Thanks to the Fan, I know how to parallel park. After many semesters at VCU and years in Fan apartments, I mastered the art of rolling up and backing in. And my technique is smooth, none of that herky-jerky nonsense. When I'm done, there's a space no thicker than a couple of dimes between the tires and the curb.
That is, of course, whenever I can find a space in the Fan.
Hunting for a parking space in the Fan is an exercise in frustration. In fact, the angst-ridden experience of circling block after block is enough to convince me that Harrison Street deserves its own circle of hell in Dante's Inferno. Those with heart conditions and high blood pressure should stick to the suburbs. Anyone quick to cry is better off staying at home.
But for folks who don't have a choice in the matter, the battle for parking in the Fan is serious business.
It's been a problem since the late '70s, when the expansion of Virginia Commonwealth University began to flood the neighborhood with Datsun B210s and VW Vanagons reeking of patchouli and bong water. In an attempt to discourage parking scofflaws, the Fan District Association strung velvet ropes around the blocks closest to the campus. And with cooperation from the city, they established what is known as the Fan Residential Restricted Parking District, or what I prefer to call the "Forbidden Zone."
The rules of the Forbidden Zone are simple: If you're a resident who qualifies for a sticker, you pay a fee and can park with impunity. If you're not one of the anointed, however, you must obey the posted time restrictions or face the consequences. (I've also heard that people who don't have stickers shouldn't make direct eye contact with those who do, but that's probably just an urban myth.)
Today, what began as a minor skirmish along residential and collegiate borders has escalated into a full-blown war. Thanks to the explosive growth of the VCU campus and the staggering rate at which Fan residents reproduce, there seem to be many more vehicles than valid parking spaces. The 19 feet of naked curb that city officials allot for "one parking space" has become an ever more elusive commodity, and neither side wants to give an inch.
The Fan District Association drew the proverbial line in the sand by redrawing the map of the Forbidden Zone, adding more than a dozen new blocks and essentially super-sizing the zone into a giant booby trap for wayward 20- somethings and their fancy hybrid imports. This may very well be the biggest act of anti-scofflaw aggression since 1977.
The rules have changed, too. I'll spare you the long-winded, bureaucratic rundown and put the recent developments into perspective. If the entire Fan was the United States, the Forbidden Zone used to look like Rhode Island. Recent expansion has it looking more like the Louisiana Purchase. We all know what happens next: Somebody brings up "Manifest Destiny," an old, bearded guy strikes gold on Malvern Avenue, and then the Fan District Association invades the Near West End.
At least, that's the best-case scenario.
In addition to blowing up like Jessica Simpson in blue jeans, the Forbidden Zone has been split into different colored and numbered zones. That means the map is going to get a lot more crowded and infinitely more complicated. We're going to need the whole box of crayons to keep track of the new decals, signs and stickers. If you want a clearer idea of where we're headed, just think of the Soviet Union after 1989 — with cheaper vodka and bigger tanks.
Trust me, in the interest of my Fan-dwelling friends, I've considered all sorts of solutions to avoid out-and-out war.
Maybe it would help if we banned all motor vehicles from the Fan District. Instead, we could carpet the streets and convert all sidewalks into those conveyor-belt walkways you see in airports. For off-site parking, we could find a way to evacuate Petersburg, raze every standing structure and begin construction on "Parkopolis," the world's first fully self-contained parking deck city.
How will you get to your car, you ask? Well, of course, by using our high-speed rail system from Parkopolis to Monroe Park. (At 186 mph, you should be able to get from your car to the Fan in about 9 minutes.)
But that's just one idea.
You may think I'm overreacting, but I see nothing but trouble on the horizon. If we let the Forbidden Zone spread like an anti-parking Ebola virus, where will it end?
Who's to say that these miniature, color- coded nation-states won't suddenly get drunk on their own power? What happens when one street decides to go rogue and break away from the pack, enforcing its own laws and punishments? I can tell you right now, you wouldn't want to park illegally anywhere near the People's Republic of West Avenue. Those folks will mess you up.
Thank God I have a driveway.