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Chicago 'Dibs': Alderman Has Love/Hate Relationship With Snowy Tradition

By Victoria Johnson | February 27, 2013 6:13am | Updated on February 27, 2013 10:00am

LOGAN SQUARE — "Dibs." It's that tradition that's part charming, part irksome, but wholly Chicago.

The local custom of using random household items — chairs, ironing boards, buckets, etc. — to reserve a dug-out parking spot after a snowstorm is so well-known, it has its own Tumblr page, and has even been immortalized in a book.

But as Ald. Rey Colon (35th) pointed out in a email newsletter to constituents, there's no ordinance protecting "dibbers," and in fact, it is illegal to litter or a block a public way.

Colon waxed philosophical in a 500-word essay about dibs in his latest newsletter, which is usually just filled with events, job listings and other ward business.

After first musing on Chicago's relatively mild recent winters and this year's lack of early snow, he launched into a near love letter to his hometown's quirky wintertime ritual.

"When you see a parking spot filled with lawn furniture, chairs, grills, crates, boards or even grandma's sewing machine, that means the person who left the item behind to hold that spot is practicing Dibs," the alderman wrote.

But like any good love letter, his is filled with a tinge of bitterness and regret over the darker side of dibs.

"I can only reflect on my own experience of buying and replacing 4 slashed tires in the bitter cold," he wrote. "While I should have the right to park anywhere I want on a public street, I am traumatized about parking in a spot I didn't shovel out myself."

Of course, Colon is not alone in his love-hate relationship with the practice.

While seeing a giant teddy bear or an empty container of Dibs ice cream atop a chair can bring a smile to someone's face, the punishment for crossing a dibber can be quick and severe.

Chui Rodriguez, a 21-year-old Logan Square resident, said his father-in-law recently felt a dibber's wrath when he took someone's spot and later returned to find his headlights smashed.

Still, Rodriguez doesn't condemn the practice, instead dismissing the dibs debate with a sort of that's-just-the-way-it-is shrug.

"Well, I guess if you clean your own spot, it's OK, but you can't take over someone else's spot," he said. "I've seen people fight over them."

David Montgomery, 73, isn't quite as accepting of the practice, though he acknowledges the tradition is likely here to stay.

"I think it's crazy, but it's a Chicago thing, and people are just going to keep doing it," he said.