It was a cloudy summer afternoon. Everybody Talks by Neon Trees on Radio 104.5 played in the background as I turned the corner from Spruce to Delancey Street in search of a parking space. I was trying to diversify my music tastes from my short list of hip-hop, pop, and EDM. Alternative rock seemed like a natural follow-up.
I checked the time once again. It was 11:58 a.m. I had two minutes to walk to the tampons next to the High Rises to meet a friend for lunch. Delancey Street seemed like a logical place to park; I had purchased a 60 x 42″ photo print of Paris from a graduating senior the previous week, so I knew that there would be open space there. And I was correct. There were only two cars parked in the entire block, and I quickly pulled up to the curb before clicking the electronic lock on my keys.
The conversation following my lunch had been enriching. I returned four hours later to the sight of two cars. A red Toyota Corolla and a brown Nissan Altima. Funny, I thought my car was black. At first, I thought someone had stolen my car. I reflected the prospect of a thief breaking the windows for a bit before realizing that no one would bother hotwiring a scratched-up 2004 Honda Accord. Another car pulled up to the parking space where I had left my car. I asked the driver if parking here was legal. “Yeah,” she said. “Only if you have a parking pass though.”
Amazing. I strode towards the end of the block to see the white sign laced in red letters. George Smith Towing Co. A couple of numbers caught my attention: $175 Towing Charge, $25 Storage Per Night. I stopped to reflect on the numbers for a bit before reading the sign again. I checked the street next to Delancey to make sure my car had, in fact, been towed. When I had finally exhausted my will to deny my predicament, I called the towing company to verify that my car had been towed and then collected my thoughts before calling my mom.
“Hi mom,” I said in Chinese. “I think I messed up.”
“Did you get in a car crash? Are you okay?”
“Um, no. But I did get the car towed.”
“Oh,” she sighed. “Okay, how are you going to get home?”
“I can take the Septa,” I replied. “But it’s a really expensive charge.”
“That’s fine. We can talk more when you get home.”
I spent the next 50 minutes of my Septa ride in a state of restlessness. I repeatedly thought about how long I would have to work to earn $200 or how many cups of coffee this towing charge buy. To my surprise, when I reached my house, my mom didn’t yell at me. Neither did my dad. I offered to pay the charges with the money I had earned from my current research position and my previous internship, but they told me not to worry about it. My dad told me that he would take me to the towing garage the next morning, and that was all we spoke of the incident where I parked on Delancey Street.
It’s quite a contrast to what I have been used to growing. I remembered my mom yelling at me for wanting to buy a 1 RMB popsicle (roughly 15 cents) when I was a child because she said that I didn’t need it. I remember eating rotten vegetables on occasion growing up because my parents didn’t want any food to go to waste. “Just put it in a soup,” my mom would say. I remember countless times throughout my transition to an adulthood of moments where I had been denied many adolescent luxuries (and some necessities) because my parents did not want to distribute their income accordingly.
As I result, I suppose I have become more contemptful for individuals who thoughtlessly spend money without regard to the difference between necessity and luxury, which is why I had been all the more surprised when my parents did not even raise their voice for such a reckless waste of money. “Everyone makes mistakes,” said my mom. “Your dad got a parking ticket for $200 within his first week in the United States.”
For the next couples of weeks, I realized that my consumption habits have not changed. I have not bought any fewer groceries or drunken any less coffee because of an expensive mistake that I had made on Delancey Street. I still purchase a $2 coffee from Wawa every morning. I still buy my bacon, egg, and cheese with spinach on a long roll from Lyn’s every morning. I still take the Septa for distances that I could’ve walked. And for that, I am truly grateful — for the fact that I am able to make mistakes without significant repercussions beyond some mental discomfort.
I have made plenty of mistakes in my life. Most of which, I do not regret. But now that I think of it, I cannot recall my mistakes as vividly as I thought I would. Without the sharp repercussion that should follow my mistakes — with the support network of countless friends and family members — I feel as if I have moved on without the necessary lessons that I should’ve learned from the many mistakes that I have made throughout my entire life. And so, in terms of living with more intention in my life, I hope in the future that I could better understand the magnitude of my mistakes by considering the absence of my safety net.