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Here's The Real Story Behind The Classiest Dibs Ever

By Alex Nitkin | December 14, 2016 6:56am
 After WGN posted the photo on Facebook Monday, nearly three years after it was taken, it was
After WGN posted the photo on Facebook Monday, nearly three years after it was taken, it was "liked" more than 14,000 times in 48 hours.
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Facebook / Brendan Gardiner

PORTAGE PARK — It was supposed to send a message.

Brendan Gardiner dug out a parking spot with the intention of saving it for his wife, sure, but only for a few minutes. The real reason why the Portage Park electrician assembled one of most decadent "dibs" ever staked into Chicago's icy earth was much better: spite.

"There was this one family on my block that would always [place dibs on parking spaces] ... and I've just always had this expectation that people should just go out and shovel for the public good," Gardiner said. "So I guess just out of crankiness and self-righteousness, I left it there unclaimed, as a statement."

That was in January 2014.

Gardiner snapped a picture of his installation and sent it to WGN, which broadcast it to its millions of viewers. The next winter, the station re-broadcast it. And the next winter.

On Monday, the channel shared the photo once again on Facebook, earning it a fresh 14,000 "likes" and 6,500 shares within 48 hours of being posted.

Not only was Gardiner surprised by the explosive reaction, but he was taken aback by how many bitter Chicagoans responded to the target.

"Every year, I see some comment like 'I want to drive my 'Blazer right through that thing,'" he said. "They don't know I'm on the same side as them."

A Chicago native himself, Gardiner said he'd been "dead-set" against dibs "going back decades."

"I have memories of walking down Paulina, grabbing every dibs I could find and just chucking it out into the grass," he said. "It was just a refusal to accept the way things are. I didn't see the justice in someone having 24/7 access to a free spot, just because there was snow."

But after one especially heavy snow in 2014, circumstances made the tradition too alluring to resist, Gardiner said. He spent more than an hour clearing the snow in front of his home in the 4000 block of North Monitor Avenue, and he wanted to keep it open for his then-pregnant wife, who was out buying groceries.

"I wanted to save it, but I was also stubborn and had my principles," he said. "So I guess I thought I'd reconcile it by going for this whole over-the-top display, and maybe I could get a laugh out of my wife, too."

So instead of a dirty plastic chair — the standard dibs totem — he ran into his garage and dragged out a wooden table. Then a chair. And a tablecloth. And another chair.

"I was just running back and forth to the garage, laughing to myself because I was expecting her to come home any minute," Gardiner said. "But instead I just had all these neighbors walking past and gawking and taking pictures."

One neighbor suggested he send a photo to the news, and the rest is history.

In the end, Gardiner may have sent the opposite message that he intended, he said, masquerading for the entire city as the very villain he'd spent his life fighting. But he did succeed on one front.

"My wife loved it," he said. "As soon as she got home, she was just laughing her head off."

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