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"Chicago Dibs", Chicago - 1/11/09

picture by Meryddian Photography.


Infamous Chicago "parking dibs"... people stick junky things out in the street to put "dibs" on the parking spaces they shoveled out for themselves. Chairs, bins, planks over construction horses, cinder blocks, etc - whatever might deter a would-be-parker from taking the shovelled-out space.


Of course, this is illegal and the trash men come and pick up the stuff and haul it away, but people do it anyway.


Ahhhh, Chicago....


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I originally wrote the following for as part of a journal about Chicago:


Chicago Dibs


When I used to live in North Carolina, I used to love having moderate weather year-round. Being from New England, temperatures in the '50s didn't send me scurrying to crank up the heater and pile on the blankets. Then I moved to Chicago and was reminded about winter, with a vengence.


Before moving here, I labored under the misconception that Chicago lived in near-constant blizzard conditions all winter long. After living here several years, I can safely say that it is not the snow that makes Midwestern winters so long - it's the fact that the temperatures are already plunging to 50˚ by the end of September and that things don't warm up ‘til May! A running joke in Chicago is, "There's two seasons in Chicago: winter, and three months of summer."


In fact, in an average winter, Chicago has a lower annual snowfall than many other parts of the country! Newscasters apparently just like to choose showing Chicago when a big blizzard sweeps through the area, thus propagating the idea that the Windy City gets more snow than the North Pole and that the locals are part Eskimo.


Occasionally, yes, Chicago does get hit with some whopper storms. They blow right down out of Canada, hit the lake, and drop enough snow to make the kid in all of us happy, but anything less than half a foot here is just a dusting. "Come on," we say, "give us some real snow!"


Chicagoans take a perverse pride in reacting well to snow. And one of the funniest things about living in Chicago in the winter is the locals' reaction to snow, especially in one area - parking.


I have driven in most major cities in the country and many minor ones: Boston, New York, LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami, Tampa, Denver, Seattle, Washington, Hartford, and many others. And of these, I feel pretty comfortable with Chicago drivers, who drive assuredly in most weather conditions (rain, oddly enough, makes folks around here drive like turtles). But bring on the snow and here comes the road rage, or rather, the parking spot rage.


Chicagoans love to drive, despite how good and how far-reaching the public transportation system is. Unlike say, New York, Chicago has lots of street parking, and the city has lots of cars. If you own a vehicle within city limits, you must pay $80 for an annual city sticker, whether or not you actually park on the street, and, in addition, many neighborhoods, especially in popular neighborhoods such as Wrigleyville and Gold Coast, allow permit-only parking 6pm to 6am.


In good weather, there is no defending of your street slot. But woe beware the clueless when winter rolls around. You'll notice that all streets in Chicago bear notice against parking in snow lanes during certain hours or in more than 2 inches of snow. You'll also notice that people entirely ignore these signs, and instead, after a hearty snow, you can drive around and see cars buried under the debris of passing plows. This is accepted as part of living in the city. Cars are ticketed and towed left and right for being left in snow lanes, but most people would rather risk the chance at being ticketed or towed, rather than yielding up a precious winter parking spot.


My first winter here, I was surprised to drive around and see things like old lawn chairs, sawhorses, construction cones, milk crates and boards, cement blocks, you name it, left in empty parking spaces to keep anyone else from parking there. A friend of mine who grew up in the city explained it to me, "You shovel it out, you keep it." Being smug with my own personal parking space under my building, I didn't have this to worry about, but I could see the point. Shoveling your car out of heavy, compacted snow post-plowing is a royal pain in the butt. It takes a lot of work and so it is little surprise that the one shoveling is highly defensive about his parking space, right? (After all, if he/she had paid attention to the no parking when over 2 inches of snowfall sign, and moved their car, the city plows would have cleared the spot... RIGHT?)


Being highly defensive about parking spaces extends beyond marking one's territory, however. Beware to the foolish mortal who removes said parking space holders (be it chair, brick, or board). Not only will the guy who shoveled out the spot be angry to come back and find you in his spot, but in an odd showing of neighborly solidarity, either the guy or his neighbors will do things to the offending car: slashed tires, broken mirrors, broken headlights, keying the paint, pouring paint-eating liquids on the car, icing down a car, and more are not uncommon. Keep in mind: simply pulling out of a snowed-in parking spot and driving away does not constitute having shoveled out your own spot. And particularly watch out if you steal somebody else's shoveled spot, and attempt to leave your own crap to hold the spot on your departure!


Even the mayor defended the oddball practice, saying in 2000: "If someone spends all their time digging their car out, do not drive into that spot. This is Chicago. Fair warning." (local newspaper columnists descried him, of course, but the majority of the city simply nodded their heads in agreement with Mayor Daley - clearly the man understands the locals!)


Official city policy, of course, is to remove the debris from the parking spots, but few police ever go through the bother. In short, the parking spot, squatter-like approach is something that would make old Captain Streeter proud. Every year, the two city newspapers (Tribune and Sun-Times) report with a small measure of glee the latest tales from the parking front.


Economists love to study this phenomenon, pointing out that nobody actually owns, or cares, who parks in these spots when there is no snow on the ground. It is a unique Chicago winter occurrence, and you too can come witness it, the next time a snowstorm blows through town.


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From, the "history of dibs" --


The long-standing Chicago practice of "calling" a parking space that you have cleared of snow. After it snows in Chicago, the snowplows only clear out enough of the street for cars to get through. If people want to use a parking space on the curb they have to clear it out themselves. After the space has been cleared, the owner can call "dibs" by placing an old piece of furniture to mark the space. The furniture must be old, preferably broken, and be light enough to move in and out of the cleared space in order to make room for the car. It is understood among Chicagoans that if dibs has been called no one is to park in that space other than the person who cleared it out. And it would be considered impolite and almost communistic to steal someone's furniture. Those who reject dibs do so at their own peril.


Every winter there are debates on the vailidity of dibs. This topic is considered important enough that newspapers usually have several editorials on the subject. The pro-dibs people argue that it is a time-honored tradition and that if a person has taken the time and effort to clear out a space they should reap the benefits. The anti-dibs contingent says that it is selfish to hoard a space all for oneself, and that all of the cheap furniture sitting in the street makes the neighborhood look dirty. Most older people, blue-collar workers, and South Siders are pro-dibs. Most young people, white-collar workers, and North Siders are anti-dibs.


Mayor Richard Daley has come out as a staunch pro-dibs supporter, even issuing a press release stating "I believe that if you shovel out a parking place in a snowstorm, that it's only responsible of other neighbors to be considerate and to understand that the person worked hard to clear it."


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This photo has also been cited here:


Holy cow, NPR blog! Thank you!


Thanks for making it popular. :)


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Taken on January 11, 2009