Some people protest by marching on Washington. Some write strongly-worded folk songs. Some stand in front of tanks.
Karen Neubauer protests by parking her own car in her own driveway.
If the previous sentence confounds you, makes you wonder what's happening at Karen's house near the corner of 51st Street and Western Avenue, well, join the club.
Since August, she and next-door neighbor Andrea Fett have received a combined 10 parking tickets. The police have visited twice. Karen and Andrea have placed angry phone calls to the Mayor's Office and sent strongly-worded emails to their city councilman. Their protest has featured one homemade, neon-green yard sign that mentions karma and at least one threat to move from Dundee to South Dakota.
South Dakota, land of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and freedom. South Dakota, where maybe they let your park your own car in your own driveway, even if you do block the sidewalk.
“This whole thing is odd,” Karen acknowledges as she looks out her front window toward a driveway that has become ground zero of her own Dundee demonstration. “But I tell you what ... We're not going to quit.”
See, Karen and her boyfriend have been parking his black pickup and her red Infiniti sedan in the driveway in front of their garage for years. Andrea and her husband have been parking their Ford Escape in their driveway since they moved to the neighborhood in 2010. All three vehicles share the same short slab of cement. And all three vehicles block some of the sidewalk on the east side of 51st Street.
This arrangement didn't seem to matter for years, Karen and Andrea say. After all, there is still 5 or 6 feet of driveway clearance for pedestrians to walk and jog and push baby strollers around the cars without having to step into the street. A tiny inconvenience, they think. Nothing more.
But starting this August, it started to matter. It started to matter the day that Karen and Andrea both woke up, walked out to their cars, found parking tickets on their windshields and thought, “What the ... ?”
Those tickets were quickly followed by another ticket, and another, and another. All were marked with a simple description: blocking the sidewalk.
Now, Karen and Andrea could have solved this problem by pulling inside their garages. But Karen's garage is half-filled with stuff. Andrea doesn't like to park in her garage at night, because then she has to walk through her backyard in the dark.
They could have solved this problem by parking on 51st Street, like many of their neighbors do. But the black pickup has been vandalized twice when parked on 51st Street. And besides, they own houses that include driveways. That's where they prefer to park.
So instead of moving their cars, they fought. Andrea emailed Pete Festersen, midtown Omaha's city councilman. Karen called the Mayor's Hotline, which helpfully connected her to the city maintenance and city engineering departments. They went down to the city planning office looking for the permits that were granted when their driveways were poured.
But Festersen pointed out several problems with rewriting city statutes to exempt them from tickets for blocking sidewalks. And the city engineers and city maintenance workers were nice — frankly, some of them seemed completely on the homeowners' side — but they ultimately couldn't do much.
It was up to the police, everyone said. And then, on Sept. 9, the police showed up at Karen's door.
You don't own a driveway, they told her. It's not long enough to be a driveway where you can park. You own an accessway to your garage. You can access your garage via this slab of concrete, but you can't park there.
“Why now?” Karen wondered.
Someone in the neighborhood is calling us every day to complain, the police said. No, we can't tell you who. You will have to move your cars.
“I told him, 'I pay my taxes! I'm going to keep parking in my driveway!' And he told me, 'If you don't move your car, I have to ticket you.' ”
Karen and Andrea did not stop parking in their driveway. A week later, the police came back.
Move your cars, they said, or we will write you a ticket each and every day.
Now, Karen and Andrea could have chosen this point as an opportune time to toss in the proverbial towel. And for a time, Karen did start parking her car in the street.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
But she also went to Walgreens and bought some black lettering. She attached the lettering to a neon-green sign. And she planted it in her front yard.
“Be neighborly,” the sign said. It was signed, “Karma.”
Karen started prowling the streets of Dundee, looking for cars parked in other short driveways that were also blocking the sidewalk. She found dozens. “It feels like we're being singled out,” she says. She and her boyfriend discussed moving to South Dakota, where the water tastes like wine and all the driveways are super long.
And recently, she decided to pull the ultimate in midtown Omaha civil disobedience.
She jumped in her car, put it in drive and pulled it back into what she believes is her driveway, even though the Omaha Police Department says it's only an accessway to her garage.
“Let's talk to the mayor!” she says, only half-jokingly. “I want a meeting with the mayor.”
Personally, I do not think that is the best use of Mayor Jean Stothert's time. Here is what I hope:
I hope the neighbor who is complaining puts down his or her phone. I hope he or she goes and knocks on Karen's door and asks if she has a second. And then — and this is important — I hope Karen takes the advice on her neon-green sign, the advice about being neighborly, and responds in kind.
I hope that together they figure out a way that Karen and her neighbor Andrea can park in their driveways — errr, accessways — without getting tickets. And I hope they figure out a way to let the pedestrians pass without too much of a hassle. I hope that's not too much to ask.
I hope that Karma sees all this, nods his head approvingly and drives off into the Dundee night on his way to South Dakota.