Saturday I was sitting with my student in the outdoor cafe of a Starbucks in Tokyo. It was a beautiful day…perhaps the last warm day of the year. We’ve been meeting every Saturday for over 3 years now so it’s less a teacher-student relationship than a friendship. I usually don’t do much on Saturday afternoons, and he’s pretty high level, so an hour-long lesson can easily turn into a 3-4 hour chat (no extra charge of course) and often does. Saturday was one of those days.
After a couple of hours the conversation had begun to wind down. He asked me was I OK because I wasn’t being my usual talkative self. He actually knows me better than most people in Japan.
“Oh, sorry, I’m a little distracted…Hey! Maybe you can help me,” I said.
“Yeah, you…I’m trying to think of something to write about, but…”
“For your blog?”
“Hmm….” he said, and started thinking. “Difficult. You’ve covered so much already.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
Meanwhile, at the curb a few feet away a BMW pulled up. Along the curb there was a green railing / fence, which was either there to deter people from crossing at any point aside from at the corner or because parking there was illegal, or both. It was an older BMW, maybe from the 90’s or early 2000s. I noticed the rims weren’t clean and the interior wasn’t leather, and that it hadn’t met a diaper lately-maybe ever. It hadn’t even seen a car wash in a while. And that struck me as unusual…I mean, if I had a BMW I’d clean it regularly and hand wax it with a diaper.
And, I realized that I rarely if ever see old cars, hoopties or junkers in Japan. Back home MOST cars were old, and junkers were everywhere. Late model cars stood out. Used, worn, beat-up cars were the norm.
“How about NY? I’d like to read about NY…why don’t you write…”
“Already did that, remember?” My student has been an avid reader of my blog since its inception a year ago. “I wrote that comparison between NY and Yokohama. And I also wrote about going home after having lived here and how that changed my feelings about NY and what not. Remember?
“That’s right, I remember…that was really good!”
There was a young couple in the BMW. He parked far enough from the rail that she could just open her door and slide out of the passenger side. She was cute and fashionable, and dressed like an erotic ballerina- a not so graceful Sugar Plum Fairy who shopped at Frederick’s of Hollywood or Victoria’s Secret and had traded in her ballerina flats for 2-inch pumps. She had long legs, a short tu-tu, thigh-high dark stockings, and I’m pretty sure I peeped a garter belt as she got out.
“You know, you could write about how things in Japan have changed for black people since Barack Obama became president…”
I looked away from the BMW to my student’s face. “Have they?”
“I haven’t noticed any difference…” I said and turned back to the BMW just in time to find the girl staring at me. When she realized she was staring (it took a moment, she was mesmerized) she jerked her head away and looked up the street at something I couldn’t see from the cafe.
“Have they changed?” I joked.
“Yes we can,” he said, and laughed. “Someday, anyway. But I think Japanese people are at least more…er…interested in black people.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “Well, that’s something…”
The guy emerged from the driver’s side moments later. He was handsome. Looked like a freshman Salaryman or a University student soon to graduate. He was dressed casual in jeans, a collegiate hoodie, sneakers, fussy hair- moussed or gel’d- and expensive sunglasses. He took a quick look around, a less than quick look at me, then gestured to his girl to head up the street. They had to walk in the street because of the railing. He could have easily hurdled it but she couldn’t have without lifting her legs and putting her business all in the street. The closest opening in the fence to come onto the sidewalk was at the corner. They disappeared from view and I turned to my student.
“Maybe I could write about how things haven’t changed at all in Japan 1 year into the Obama administration,” I said.
“I don’t know…maybe,” my student sighed.
Just then, 2 traffic patrol guys walked up to the BMW. One stood in front and wrote into a pad. The other headed for the rear of the car where he took several pictures of the license plate.
I’d never seen a parking ticket given in such a way… “You see this?”
My student surveyed the scene. “Yeah, they’re giving that car a ticket…”
“I know, but damn. The driver and his girlfriend were just there. They just went that way. That’s fast. It’s like they were waiting for them to leave.”
“They probably were…”
“That’s just foul,” I snapped. “I mean, even in NY, a city perpetually in the goddamn red, if the cops see you about to park illegally, they’d warn you off. They’ve always warned me off…if I had known it was illegal to park here, hell, I would have warned them off!”
“There must be s a sign somewhere…”
We both looked around. No sign anywhere.
“But, they’ll give them a few minutes to come back. They’re just preparing,” my student said.
“Really?” and just as he was saying it, the two patrol guys stepped back over the rail and onto the sidewalk and huddled for a moment…still writing and discussing and observing the car.
“What, is this like a grace period?” I asked. All of this fascinated me.
“What’s a grace period?”
“It’s like when…” but just as I began to explain, the two of them climbed back over the rail and the one that had been writing stuck the ticket first on the driver’s side windshield then removed it and replaced it on the passenger side windshield. Then they turned, marched to their truck, got in and drove off.
“That wasn’t five minutes…that was more like one minute.”
“Well 5 minutes, give or take a few minutes…”
“That’s so fucked up!” I said. “How much is a parking ticket usually?”
“About 15000 yen.”
“Wow! That’s steep!”
Just then the couple came back…apparently they had gone to Baskin Robbins / 31
Flavors up the block. They both had cups of ice cream. They got into the car without noticing the ticket on the windshield, or maybe they thought it was an advertisement or something. When the guy finally noticed the ticket on the windshield, he didn’t have much of a reaction, so I figured he was either rich, a cop, or son or brother of a cop and had the Japanese equivalent of a PBA card. PBA cards work like magic back home. You can get out of paying tickets easily…
He asked the girl, who had been eating her ice cream with this thing on the windshield in front of her and hadn’t even noticed it, to hand the thing to him. The girl reached her hand out the window and peeled it off the windshield, handing it to him. Now came the natural reaction: he freaked out. I couldn’t read his lips, but when he took their ice cream cups and dropped them out of the window of the car, and took off, I knew what he must have been thinking: 15000 yen for ice cream! FUCK ME!