On a recent Tuesday morning, at exactly 9:32 AM, Suzanne Seggerman pulled her white, full-sized van, a Chevrolet Gladiator she affectionately refers to as The Gladiator, into a choice parking spot on Bleecker Street near the NYU gym. She was fresh on the heels of the street-cleaning vehicle assigned to this block every Tuesday and Friday between 9:30 and 11:00 AM. “He came at exactly 9:30 today,” she said. “This is a dream. If you’re the first guy behind him, you can have any spot you want.” She rolled down the front windows and cut the ignition. “Now, why did I choose this spot? Notice to the left there’s a doorman across the street. To the right there’s a path where lots of students walk at night. And as an added bonus, these trees are in bloom.” She gestured to the row of cherry blossoms lining the sidewalk outside the gym. “Which smell wonderful.”
Suzanne Seggerman is co-founder and co-director of Games for Change, a nonprofit organization promoting and supporting the use of video games for positive social change. She and her husband recently made the switch from garaging the Gladiator to dealing with street parking as a cost-saving measure while she grows her company. “Plus we caught our parking attendant watching porn videos in the van one night on our way home from dinner. We just banged on the van and ran away. A couple of days later, they informed us they could no longer fit our van in their lot.” She chuckled. “We don’t know if the two things are related.”
Adding to the temporal and psychic demands of New York street parking, the Gladiator is big. Really big. One of Seggerman’s stepsons has a congenital heart defect and needs to travel with a lot of equipment. “He has an oxygen tank the size of a small oil drum, basically,” said Seggerman. “And a huge ventilator. So we need a lot of space.” In the middle row is a booster seat for their five-year-old daughter. It’s strewn with My Little Ponys and videos like Theodore Helps a Friend, The Road to El Dorado, and Fantasia. There are headphones “so the kids can watch their movies while dad and mom listen to NPR or some obscure folk music.” The van’s third row folds out to a queen-size mattress for the occasional hiking trip.
By 9:36 Seggerman was ready for work. The laptop and Blackberry were out, the adapter inserted into the cigarette lighter. She scrolled down a list of names on her computer. “I’m trying to get on wireless,” she explained. “Piggybacking, they call it. I call it snatching. I like to snatch wireless from an NYU student, so Monday-Thursday is better for me.” She regarded her list of potential hosts. “The Loin, Anti-Bush, I Love Work, New Home, Paris. Most of these are security-enabled. Too bad I can’t get on Anti-Bush. Looks like the best one for me today is probably someone named Shervin.”
Another white van, with New Hampshire “Live Free or Die” plates, pulled up in front of the Gladiator, its rear windows plastered with tattered stickers of American flags and Support our Troops symbols. A young man in a leather jacket got out to stretch his legs. Seggerman leaned out her window. “Hey, did you serve?”
The man stared at her. He approached her van warily. “What?”
“Did you serve?”
“You don’t look old enough.”
“I did three years in Afghanistan. MOS 87 Delta. Topography. Complicated stuff.”
“Wow. So what are you doing now?”
He motioned to the equipment in the back of his van. “Some construction. I want to go back to school. Engineering. I wouldn’t want to do topography again. Travel all over the world mapping different countries so we can go in and bomb them.” He shook his head.
Now that he’d warmed up to the blond, black-turtleneck-and-bluejeans-clad founder of a nonprofit for social change, the young vet could have talked all day. But Seggerman ended the encounter by refocusing her attention on her computer. “That happens all the time,” she said. “People chat. It’s very friendly. But I generally try to use this time for conference calls and proposal writing. And look,” she said brightly. “You can watch people walk by with their little yoga pads.”
At 9:42 Seggerman was hungry. If she left the van, she ran the risk of getting a $105 ticket. She looked up local eateries on her Blackberry then punched in the number for nearby Grub. “Hi, this is Suzanne. I’ve called you guys before for this sort of weird request and you’ve done it. I’m in a white van between Bleecker and Mercer and I want to order some food. Okay. An omelet with asparagus, onions, and Swiss cheese. That’s it. Salt and pepper. Thanks so much. Bye.” She hung up. “I actually have a real office,” she said. “Up around Union Square, at Web Lab, where I’m a consultant. But I prefer this one because it’s two blocks from my house.”
At 9:45 her computer buzzed to let her know she had a conference call in fifteen minutes. Fifty yards away, a street cleaning truck swooshed and grunted along Mercer Street. Seggerman’s whole body snapped to attention. “Hear that sound? Whenever I hear that, I get this rush of adrenaline. I hear wheels spinning. I felt it this morning when I was getting coffee.”
At 9:55 a delivery guy walked straight past her van to the one in front of it. She shouted out the window. “Hey hey hey! That’s me.” The delivery guy smiled and approached her. She paid for her food, put the bag down near her seat and headed back to the last row in the van to get ready for her conference call. “I was once on a call with a VP from MTV,” she said, laughing. “And this homeless guy starts pounding on the window asking for money. I told the MTV guy I had a delivery—it was the only thing I could think of—so I could put him on hold and pay the homeless guy off.”
At 10:00 she began a conference call with her co-director, Benjamin Stokes, and a development consultant they’d hired to help them raise funds. Seggerman brought the consultant up to speed on the burgeoning “games for change” movement. She told him about the United Nations’ popular Food Force, where players take on missions to deliver food to a famine-affected country, and the high-profile MTVu project, Darfur is Dying, a game designed to help people understand and take action against the genocide in Darfur. But somebody, she said, needs to bring all these groups together and provide visibility for them. “The same way PBS was there to help people use TV for educational purposes; the same way Sundance was there as the first nonprofit supporting independent film; we’re here to help the community of academics, artists, and activists use games for social change. We’re field builders.”
By 10:30 Seggerman was back in the driver’s seat. She sighed. “If only there was a serious game about extreme parking.” She picked up the omelet and began to unwrap it. A traffic cop pulled up alongside her. She waved at the cop. The cop grimaced back. “She’s the mean one,” said Seggerman. “She once gave me a ticket at 9:31. I was racing back to my car after dropping off my daughter late to school.” The cop drove forward to grimace at the next driver. “Parking cops have severe emotional problems for the most part.” Seggerman pulled out the omelet and cut into it. “Unresolved control issues they’re taking out on the general population.” She took a bite of her omelet, then paused, a bit surprised. “Great omelet.”
After swiftly finishing her breakfast, Seggerman was back on the Blackberry with her co-director, discussing a meeting scheduled for later in the day with a grant-giving foundation. At 10:59 another call came in. “Ben, I have another call coming in and I’m getting out of my car at the 11:00 mark. Can I call you on my walk over to my 12:00 meeting?” These days, who needs an office or a home? Seggerman packed up her electronics, locked the van and headed uptown to her next meeting. If her husband didn’t move the Gladiator on Thursday night, she’d be back Friday morning at exactly 9:29.