Monday, April 23, 2007

Can't beat fun at the ol' car park: In Wrigleyville, residents have own cottage industry,1,4214946.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

Can't beat fun at the ol' car park: In Wrigleyville, residents have
own cottage industry

By Josh Noel
Tribune staff reporter

April 23, 2007

A little more than 5 feet tall, gray hair swept into a bun, Erika
Alojado spends 81 days a year along Waveland Avenue with a crutch in
her left hand and a wood paddle in her right that says "PARKING."

The 86-year-old tries to shepherd the passing drivers, who are headed
to Cubs games, into the two-car garage behind her Racine Avenue
apartment, where they can nestle their vehicles amid years of
Alojado's accumulation: art, books, a full-length mirror, hanging
clothes and cups filled with pens.

An all-star car wooer for nearly 30 years, Alojado has found the
practice taxing since a man backing into her garage four years ago
backed into her instead, knocking her out and leaving her with a
broken leg and dislocated shoulder.

She took the rest of that season off, but the next Opening Day she was
back on Waveland with her crutch and sign.

"By the end of last year, I was getting tired," Alojado said in a soft
German accent. "When you are almost 87 years old, it's different than
when you are in your 50s."

As Alojado stood last week one block from Wrigley Field, Julio
Ramirez, 82, perched across the street with his own "PARKING" sign
painted on a white fan blade. Next to him was another old-timer who
leaned on a cane and waved a sign that promised "EZ OUT."

Down the street was Carole Radloff, a retiree in her 60s who has
parked cars behind her three-flat since her husband lost his job.

Adam Mancuso, 28, stood against a light pole down Waveland, selling
his parking spot for the first time. He and his wife plan to make it a
habit this summer.

The Wrigleyville residents usually ask $25 to $35 for the spots in
their garages and behind their homes. Near one of only two Major
League Baseball stadiums without dedicated mass parking -- the other
is Boston's Fenway Park -- they usually get it. Over the summer, they
also forge their own set of gentleman's agreements, friendships and

Most are longtime Wrigleyville residents who bought in when the area
was affordable but struggle now to pay soaring property taxes. Many
are retired or disabled. Others don't own the properties but rent out
spots on behalf of building owners, then split the take.

Many cite Alojado as an influence.

"She was all by herself, then we all started coming out," said
Ramirez, who began shopping his spots after retiring as a fender and
body man 16 years ago. "Helps pay the taxes."

A gentle man quick to smile, he wore a blue cap that said "JULIO'S
PARKING" and gave customers handwritten business cards that remind
them where they parked.

Some say they used to get a dollar or two for their spots. Now they
get as much as $80 for a playoff game, not that that tends to be an
issue at Wrigley. Regulars, usually suburbanites, have the spot
holders' phone numbers, and the customers arrive in wide-ranging
packages -- last week, a Porsche SUV sat in an alley beside a
10-year-old Toyota Corolla. The scarcity of street parking around
Wrigley doesn't discriminate.

City ordinance allows property owners to rent out three spaces per
building. Any more without a garage license, and the Department of
Business Affairs and Licensing can show up and make life unpleasant.

But few people in the neighborhood know that when they start. They
just see their neighbors cashing in and try to do the same. Like Rudy
Dobrich, 49, who started parking cars three years ago behind the
white-sided two-story building on Magnolia Avenue where he grew up and
where his parents died. At first he packed in 10 cars, which lasted
until Business Affairs and Licensing, responding to a complaint,
slapped him with a cease-and-desist.

They cited him last season when they again found more than three cars
on his property. Dobrich, a retired teacher, was ordered to pay $700.
He has built a fence behind his building that allows room for three
cars to be parked. No more.

"I don't need trouble," he said. "I just do my three, and that's it."

Sometimes when asking strangers for $30 or $40, the locals are called
crazy, are berated, or even cursed. But regular Cubs fans generally
appreciate the option, and tourists think the practice is quaint.
Plus, the spot providers reason that they are doing far more than just
storing vehicles.

"We're sort of ambassadors for the city," said Tina Heise, 56, who
lives on Addison Street and has filled spots for property owners for
years. "We give directions and recommend restaurants and make Chicago
more friendly. If we're nice, they'll think Chicago is nice."

Heise works alongside her husband, Al, 79, a one-time paratrooper, in
an alley off Racine in the shadow of the McDonald's at Clark and
Addison Streets. Their only competition in the alley is Dale Bennett,
51, a former limousine driver, and his friend who sometimes helps out,
Paul Emswiller, 44, a video store clerk.

The relationship is symbiotic. Both parties try to charge the same
amount to avoid getting overly competitive. They trade turns with the
customers who drive up.

When one is full, they will refer cars to the other. When things slow
down, they sit in their folding chairs and kibitz about the weather,
the cars and what they read in the news.

"To me this is a stage play waiting to happen," Emswiller said. "I can
already see the backdrop: three garages. It'll be about the trials and
tribulations of people parking cars at Wrigley Field and their

A woozy fan wearing a Cubs jersey walked by and asked a reasonable
question: "Hey, why aren't you guys drinking beer?"

Emswiller ignored him but, when pressed, had a simple explanation.

"I don't drink when I work," he said.

Tensions can run hot when people don't follow the one-for-me,
one-for-you rule. Or if someone charges a lot more or less than their

"See her? She's the biggest pain," Bennett said of an older woman who
began circling the block in a long station wagon. Bennett said the
woman was looking for street parking that she could occupy with her
car, then sell to a desperate, late-arriving fan.

"All the rest of us want to do is our own thing and not have any
hassles," Bennett said.

For all the sagacious veterans, every season sees a rookie try to cash in.

About 11 a.m. before a Tuesday afternoon game, Mancuso walked to the
corner of Racine and Waveland with a sign his wife had made from white
poster board and red and blue makers. It said, simply, "Parking,"
without a price, to keep their options open.

Within 30 minutes, Mancuso found a taker -- a guy at the wheel of a
massive SUV who agreed to $25.

"Hey, what's the weather supposed to be?" the man said after backing
into the space behind Mancuso's apartment.

"It's supposed to cool off," Mancuso said.

"So what should we do for attire?"

"Where are you sitting?"


"Ah, you'll be fine. Bleachers get sun all day."

With the man gone and $25 in hand, Mancuso, who works in information
technology, was satisfied.

"We have to put up with a lot ... from the fans, so we might as well
get something back," he said. "Now I can go inside and do work. Now I
can do my real job."

But others, like Alojado, take pride in staying with the vehicles
until a game is over. Or at least until the owners return.

Last week, as she directed cars into her parking spots -- two in the
garage and one beside it -- she asked each customer the same question:
"Are you familiar with the neighborhood?"

She reminded them where they had parked and noted that Wrigley is
often "5 to 7 degrees cooler inside."

Then Alojado set up a white plastic chair that barely fit between the
two cars in her garage, wrapped herself in blankets in the 50-degree
weather and waited for the game to end.


No comments: