How to get out of a tight squeeze

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Always mindful of the danger of imminent insolvency, I have turned a sceptical gaze on my car. It is bleeding me dry, what with the parking fees, fines for repeated infractions of traffic laws - eighty bucks recently for not buckling up while driving two blocks - and, above all, fuel costs. Action is clearly needed.

Always mindful of the danger of imminent insolvency, I have turned a sceptical gaze on my car. It is bleeding me dry, what with the parking fees, fines for repeated infractions of traffic laws - eighty bucks recently for not buckling up while driving two blocks - and, above all, fuel costs. Action is clearly needed.

The parking problem seems insurmountable. It is possible, in theory, to park for free on most residential streets in Manhattan, but only if you are prepared to dedicate half of your day to the enterprise. Finding a spot is bad enough: I have spent hours at a time mindlessly circling my neighbourhood praying to the gods that someone will miraculously emerge from their apartment and vacate a space.

But then the exercise has to be repeated almost daily because of road-sweeping. You can park on one side of the street on a Monday, but by Tuesday at 9am the car must be moved to the other. Finally, you surrender and buy a space in a parking garage. The relief is huge, but so is the pain. The price of a space in a midtown parking lot is almost $500 a month.

So much for economising there. But what about saving on petrol, now that the price per gallon has soared, from $1.50 a few months ago to about $2.25 today? Well, I have a plan. Everything inside the car is coming out, save, perhaps, for the driving seat and the steering wheel. Handbrake, floor carpets, fuzzy dice, the lot. I have ordered aerodynamic winglets that my local body shop assures me can be welded to the back doors. I will drive at 10mph and buy my fuel one gallon at a time.

Maybe the "adding winglets" idea is going too far. We don't want to be slicing the legs off pedestrians along Fifth Avenue. But all of my suggestions arealready being pursued by others far more financially savvy than I. I have been inspired, not by other car owners, I grant you, but by the people in charge of commercial jetliners.

The airlines are in a far tighter squeeze than me; jet fuel prices have almost doubled in a year. But while their cost-cutting measures are sometimes imaginative, some leave me uneasy. I mention this just as I am about to embark on a fit of travelling that will require four transatlantic journeys in three weeks.

American Airlines has had the bright idea of simply putting less fuel in their planes for flights across the pond. The carrier recently asked Washington for permission to halve the amount of reserve fuel they must put in their tanks in case of unforeseen emergencies (such as corkscrewing over Heathrow for five hours before receiving permission to land). This will make the planes lighter. The Feds said fine.

Hoping we won't notice, the airlines are also flying more slowly. Pilots for Ted, the chirpy discount airline launched by United, were told over the recent Memorial Day holiday weekend to take their time in the sky going from A to B. Don't rush, enjoy the view. My rudimentary understanding of flight tells me that going fast and staying aloft are somehow interconnected. So let's not take this too far.

My fixation with earning air miles has bound me to United. I am starting to regret it. The closest of any of the US carriers to extinction, it is also the most desperate. Apparently, it has decided the best way to save fuel is to tear out the ovens on its planes and cut back on drinking water. If the passengers don't eat, they won't get so thirsty. Follow the logic through, and United will soon be able to do away with lavatories, too.

Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, is the company with the winglets wheeze. It is spending $10m to put vertical extensions on the wings of all its Boeing 737s - allegedly to make them less wind-resistant.

But in the end, alas, none of this will help me. My Golf has no ovens, wings or water tanks. I could dawdle a bit more, but in a country with a 55mph highway speed limit, it is hard to go much slower than I already do. Probably, I should just fire the thing and accept the reality that cars and Manhattan don't mix.

The simple life, Manhattan-style

I sometimes wonder whether I should throw in the towel and try the simple life, Manhattan-style. Being a street bum would be simple, but clearly uncomfortable. Our neighbour tends other people's gardens but looks awfully underfed. (We have named her The Ghost.) Maybe I should investigate tree-sitting.

That such a position even existed was only revealed to me the other morning when I took my daily pre-breakfast walk around Gramercy Park with the dog. Enclosing the park are about 20 maples, and on this day, each was being attended by someone in a natty green uniform sitting beneath them in a folding chair. They honestly appeared to be doing nothing except, well, tree-sitting.

I had to ask. A young woman explained that she was there to keep pedestrians - and dogs - away while the trees were being inoculated against beetles. Closer inspection revealed little plastic syringes poking out from their trunks.

It turns out that there are 60,000 trees in New York awaiting vaccination, and 50 tree-sitters to make sure all goes smoothly. They sit three trees each day. For the $12.95 an hour that they get paid for the job, I think I might apply. The only real requirement is a strong bladder. A tree treatment takes three to four hours, during which time the sitter is forbidden to leave his or her post for any reason whatsoever.

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