What do a baby stroller, plastic lawn chair, electric fan and space heater box have in common?
All have doubled as wintertime parking-spot placeholders, placed on the street by snow-weary residents of Snowbelt cities who claim "dibs" on the space after spending hours shoveling out their cars.
But starting this week, the party's over in Chicago when the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation begins hauling away anything still in the streets.
Residents were alerted in advance, spokeswoman Molly Poppe says, because "it's not our goal to throw things away. We don't issue parking tickets for this because we can't issue parking tickets for vehicles that aren't there."
Other versions of this time-honored tradition show up each winter in big cities such as New York, Baltimore, and Washington. Side streets become dotted with a curious mix of items after the first heavy snowfall, A scan of Tumblr reveals photos this year of lamps, gnomes, a foosball table, a toy truck and a child-size picnic table.
Officials in many cities generally tolerate the practice — up to a point:
• Each November, Boston city officials issue a brochure reminding car owners that space savers are allowed for only 48 hours after a snow emergency or a parking ban has been lifted. This year, a consortium of neighborhood groups in South Boston is encouraging residents to report abusers and plans to declare itself a "space saver free zone."
• In Pittsburgh, print shop owner Dan Rugh this year began selling a folding chair for shovelers to use to reserve a space for their cars. Sales of the chair, which says "Do Not Move" and "No Parking," took off, he says.
The chair, which sells for $35, is a "total joke," Rugh says. He posted a notice after officials of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority told him the chairs could lead to a littering fine. The concern, Rugh says, was that some buyers might assume, incorrectly, that the chairs were sanctioned by the city. His disclaimer: "If you use anything besides a vehicle to hold a parking spot in the city of Pittsburgh, you can be fined $300."