Hanging Out in Rockford: Parking downtown and Buddha

Ever since I moved downtown some 26 or 27 years ago, parking has been a problem. As the downtown has prospered, this has increasingly become more serious. Parking brings out the green meanie in a lot of us. We do things we wouldn’t normally do; it’s kind of like road rage.

In the old days, I would get a parking ticket every day. You don’t know how miserable life can be when the first thing to start your day is a $5 ticket. One day, a police officer came to arrest me. He was very nice to me and didn’t put me in handcuffs like he was supposed to. That cost me about $1,000. Steve, who runs parking, had a meeting with the neighborhood, and a new sticker was devised for those of us who live down here. Things were getting better.

But then, there was a guy who owned the building behind the Irish Rose and operated (simultaneously) a towing service. The building was not too much more than an excuse to tow cars, sort of a Venus flytrap of parking. On the Fourth of July one year, an old girlfriend of mine and I set out to prevent total devastation. We stood outside the Irish Rose and warned off the people who tried to park there. Every time we sent away an $80 tow, we updated a chalkboard with the total tows saved for the evening. When the amount was well more than $4,000, the two people operating the tow trucks offered us $500 if we would go back inside. Naturally, we refused.

Then I had an idea: I put a speaker on the backside of my building with a recorded loop message warning people not to park there. This worked pretty well, until the fellow who owned the building put up a speaker of his own blurting out marching music and drowning out my message. Finally, Chandler, who owned Bacchus, solved the problem by getting the owner of the building to allow him to put up signs specifically prohibiting restaurant parking. I think this was when my attorney, George Hampilos, bought into the building. George is a really nice guy, the kind of person who understands it is important to get along with your neighbors. Chandler paid for those signs out of his own pocket. Things were better for a long time. No one was towing anyone else. Parking peace had arrived in Block 5.

But parking has raised its ugly head again, and it ain’t pretty. A customer of mine, Peter, was threatened with a tow the other night. Peter just happens to be George’s cousin, the guy who helped solve what was a terrible problem for the entire neighborhood. He responded by telling the other person, a restaurateur, that he would never spend a dime in their place. That is the kind of feeling it engenders. Later, he remarked that they didn’t even know if he was their customer. Peter spends a lot of money.

To make matters worse, Fran Kral has recently blocked the city alley and erected a row of concrete pylons to prevent the whole neighborhood from utilizing their parking in the evening when they no longer have customers. In the old days, they said it was their contribution to the neighborhood. Robin and I bought nine cars from them over 17 years. So did lots of our customers. We did our part. But parking brings out the green meanie in a lot of us.

On the back of my Mercury Villager, the one I bought from Fran Kral, I have a bumper sticker. Actually, it is more like a window decal. It’s right next to the sticker that allows me to park in Block 5 and not receive tickets. “What would Buddha do?” Do you think that’s about karma? I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Dec. 14-20, 2005, issue

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