I am fortunate enough to live on one of the nicest streets in Boston. Don't take my word for it - that's what all the guidebooks say. And before you accuse me of boasting, remember I live in a basement apartment with a scratched floor and a bathroom so poorly ventilated the ceiling mildews and peels if I don't have it repainted once a year.
No, I'm talking about the street itself. It's a lovely street, all pretty brick sidewalks, high-stooped brownstones with wrought-iron railings overlooking individual impeccably manicured gardens out front. It's beautiful in the winter, when the snow swirls silently around the old fashioned streetlamps glowing in the pale twilight; splendid in the springtime, when the dogwoods and magnolias burst into blossoms of pink and white froth; fabulous in the summer, when the shady branches of oak and maple trees sway in the cool breeze as they arch gracefully toward the sun; and fantastic in the fall, when you can smell the smells of wood fireplaces in the air as you crunch through the leaves scattered across the sidewalks.
Plus, it's really easy to snoop into people's windows and see how nice their apartments are because nobody ever draws their shades. That's always fun.
The best thing about my street, other than the obvious snob appeal of getting to smirk when I tell people where I live, is that it is quiet. My bedroom sits slightly below ground level on the street side of the building, and I can still lie in bed at night with all my windows open without being disturbed in the least by any unwelcome traffic noise.
You know why it's quiet on my street? Because we're strict about the traffic. We don't allow trucks after dark, and the vehicles that are allowed are neighborhood-friendly: dignified, respectful, and understated. Oh, we may have the occasional double-parker or noisy motorcycle passing through, and once in a great while I find it necessary to scold the errant tourist who has the temerity to park in a "Resident Only" parking space, but for the most part, life on my street is so harmonious and genteel you honestly would never know you were living in the city.
The SUVs began invading a decade or so ago, and, as much as I hate them, I manage to tolerate them. Yes, they take up too much space, and yes, they are hard to see around when you're turning the corner, and, no, not a single person I have seen emerge from one actually looks as though he or she really needs to own a vehicle so large and ungainly, but I know there's nothing I can do about them so I just grimace and bear their presence. In the "small blessings" department, I have never seen a Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition, or Cadillac Escalade even drive down my street, let alone park on it. Mostly, it's just your run-of-the-mill Jeep Cherokee or Nissan Pathfinder with the occasional Range Rover providing an international flavor to our traffic patterns. Annoying, yes. Unbearable, not really.
That's why I was so horrified to emerge from my building a few Sundays ago and see the Hummer parked a few short steps from my front door.
It wasn't just that it was a Hummer—a gigantic, ugly, gas-guzzling visual and environmental assault on everything and everyone in its perimeter.
It was yellow.
And not the pale, creamy, dignified yellow you might find on, say, an Audi or even a BMW. This was a scorching, blazing, blistering yellow of the type most often associated with warning posters, cirrhosis of the liver, or particularly virulent urinary tract infections.
It was one ugly-ass vehicle.
In fact, so egregious was its ugliness I concluded it must belong to an out-of-towner, probably a New Yorker or Floridian, visiting for the weekend. So I simply sighed, donned my sunglasses to guard my retinas against the glare, and continued on my way.
When the Hummer showed up again the next day, this time on the far side of the street in haughty violation of the Monday street cleaning parking restrictions, I decided it was time for action and strode across the street to investigate further.
I was flabbergasted at what I found.
No out-of-town license plate graced the unwieldy rear bumper protruding so insolently into the handicapped-only parking space directly behind it. This was a Massachusetts Hummer! Not only that, I discovered to my horror, it sported a 2004 Back Bay Resident Parking Permit, prominently affixed to the right rear window!
I staggered backward, mind reeling. Surely, I thought, this must be some kind of mistake! While my neighbors may, in fact, be an androgynous mass of closed-minded Alpha Breeders with an abundance of overpriced furniture and an unwarranted air of righteous entitlement, the majority of them at least have good taste, if not some pretense of social consciousness. I simply could not fathom how the Burberry-clad power yuppies who brushed past me on the sidewalk each morning could stoop to such a gross display of poor taste and blatant consumerism. In my neighborhood?
I challenge anyone - anyone at all - to email me immediately with one logical credible justification for owning a Hummer. Even if you are in the National Guard and expect to be summoned to defend our nation's deserts within the next 24 hours, you'd still have to settle for your garden-variety, olive-drab troop truck. You definitely wouldn't be tooling cross-country all by yourself in a tricked-out Humvee, let alone one in such a hideous shade of Hepatitis Yellow.
Which leaves me to draw the only conclusion possible. The saddest conclusion possible.
People buy Hummers because they can. Because they have the right.
Now, I like our Bill of Rights as much as the next person. It's one of the greatest documents ever created. I even support the Second Amendment, because in my eyes it's the stupid people who own most of the firearms in this country and all they really use them for is to inadvertently wipe out other stupid people. Nothing like a couple of good ol' drunken hunting accidents to winnow the herd, you know what I'm saying?
But somewhere along the line, I think the Bill of Rights has gone to our collective head. There seems to be an underlying mentality in this country that the Bill of Rights extends to everything, including the most obnoxious and intrusive activities imaginable.
You want to smoke in a restaurant regardless of how offensive it is to everyone around you? Fuck them. It's your right.
You want to bring your screaming baby into the movie theater at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night and ruin the evening for everyone around you? Fuck them. It's your right.
You want to practice a form of religion that compels you to lobby for forcible school prayer, restrictions on the reproductive freedom of millions of women, and the teaching of creationism as 'legitimate' science even though no one else subscribes to your beliefs? Fuck them. It's your right.
We Americans are so hung up on exercising our rights, we even feel we have the right to infringe upon the rights of others on the grounds that their right to exercise their rights infringes upon our right to exercise our rights. It's enough to give you a huge headache if you really sit down and think it through.
I subscribe to a very simple philosophy when it comes to determining the rights of my fellow citizens. If it irritates me, it should not be allowed. If my rule were to be adopted universally, we would live in a virtual utopia. Think about what this would mean for our country! We'd all be healthier, because nobody would be allowed to smoke. We'd be less obese, because no one would be able to eat greasy, smelly food while riding public transportation. There would be a return to civility on our city streets, because people would walk more quickly on the sidewalks without ambling along blocking the ability of others to get around them.
And those of us with small cars would no longer die in fiery highway collisions with SUVs because there would be no SUVs. Especially SUVs of the Hummer variety.
I was overcome with curiosity about the owner of the Hummer. Who was this person with the overbearing attitude and horrendous taste? I envisioned a loud, balding man with a pronounced Boston accent, sporting a pinkie ring and aviator sunglasses and reeking of Obsession by Calvin Klein. Then I realized I had conjured up a mental image of Larry the Loser: The Disco Years and hastily rethought my vision. Perhaps the Hummer owner was a small man, a meek little nebbish determined to overcompensate for his lack of physical stature by allowing his vehicle to make his statement for him.
I became obsessed with uncovering the truth. So I began to stake out the Hummer. I sat on my front steps in the evening, awaiting the telltale rumble that would alert the populace that the plague was drawing near. I scoured the surrounding streets in the early morning hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of the yellow glare and ambush the driver as he prepared to ascend into the driver's seat. I even enlisted my new upstairs neighbor in my quest, "casually" inquiring whether he had made the acquaintance of any other new arrivals on our block.
I eventually stumbled upon the truth entirely accidentally. I was driving around the block for the umpteenth time one evening, looking for a legal parking space, when a bright yellow flash suddenly caught my attention. The Hummer! Pulling out of a parking space directly in front of my building!
Slowly, sneakily, I pulled up in front of it as if to lay claim to the soon-to-be-vacated spot. As I passed the driver's side window, I peered in, desperate to at last lay eyes on the villain.
It was a woman. A small, bespectacled, tweedy looking thing of about fifty, long dirty blonde hair parted in the middle and hanging down past her shoulders. For God's sake, she looked like she was from Cambridge! Those people protest Hummers! They don't drive them!
I cruised past her in a daze and stopped a car-length ahead as she pulled out of the space and roared away, tossing me off a cheery wave to let me know the space was all mine as she sped past.
I considered snubbing her, giving her the finger, or chasing her down the street to give her a piece of my mind. "It's all yours," indeed! How dare she! How dare she monopolize what was easily the equivalent of two precious Back Bay parking spaces and then just toss them back at me, uncaring and unthinking about the havoc she had wreaked! How dare she expect me to accept her crumbs!
Yes, I thought of saying just that. I did. But…the space was right in front of my house! That never happens!
So, finally, numbly, almost without thinking, I did what any good neighbor would do under the circumstances.
I waved back and took the space.
Hey, what can I say? Parking is a premium on my street. I had been looking for a space for thirty five minutes. I needed that space. I deserved that space.
And I do live there, after all.
It was my right.