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Why Do We Allow Dibs? Hard Work Deserves a Reward Under Right Circumstances

By Mark Konkol | January 9, 2015 5:46am
 A sawhorse protects a parking spot in Pilsen.
A sawhorse protects a parking spot in Pilsen.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

CHICAGO — Every winter, Chicagoans revive the eternal parking space debate — “To allow dibs or not to allow dibs?”

But that, my friends, is NOT the question.

Chicago is a “dibs” city.

Our founding fathers — the corrupt politicians, ward bosses and clout-wielding scoundrels who came before us — envisioned Chicago a place where it is the right of the people to use broken lawn furniture and general debris to temporarily stake claim to sections of a street closest to the curb, when in times of severe snowstorms, citizens must labor excessively to shovel out a spot to park their buggies.

And, in Chicago, that right shall not be infringed upon.

But it has come to my attention via Twitter that it is time to develop an established set of criteria for when calling dibs is appropriate.

“@Konkolskorner how many inches of snow do you need to call dibs?” @CJackCully asked.

Well, @CJackCully, the answer to that question is more complicated than offering a measurement that some fan of “The Office” surely would use as the setup for a “that’s what she said” punch line.  

But let me take a crack at it anyway.

Chicago, at least by reputation, is a working-class town.

And the historic practice of claiming dibs stems from the old-fashioned idea that good people get rewarded for working hard.

For instance, when a Bridgeport father of 11 spent an hour shoveling out the Oldsmobile after a blizzard so he could make it to his shift at the steel mill on time, that guy had every right to toss a couple steel chairs and hunks of lumber to save the spot until he got home from the corner bar after work.

Therefore, determining when it’s acceptable to claim dibs has less to do with inches of snow than it does with the work a person puts into freeing a vehicle from the grips of drifting or plowed snow.

If you can pull out of a spot without spending at least, say, 20 minutes digging — and that doesn’t include time spent brushing snow off your windshield — then it should be understood that it is unacceptable to claim dibs.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you don’t break a sweat — or swear — while shoveling out your car, the effort should not be deemed dibs-worthy.

Here are a few other dibs guidelines:

• Only a jerk claims dibs on a vacant parking space shoveled clear by someone else.

• On a block of single-family homes, residents have special dispensation to claim dibs of the spot directly in front of their house, especially in cases when their garage is a dilapidated shack.

• Dibs shall be claimed on a storm-by-storm basis. Once the snow melts — or all spaces on a block are cleared during an extended period without snowfall — dibs rights are relinquished.

• If you park in a cleared-yet-unclaimed space and have to dig your car out due to a storm — or a pile left by city plows — upon your return, it is your right to claim dibs.  

• In high-density rental neighborhoods — especially residential blocks with permit parking adjacent to heavily trafficked business districts — it is acceptable to claim dibs on a block you don’t live on only if you put in the shoveling work.

Ultimately, the dibs tradition is based on the principle that hard work is worth something — a space to park your car.

In the event that you believe that a parking space has been claimed in violation of proper dibs etiquette, I urge using caution.

Chicagoans can be a surly bunch during the winter. Personally, I’ve seen perfectly sane adults get in shouting matches, snowball bombings, acts of vandalism and, once in Bucktown in 1999, a fistfight over the right to claim dibs.

So if there’s one piece of advice I hope you take — and yes, I’m talking to recent North Side transplants from Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan — it’s this: Remove that junk used to claim a parking spot at your own risk.

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