Dibs Chicago: The Outdoor Garage

In Chicago, snow means a number of things. But to most it means longer traffic times and shoveling out your street parking spot. And, with the shoveling of your parking spot comes the unwritten rule of saving your spot: Dibs. Why should someone too lazy to brave the weather and do the shoveling profit from your hard work?

Chicagoans use a wide variety of “Dibs” markers, ranging from old chairs and wooden planks to exercise equipment and lawn furniture. My Dad, Bud, took “spot saving” very seriously and came up with a system.

My Dad first came up with the system in 1967 and taught me the basics in 1979, both huge snowstorms in Chicago. In fact, many believe the 1979 snowstorm cost Michael Bilandic the mayoral election to Jane Byrne the following year after he misread the amount of snow to fall on Chicago during rush-hour traffic on a Friday. And his mistake left most of Chicago stranded for almost a week because of the amount of snow and the lack of a work force to clear the roads.

Here’s how the “Outdoor Garage” system worked if you had more than one car (we had three).

First, you would move the cars out and shovel the spot to the ground.

Next, make snow piles to the street side and sidewalk side, enough to pull the cars into the spot.

The piles have to be the full length of all three cars, like one long wall, with an entrance at the front and rear of the wall.

If one car has to leave, say the middle car, then the first car pulls out. The middle car leaves and then the car that pulled out pulls back in and takes the position it was in, thus leaving a one car gap between the front car and back car. When the middle car returns, someone would come down and let them back in the “garage.”

Here’s the tricky part. More often than not, there was always going to be at least one car in the “garage.” So that car would stay in the back spot (because most people don’t want to back in and prefer to pull in). And some “beware-of-my-spot” marker would be put in the front spot if two cars would be gone to scare other people away. The best marker we had was a 120 pound metal crate with a rope on it which my Dad made for this purpose. My Dad and I would pull the marker to the side and allow the cars to return to the “garage.”


Here I am in Bucktown (1998) working on my 'Outdoor Garage'.

Here I am in Bucktown (1998) working on my ‘Outdoor Garage’.

Most of the neighbors would appreciate our hard work and honor the “garage.”

Yet there were a couple people who decided they would go against the grain and park inside the “garage.” and my Dad would seek them out (like the ex-Marine he was) and would explain to them what he thought a good neighbor should do.

Recently 200 or so people have called the city of Chicago’s 311 service to complain about Dibs markers and I know what my Dad would tell them: park in the unshoveled spots or move.

Leave a comment