It was shortly after midnight on December 23. I passed the cozy homes lining my Ukrainian Village block, looking for a berth for my car. Needless to say, here, as in all neighborhoods, winter storms have depleted the parking by fully a third so parking is hard to come by. What spots remained were staked by a broken garden chair, a heap of crates, each vacancy held for the neighbor who’d dug it out, then-what? The hour was late so perhaps they’d left town for the holidays.

On my third pass I decided to stop one block over, a permit-only street with plenty of empty spots and none littered with furniture. Yes, I parked, sure that my transgession would be forgiven on such a night, under such circumstances-not to mention it was now officially Christmas Eve.

The next morning I awoke to a surprise. One of Chicago’s finest had left me an early Christmas present: a ticket for parking without a permit. If only I had been there at 8:04 that crisp morning, I could have thanked him in person. I could try to track him down, but I can’t read his name!

So here’s a public declaration of gratitude to Officer Intentionally Illegible and to the Department of Streets and Sanitation as well, without whom I’d never have been in a position to receive such a gift. And I’d like to thank the friends and neighbors who reserved the parking places that were rightfully theirs, for providing the glue that keeps our neighborhood whole. Most of all, I thank Mayor Daley. By letting these people continue to reserve their spots unmolested, indeed by endorsing and protecting their actions, he embodies the values that make our city great.

When spring finally arrives, the streets will be strewn with reminders of our terrible past. We’ll trip over rotting milk crates and slide on drenched cardboard boxes, dodging the piles of slush that pool on every comer. And when I trip over a broken lawn chair and slam my face into the curb, knocking out my front teeth, I’ll smile a toothless smile, think about my $56 fine, and remember all those who made this year’s holiday season so special.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Marc Pokempner/Tony Maine/Lloyd DeGrane.