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Author of Book About 'Dibs' Hoping for a Snowstorm

By Mike Brockway | December 14, 2012 7:17am | Updated on December 14, 2012 8:46am

CHICAGO — Mike Brown is perhaps the only person in Chicago wishing for a snowstorm.

Ever since he published his new book, "Dibs Chicago — The Winter Phenomenon of Parking Spot Saving," at the end of November, the 41-year-old Lincoln Park resident checks the weather incessantly, hoping to see snow in the forecast.

"I never really paid that much attention to the weather," said Brown, who said a good snowstorm might help him sell more books. "But now I check it all the time."

Brown's new self-published book, written with Sandy DeLisle, documents the practice of dibbing, or parking spot-saving, a Chicago tradition that can only be seen after a significant amount of snow blankets the city's streets.

 A Puerto Rican flag marks the spot.
A Puerto Rican flag marks the spot.
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Dibs Chicago

Longtime Chicagoans know when a snowstorm hits, the shovels come out, and the junk begins filling neighborhood streets, saving parking spots that car owners have spent hours digging out.

City drivers use a wide array of flotsam and jetsam to mark their territory — 5-gallon buckets, trash cans, lumber, large toys, broomsticks and chairs — lots of chairs.

"Most people use chairs," Brown said. "But this is not a chair book or dining-room set book. We've organized the book into chapters with photos of all sorts of stuff used for dibs."

Dibs likely started after the big snowstorm of 1967, but became further rooted as a Chicago tradition after the Blizzard of '79.

Brown first experiened this quaint practice about five years ago, not surprisingly, just after a snowstorm.

"I was in a horrible mood, stuck in horrible traffic one day during the winter of 2007," Brown said. "I was driving along North Avenue and was detoured onto side streets. I started noticing objects placed in shoveled spaces along the road.

"Growing up in the south suburbs, I had not experienced this before. I realized quickly that people were saving these spaces after shoveling them. My mood changed, and within 20 minutes of driving these side streets I started laughing out loud," he said.

Since then, Brown and friend Laurie Manikowski have documented the tradition every winter, amassing hundreds of photos, many of which ended up in the book.

While Brown enjoys the practice, he is well aware of the divided opinion surrounding dibs, as many residents loathe the space-saving practice.

"It's amazing to me," Brown said. "It's like Roe v. Wade. People are really animated on the topic."

Brown also recognizes the dark side to saving parking spaces, having heard horror stories of what can transpire if one person dares to move someone else's junk to park their car.

"Slashed tires, eggs, windows broken, notes being left," said Brown, listing the retaliation he's heard about. "Breaking windows and slashing tires — that's not called for — they're still your neighbors."

While Brown bankrolled the project out of his own pocket, part of his business plan is to help raise money for charity. He's donating proceeds from the $15 book to three charitable organizations, including the Danny Did Foundation, St. Jude's Children's Hospital and the Tree House Humane Society.

So far Brown said sales have been steady and word is starting to spread. He hopes to be able to get the book into local book stores and other retailers. But for now the best place to purchase "Dibs Chicago" is at the book's website.

"It's grass roots," he said. "I don't have a marketing department. It's not going to be a New York Times best-seller, but that's never been the plan. I want the money to go through to charity and that's it."

Brown will sign copies of his book from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at State Restaurant, 935 W. Webster St.