Parking Lot Gerry

Originally published by ModelD

IMG_6252From where he sits in his tiny booth on the north side of the Fisher Building, Gerry can see about half of a city block. Gerry is the attendant for Tony’s Parking on Lothrop Street. He has spent at least 60 hours a week here for the past 30 years, and he knows this place and its people with an alarming intimacy, though he is oblivious to what occurs just around the next corner. When I moved into the apartment building adjacent to the lot that is Gerry’s province, I had no idea that this outspoken parking attendant would have such a persistent, if minor, role in my life.

Above all else, Gerry is a witness to this neighborhood. His official territory includes only the parking lot, but his domain extends as far as his vision. He is the type of figure that Jane Jacobs would herald as the best kind of “eyes on the street,” with mutual trust, if not affection, on the part of the observer and its subjects.

Gerry arrives to work every day before 7 a.m. He calls “information” to make sure the time on his clock is perfect so no one can say he overcharged. He surveys the area, shoveling snow away from the sidewalk or sweeping puddled rainwater into the sewer. As people arrive, he files cars in rows according to the duration of their stay to maximize capacity and minimize block-ins. It’s an endless game of horizontal tetris.

“How long you gonna stay?” he says in his faintly antagonistic way. Gerry is so severely gruff that it’s almost endearing because he seems to care so little about what others think of him. In Gerry’s eyes, everyone has an agenda and he’s not in it. He preempts others’ dismissal with casual conspiracies about people who look at him the wrong way “I know what she’s about.” Gerry knows that the people who visit his lot aren’t there for him; they are there for a service. After a brief exchange of money and words, Gerry is left to watch people’s prized possessions, alone, like an underappreciated nanny.

Gerry is famous for his non sequiturs: “Good morning!” might be answered with “My life is more complicated than yours” or “Ain’t nobody else could do this job.” Sometimes he just repeats himself by way of extending a conversation that lacks momentum: “You gotta go? You gotta go now? Where ya going? You gotta go?”  This elementary form of interrogation actually works to the point that Gerry is the keystone of gossip in the surrounding social landscape. (You’d be surprised how much personal information you give away when everything you say is answered with “what else?” five consecutive times.)
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Tribute to a Small-Town Music Teacher

PianoOn a summer Sunday afternoon, approximately 50 people gathered together in a church for an unusual kind of surprise party. The woman in charge gave instructions, handed out signs for people along the aisle to hold and asked “is there anyone here who knows how to play ‘The Entertainer’?” An elderly woman raised her hand in perky perfect posture as though she’d been waiting all her life to put this latent skill to use, for just such a moment as this! At last, the guest of honor arrived, she made her way slowly down the aisle of the church, greeting and looking in surprise at the faces of old friends and neighbors gathered there to see her, and also slowed down by her walker and artificial leg. This was a tribute recital for LaVonne Harris, who for 44 years has served her community as a piano and organ teacher and who, after a series of recent health struggles is due for some much-deserved appreciation. This was the sort of event that every teacher would want but could never dare expect. It was a testament both to the depth of her contribution and to the strength of the community she served.

Each former student spoke a few words before they played to explain their musical selection and thank their teacher, offering a meaningful context to every piece. Before playing Arabesque #1 by Debussy (by memory), a young former student thanked his teacher for giving him the gift of music, “the thing in my life that brings me the most joy.”

Most of the performances were classics like these. LaVonne is not the typical small-town music teacher who was satisfied to teach students to merely produce music– she taught for mastery. Each lesson was an exercise in aspiration. And though most students never reached their complete potential (or anywhere near their teacher’s level) everyone received a formal education grounded in technique and coupled with aspiration and a love of good music. Perhaps that’s why so many former students chose to perform those difficult but beautiful songs that were outside their comfort zone. It wasn’t about perfection it was about appreciation, it wasn’t not about being “recital-ready” every day of your life, it was about having the familiarity to sit down at a piano bench and have the fluency to make something beautiful with it. Continue reading “Tribute to a Small-Town Music Teacher”