Hands off my space, or else Warnings fly in fight to save the fruits of snow victims' labor

Blizzard Of 1996

January 11, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

These days, there's no more essential exercise than digging your car out of a snow drift, and there's no more detested person than the one who steals your spot.

Baltimore storm survivors were not ready to surrender their parking spots this week, not after all the work it took to clear a precious piece of urban territory. To protect their spaces, some stood guard outside their houses. Others threatened to bury neighbors' cars with snow. Everything from a hand-made fence to a sign with a skull and crossbones was used across Baltimore.

Plastic chairs, bar stools, Christmas trees, park benches, orange pylons, brooms, laundry racks, even odd pieces of attic furniture sat in newly cleared spaces. Each seemed to say: Don't Even THINK Of Parking Here.

If you labored hours to dig yourself out of a snowed-in parking space, froze your fingers, cursed your shovel and pulled muscles you didn't even know you had, that space was yours. If someone else took it, they were not just being impolite. They were delaring war.

Across town, people left behind signs such as: "Don't park here unless you got a bigger shotgun" and "If you park in this space I will shovel your [expletive]."

Technically, the spots are public property. But Baltimore police are not ticketing folks who stake a claim to a space, arguing that the markers help combat post-blizzard stress.

"I think we'd have a bigger problem if those chairs weren't there. People might start getting in fights," said city police spokesman Sam Ringgold.

Pity the person who tries to steal Laurie Sokoloff's spot.

"I'm a gentle person by nature, but I think I'd have to kill them," said Ms. Sokoloff, a flutist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She blocked her snow-lined space with two chairs outside her Towson townhouse yesterday. "This spot cost me $40 to dig out. It is mine." When it comes to highway robbery, so to speak, no retaliation is too swift or too stern.

"If someone parked in my spot, I would double park and wait here for them to come back," said Robert Bosse, whose Chevy Blazer was parked in a spot delicately carved out of the snow on Stevenson Lane. "Either that or I'd start shoveling snow over their car until they were snowed in again."

Mr. Bosse created a barrier with an old pole and rope tied to his car's side-view mirror and hung with red and white kitchen rags. The spot was a major construction effort for the snowbound pharmaceutical salesman. First, he started clearing a spot outside his home as soon as he woke up Sunday morning. Then he hollowed out a tunnel with a two-foot wide snow barrier to guard his new car from the plows.

One family figured the baby's high chair must be waterproof, so they used it to claim their spot. Others put out plastic garden chairs, wrought-iron chaise lounges, remnants of broken furniture from the attic.

Across downtown Baltimore, drivers devised new parking patterns. Angled parking became preferred. Some cars parked two abreast in a single spot, while other drivers dug out mini-parking corridors with their neighbors.

"May God help you if you take this spot," said Randolph Mohlhenrich, panting, as he dislodged his station wagon from a snowpack outside his Baltimore apartment on Park Avenue. "I dug this space out for five hours over two days. It is the fruit of my labor."

Those whose spots had been stolen fumed and plotted revenge. Brian -- he would not give his last name -- said he was thinking of slashing the thief's tires. Twice he'd lost spots for his Chevrolet Blazer, even though he left buckets behind to mark the spots.

Others said they felt powerless against thoughtless neighbors.

"The governor said people should help their neighbors, but just the opposite happened to me," said Rebecca Charton, who lives at The Estates, an apartment complex off Old Court Road in Pikesville. "They dumped most of their snow on my car. All you can see is the antenna."

Ms. Charton said she needs dialysis regularly. She couldn't get a taxi to get to dialysis this week, and she certainly couldn't drive her snowed-in car. Finally she hitched a ride with an off-duty state police officer.

The fights over spots were equally fierce in the counties. Police officers in Edgewood in Harford County settled a dispute after a woman shoveled out a parking space only to have it seized by a neighbor after she went inside her home.

Some people, like Virginia Powell, used their bodies to claim a spot. While snow swirled and fell Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Powell sat outside in a beach chair, guarding a six-foot alley carved out of the miniglacier outside her South Charles Street rowhouse.

Her glasses fogged up. Her fingers got numb. But she didn't leave. She knew what would happen. The spot she spent all morning digging for her father's van would disappear within minutes.

"Anybody can pick up the seat and move it," she said. "But your spot is safe if you're sitting in it."

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