Calling dibs should be part of a more noble neighborhood spirit.
We’re never quite sure what to make of this Chicago custom — our Chicago custom, because we’ve done it — of shoveling out a parking spot and calling dibs on it by putting out an old chair or a broken baby stroller.
Calling dibs technically is illegal, but nobody cares about that. It takes a lot of work to dig out a parking space after a big snowstorm, and the not unreasonable reward is a kind of squatter’s rights, even on a public street. Especially if the space is right in front of the dibber’s house.
Then again, people take it too far.
They call dibs on half a block. They call dibs until St. Patrick’s Day. They get nasty when their dibs are violated.
This is no urban legend. People get carried away.
Last year, WBEZ looked at Chicago police reports filed in the week following three big February snowstorms — in 2011, 2015 and 2018 — and discovered plenty of immature behavior.
WBEZ counted 64 reports of dibs-related vandalism, including 51 slashed tires, 12 broken windows, 11 cars keyed or dented, five broken mirrors, two cars spray painted (one with obscenities), two broken windshields, two broken headlights, one car egged and floured and one brake line severed.
What we need are rules:
- Dibs are good for three days, tops.
- Dibs can be called only on spaces within a couple of houses of the dibber’s home.
- No obvious garbage, such as a case of empty beer bottles, can be used to claim dibs. We are a tidy town.
- No religious iconography, such as a statue of Mary, can be used to claim dibs. We are a religiously respectful town.
- No retaliatory measures against dibs violators are to be employed other than a guilt-inducing note, which need not be truthful. If you want to write that you need this spot because your great-grandmother cannot walk, you need not have an actual great-grandmother.
For all of this, Chicago’s custom of dibs will still feel a little obnoxious. There’s just something inescapably off-putting about somebody claiming a patch of a public street as their own.
So here’s another rule:
- Dibs should be incorporated into a larger neighborhood tradition of people helping people. After digging out a parking space for yourself, dig out one for your neighbor, or for two or three neighbors.
For better or worse, Chicago has a long tradition of calling parking space dibs. It has a longer tradition of people helping other people after a big snowstorm.
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