Round Table: Parking at space 56, on track toward year ‘26

The walk gets longer, and finally I am at the top of the lot.

Upon reaching age 56 on Thursday, I could finally claim parking space 56, abutting the wall at the western and highest end of the Hood River News parking lot.

For 14 years I have been the “lead” advocate of PYA — Park Your Age — and age 56 puts me back in the actual asphalt space matching my advanced years.

Here I am, writing about it again, something I once thought I could hold out doing again until the magic 57. You know, ’57 Chevy, Heinz 57, all that good stuff, but that’s for next year.

Indeed, I thought I would have to wait a year until 57 was freely available — the space, not the year — as 56 was not a good place to park. That is, until a few weeks ago. Space 56 was either covered for many years or just not a safe place to park because of the location of our large recycling dumpster. But I looked up the other day and realized the dumpster has been moved 15 or so feet, revealing 56 in all its glory. And so in the arcane practice of PYA, I am back in my actual number. No more settling for 35 or 27 — two spots that are far enough up the hill to meet one of the tenets of PYA: get as long a walk as you can. (55 was also perilously close to the dumpster.)

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I started PYA at age 42, when I realized that the numbered space was most of the way up the hill, and parking there every day ensured I would get at least a couple solid walks each day. (As noted in past columns, PYA gives purpose to the fact that our parking spaces are numbered, for there is no system of assigned spaces and no one connected to it can ever recall why they were given numbers when they first appeared in 2000. I am often asked how far the numbers go: it’s 65.)

I have encouraged others to PYA, and while there are a few semi-dedicated adherents in the building, it is essentially my windmill at which to tilt.

PYA is more than a quirky exercise. It also an opportunity to relish the joys of a given number, be it 45-rpm records, 52-card pickup, the 49’ers, the beauty of 50, etc.

I had a variety of reasons for expecting to skip a 56 PYA column, besides the old idea that Space 56 was unavailable.

I thought, “Nothing special about 56, right?”

Turns out the number’s as cool as they get.

For starters, 56 has been called the last magic number in sports, for Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, a record many believe will never be broken.

There’s a band called Flatfoot 56 (great band name) which sort of describes me, and a poster you can buy called 56 Geeks — I didn’t exactly qualify.

I read an article called “56 Victorian slang terms you should be using” on Mentalfloss.com, including “chuckaboo,” the name given a close friend, or “Nanty Narking,” which means great fun in a tavern. I like both words.

I laughed hard at a recent New Yorker humor column by Bill Flanagan, “56-year-olds Are The Worst,” which I quote in part: “My friends and I are turning fifty-nine this year. I know — unbelievable, right? Seems like just yesterday we were fifty and trying to figure out how to dress, what car to drive, what sort of laptop to use. Now it’s like, we’re fifty-nine. It’s so cool ... The only bad part, I have to admit, is that there is a certain type of person. How can I put this? A certain type of younger person who doesn’t always totally get that when you’re fifty-nine you expect things to go a certain way — not because you’re snobby or think you’re super cool but just because that’s the way things are. And the type of person I’m talking about — I don’t really know a polite way to say this — is a particular kind of fifty-six-year-old.”

Then there is the new film 56-Up, the latest in the Michael Apted film series chronicling the same British children into adulthood. Every seven years, starting with 7-Up, Apted has filmed these seven people and told an ongoing fascinating story.

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To my mind it is a human chronicle that would be impossible to match. That said, let me use this column to announce that Hood River News will soon embark on a project inspired by the “-Up” films, that sets our sights on another number: the year 2026.

We plan to call it Tracks to ‘26, and you will see it in the next couple of issues. We have arranged with six local families to interview the same six children, all current kindergartners, each year until they graduate from high school in 12 years. Tracks to ‘26 will start this month, pick up again this fall, and then every year until the 2025-26 school year when the students are seniors. Then, Hood River News will present concluding articles on the Tracks to ‘26 youngsters.

Tracks to ‘26 is a long look ahead, and an ambitious leap of faith. It is about honoring the cycle of the years, the changes in these young people, and the wondrous arc of time.

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