifully allowing me to enter before propping up the “FULL” sign, cutting off access to people like me (though permit holders can still drive right in). Good times.
This past fall, to celebrate our 10th anniversary, I called the Parking Authority to ask where I stood in our relationship. That’s when I learned I’d been cuckolded. Turns out in the spring of 2018, Montclair exited the parking pass game, contracting out management of its municipal parking structures to a private company, the Imperial Parking Corporation, Impark for short. Despite its aristocratic name, since 2011 the company has been owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Does that mean I should not feel as bad about contributing to global warming since driving my car to the Bay Street lot helps Canadian teachers — some of whom surely taught science — enjoy a comfortable retirement?
I called Impark to check my status. A courteous gentleman answered, the echoes of horns and screeching tire in the background suggested he was tending a lot at that very moment. Gingerly he reported that Impark couldn’t tell me where I was on the Parking Authority list because the company had discontinued using it. “If you’d like,” he offered, “I can put you on our waiting list.”