Clyde Haberman amuses in tomorrow's NYT:
Today is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of good, represented by Lord Rama, over the forces of evil. It is a holiday that thrills some of my friends. Not that they are Hindus themselves.I always think it's hilarious when I hear the radio announcer declaring that "alternate side of the street parking rules are suspended" due to some minor Jewish holiday or other - particularly because if I am listening to my radio, it follows that there is no religious reason I can't get into my car and move it. But hey, it's certainly nice to see NYC celebrate and give equal footing to the different religious groups that make the city the great place it is.
The three-day Islamic feasts of Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha thrill them, too. They aren’t Muslims, either.
They are, in the main, Christians and Jews. Most of them are not the sort to be found in church or synagogue every Sunday or Saturday morning. But they derive enormous satisfaction from holy days like the Feast of the Assumption or from a days-long Jewish festival like Passover.
That is because they answer to a separate authority. Their true devotion is to the Church of Internal Combustion. You probably know these people better as car owners.
Nothing delights them more than a religious holiday, any religious holiday — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, it really doesn’t matter — that liberates them from the city’s alternate-side parking rules.
In the New York diocese of the Church of Internal Combustion, the highest virtue is being able to leave one’s car parked on the street for days at a time. Church members reach this state of exaltation through a special dispensation granted by a nonecclesiastical synod, a body called the City Council. The Council is vested with the supreme authority to suspend alternate-side rules. This it does. Faithfully.
Diwali, celebrated by Sikhs and Jains as well as by Hindus, is the latest holiday to receive the sacrament of discarded parking regulations. By official count, there are 35 such holidays through the year, spread across 44 days. Council members love few things more than adding days to the list. They have done so with fair regularity.
Although some members of the Church of Internal Combustion may not believe it, alternate-side parking does not exist to torment them. The rules were created for the common weal: to make it possible for Sanitation Department sweepers to do their stuff.
Once upon a time, the main exceptions to the rules were legal holidays, when city employees are off, and certain days on which observant Jews are forbidden to drive: Yom Kippur, for example. There is no known Talmudic exception for alternate-side parking rules.
But any privilege for a particular ethnic or religious group is not allowed to exist in this city without others’ claiming it as well. And so, over the years, the Council has steadily expanded the exemption list to include all sorts of holidays with no inherent proscription against driving: Ash Wednesday, Purim, the Asian Lunar New Year and All Saints’ Day, to name a few.