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  • Caron & Tow-truck

Towed: Misreading the Signs

On a recent Monday afternoon, between revising my new favorite picture book idea and a phone meeting with an editor I was hoping to woo with the idea, I dashed out to move the car I had borrowed for a few days from its No Parking Tuesdays 11—1:30 spot to a No Parking Monday 11—1:30 spot, where it could hang out all week long. (Non-city dwellers, be grateful for your driveways.) I strolled up the block feeling pretty pleased with my perfectly timed plan—until I arrived at the corner just in time to see an NYPD tow truck sailing through a green light with my car attached to its backside.

I yelped frantically and ran after it, to no avail. Zoom. I stood there cursing and sweating on the first humid summer weather day. But I had read the signs! I had parked in a legitimate spot! Why would they tow me? And now, what? I called the kind, understanding owner of the car. Then I went back home and googled “my car got towed in NYC” and instead of spending the hour, as I’d planned, prepping for my conversation with the editor, I made frantic calls finding out where the car was, and what papers I would need to obtain to be able to retrieve it before it racked up more fines, or worse was auctioned off.

A writer dreams of an auction for her book, not her borrowed car.

The phone call with the editor, did not go as smoothly as I’d fantasized it might. I did not win her over to my vision, I did not make her fall in love with my characters, I did not earn her trust that I could, for once, be offered a contract before I had perfected the manuscript. It had been doubtful to begin with that I could win her over, but seeing the car chained to the tow truck had doomed it fully because all the air had whooshed out of my inner tires. I can’t even be trusted to park a car correctly, of course no one will trust me to write a book right. As I tried to talk my inner critic was yapping away in my ear: you are such a mess, always a few too many steps behind, real writers are wooed by—not wooers of—editors, real writers get it right sooner, how many times are you going to ignore the signs?

The signs.

After the call, I walked back to the spot where I’d parked the car. The perfectly legitimate, legal—oh. Hm. Yes, the words do say it’s legal all day…but what is the meaning of that arrow? And, oops, what are those other signs? The ones further down the block which I hadn’t looked at when I’d parked; for example that one that said, Tow Away Zone. Sneaky sign placement for sure, but still, these signs cast significant doubt about the legitimacy of the spot. Had I misread them?

It had been late, I’d been circling around the block and questions about my personal life, and had needed desperately to get out of the car to pee, clean my house, make dinner, finish some work, get to sleep at a decent hour; so when I saw the spot I had grabbed it despite its proximity to driveways. I had checked and re-checked the sign next to the car and the inches to the curb and yellow lines, but maybe I’d seen what I’d wanted to see. As I walked the humid thirty-five minutes to the impound lot, I kept thinking about how I might have indeed misread the signs of that spot—and my entire life.

In an artistic goals exercise I created, there is a part about taking note of the signs you encounter along your journey that indicate you are headed in the right direction. But what if I just so badly wanted the signs to say I should park here in author-land—that I ignored all the tickets. Yes, some of my signs have been undeniably positive ones but those signs are few and far between and mostly my writing life’s windshield is covered in rejection slips, low sales numbers, Not-Enough stars, likes, online reviews, and of course Draft-Still-In-Revision files as thick as tree trunks, etc. Perhaps I even misread school report cards and teachers telling me I was a good writer, since after all being a good young writer doesn’t mean you should Go, Be A Writer. Maybe the signs never said, Enter Here but instead said, Wrong Way! No Parking! Trespassers Warning: Spirit, Heart, Sense of Self will be Towed. But I had squinted and saw what I wanted. Maybe this life I’ve created around attempting to be an author was all based on signs I’ve warped to my liking or shoved into my glove box and one day I’ll finally get pulled over, they’ll all come spilling out, and my author license will be fully revoked.

Is it because I am incredibly near-sighted? (After all the wheels of my romantic life have a tendency to get booted in place too.)

Since the car was towed I’ve walk by the spot everyday. I keep looking at it, trying to determine if it was at least legitimate that I thought it was legitimate for me to park myself there. Somedays I think, what was I thinking? These signs couldn’t be more clear, this was not a spot. Other days, I get mad, because the signs are confusing! There’s plenty of room for a driver who is tired, dreamy, and hopeful to think they should pull on in.

There’s still a chance I was right to park there. So, I will contest the ticket. And I will revise the manuscript (again, and again, and again) because there’s still a chance I was right to write it. The signs are confusing, and the rewards too wonderful. And the truth is when it comes to parking in NYC or becoming a professional writer, or opening up your heart, whatever the signs say, it’s always At Your Own Risk.

Rightful spot or not, after taking that sweaty and shameful walk and paying a hefty fine—I did get the car back.

And you know what?

When I drove it back, after circling my block three times, I slipped into a parking spot right in front of my building, where the signs are totally clear and I know I belong.

At least until next Monday between 11:30–1pm.

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