A Blood Sport



Neighborhood: Upper West Side

There is a saying in New York City that you can either have a job or keep a car on the street. Garages in my neighborhood cost upwards of $700 a month, and street parking is free, sort of.

I do not have a job, other than walking my two dachshunds, Henry Longfellow and Hanna, and playing the intricate game of musical cars that is called alternate side parking. Until the pandemic hit in spring 2020, I did not have a car, having unloaded mine when I sold my home in Connecticut and moved full-time to my apartment on Riverside Drive near Columbia University.

But somehow, the thought of being cooped up in my place with my daughter, who at age 26 was living with me until she had enough saved from her job in digital media to move out, led me to Mini of Ramsay in New Jersey.

I did not bother to test drive the car, which looked like a matchbox toy — in racing British green with white stripes. The salesman told me I was about the tenth person from the city who had bought a Mini Cooper from him since COVID hit.

“They are just so darn cute,” he said, and I readily agreed.

“And easy to park in New York since they fit into tight spaces,” he added, even though the deal was done.

Three years have passed since I bought the Mini, and my life has changed dramatically.

Although I had been healthy, at age 69, while walking Henry and Hanna in Riverside Park in July 2020, I was hit with excruciating abdominal pain. I made it home and called 911. Since my apartment is blocks from Mt. Sinai Morningside, I was there fast. I had suffered a perforated colon, due to unknown diverticulitis, and was in septic shock. The surgeons saved my life. It was the height of the pandemic, and Mt. Sinai was especially hard hit, with tents set up in Central Park. Luckily there was a ventilator for me.

Two further surgeries and I am going strong, with a renewed sense of gratitude for my doctors and my life.

And in a way, the blood sport that is alternate side of the street parking gives me a purpose and an odd sense of accomplishment when I survive another day without getting hit by the street sweeper that barrels through.

But a few months ago, I got hit by another car. It was not exactly the other driver’s fault, and given my conciliatory nature, I willingly shared the blame.

Here is how it went down.

I was parked on West End Avenue at 104 Street, and out of my car, chatting with Renee, the woman who sometimes walks my dogs. Suddenly, the call went out: here he comes!!! I raced in front of my car to get to the driver’s side, just as the woman in front of me backed up to move her car out of the way of the approaching sweeper.

I didn’t know what hit me; I was down and thought I had tripped. The filthy city gutter probably gave me a cushion.

The other driver, aghast, dashed out from her car and raced to help me get up. And the doorman at a nearby building came to see if I was okay.

The other woman began to cry. I told her it was fine and that I should have been sitting in my car, and this was a good lesson.

Her husband joined her, and soon, since there was a half hour to go before 11 am, and we could no longer get a $65 ticket, we shared our life histories.

He and his wife were Broadway theater producers, and I am a theater addict.

“You produced that play? I saw it!”

My friend Renee was worried about me, and as I spoke with the man, she took it upon herself to tell the woman about my perforated colon and surgeries. Why would she do that? To make the woman feel worse about knocking down a fragile woman?

“I lost my entire colon,” the woman told us. “Cancer.”

Soon, on West End Avenue at 104 Street, I was conversing with a complete stranger, one who had just hit me with her car, about the difficulties of living without a colon (I lost a third of mine). No one can really understand these things, and most people prefer not to discuss colostomy bags. Suddenly, I had a fellow traveler. She was lovely, very attractive and smart, and open about how she tries to stay alive against the odds.

Within days, I got a text message with two free house seats to the couple’s latest show – one for me, and one for Renee.


Elizabeth Titus has been a journalist, an English teacher, an advertising executive, a communications director (15 years at American Express), and a freelance writer and consultant. Her work has appeared in Narrative, The Humanist, and Ms. She volunteers to support the education of Afghan and Indian girls and women and has sponsored an Afghan woman in the U.S. for 12 years. She has lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan since 1982, and there is no place on earth she’d rather be.

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§ One Response to “A Blood Sport”

  • TSB says:

    Where to begin, other than to say that this is a rich topic— the alternate side of the street parking rules are like the limitations poets and experimental fiction writers impose on themselves, arcane rules that lead to sonnets, novels with the letter “e,” or in which every word starts with a… a valuable contribution to the literature of parking in New York. I’m tempted to call it a shit show, but that would be too on the nose. I’ll add, I’m in favor of almost every regulation on cars in the city, in favor of all those city bikes taking up parking spaces, in favor of congestion pricing, and yet if they were to actually take away alternate side of the street parking it would be very sad.

    Because it’s such an important part of city life!

    The strange, difficult, impossible, but serendipitous, nature of city life is what this piece captures.

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