Double-parking Adventures in the Big Apple

June 20, 2018

John Bendel

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New York City may raise parking fines, most notably for truck double-parking.

Okay, it’s not so much raising fines as lowering discounts for some carriers. Who knew there was such a thing as traffic ticket discounts?

It’s still a proposal, but it has been floated in the press and is obviously being considered. The idea is to help ease Manhattan congestion by charging truckers more for what they will have to do anyway.

See, it’s pretty simple: if you can’t double-park, you can’t deliver in most of Manhattan. I know because I ran the big city in the late 1960s, a long time ago, yes, but little has changed. In many areas, it’s worse.

I drove for A-P-A Transport, then a major Northeast carrier, now long gone. Trailer work in Manhattan wasn’t a problem. It was usually paper in rolls or on pallets that went to big printers with actual receiving docks. You might have to wait for an empty door, but at least you stayed with your truck as you waited.

The real Manhattan parking challenge was for the straight truck drivers who did the smaller local deliveries to every kind of business you can think of. If your truck wasn’t rolling, it was double-parked.

Once I found an empty, legitimate, next-to-the-curb parking space across from a delivery, but as I began to back in, a Cadillac pulled into the space. In the mirror I saw four burly guys with sunglasses, open collars, and gold chains in the car. I decided to double-park after all.

The great mother lode of double-parking was the infamous Garment District – block after block of loft buildings with thousands of clothing manufacturers on what seemed like every floor. The streets were full of guys pulling racks of half-finished dresses from one sewing floor to another across the street or a couple of blocks away. Specialized garment carriers blocked off parking spaces for their own equipment with traffic cones, empty cartons, and trash cans. A couple of goons in porkpie hats stood guard while leaning back on chairs and chewing on toothpicks.

The prize in the Garment District was not a legitimate parking space. During the day, there were none – ever. The goal was to find a place to double-park. You might find one a block away from your stop. Then you hoped all the cartons or rolls of fabric would fit on the hand-truck you had to push through the crowded sidewalks.

It’s impossible not to worry when your truck is double-parked a block away, even if no vehicle at the curb ever leaves. So more than one hand-truck trip was stressful, but a single trip could be trouble enough. In one building I remember, an elevator operator still supervised the loading of his elevator, waving in some hand-trucks and garment racks and holding off others. I stood unchosen for three trips until I understood the game. The fourth time he opened the door I handed him a dollar bill. He immediately signaled me on.

So you get to the correct floor where the first guy you see says he can’t sign for the freight; he thinks the stuff is for Manny. He takes your freight bill and walks away to find Manny. You’re left standing on a vibrating wood floor rumble with a hundred commercial sewing machines tended by a hundred small, dark, hunched-over women. After a while, you ask the next person you see, probably a supervisor, for help. He doesn’t speak English. Turns out no one in the whole place speaks English except the guy who walked off with your freight bill, and – hopefully – Manny.

If you’re lucky, Manny finally shows up and signs your bill. If you’re not, the first guy comes back and says the freight doesn’t go here. It goes to their other place on West 38th. It can be even more fun when the delivery is C.O.D. In the Garment District, a delivery that would take 10 minutes anywhere else can easily take more than 45.

On any given day, A-P-A had four or five straight trucks in Manhattan covering specific sections of the island. A regular driver who knew the streets and the buildings would handle each run – except for the Garment District.

A-P-A’s Garment District run was the equivalent of today’s truckload industry – 100 percent driver turnover. No driver could stand it for long. If they didn’t have adequate grounds to fire you under the Teamster contract, they assigned you the Garment District until you quit. Otherwise, the Garment District went to any driver they wanted to punish. Talk back to a dispatcher? Garment District. Take too long delivering on Monday? Garment District on Tuesday. Beat the company in grievance arbitration? Garment District – maybe for a whole week.

When I was there, manufacturing was beginning to move to the southern states. Now it’s in China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Today’s Garment District consists of design companies, limited-run specialty dressmakers, and fashion showrooms.

The streets are less crowded. You can double-park almost anywhere.

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John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon and two trucking magazines, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many U.S. newspapers.