01/30/2012 04:20 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2012

Curb Appeal: You Can't 'Reserve' the Sidewalk

Lest anyone think obnoxiousness is the sole purview of Easterners, let me throw this Los Angeles moment into the mix: On Saturday, we arrived at the City of Angels' annual Chinese New Year's parade just as the first lion-dancing troupe was making its way down Broadway. In a sheer stroke of New Year's good luck, I spotted an opening on the curb where my two children could fit. But as I pushed them toward the opening, they were stopped in their tracks by an unapologetic woman next to the curb gap who said she was "saving" those spots for someone else.

Saving spots on the sidewalk? Really? Like somehow you can claim a public sidewalk for your very own?

I admit to being momentarily speechless. While I don't always like it, I get it when the PTA moms who arrive two hours before the talent show to set things up put down their bags and scarves to hold the front row seats for their extended families. I figure there wouldn't even be a talent show if there weren't moms like that to organize and run it, so good for them for claiming a small reward for their work. And I'm actually fine with the woman in the movies marking the seat next to her with her purse so that her husband in the popcorn line can join her. I don't go to the movies on date night to sit with anyone other than my husband and she should be able to sit with hers.

But this is a public sidewalk, a sidewalk that my tax dollars help maintain. Nobody owns the sidewalk, nobody can claim its usage for their exclusive right. If this woman's friends wanted to sit with her, they should have gotten there on time and found a spot with room enough for all of them. Sorry lady, but when it comes to the sidewalk, it's first-come, first-served.

So what did I do about it? I faced the choice of confronting her or not and opted for not. Life is a series of choosing which battles are worth fighting and to take a stand on this one -- where the "prize" would have been that my kids got to sit uncomfortably next to her -- didn't make much sense. Nor did letting the incident mar the day, so we all just shook it off.

But I did flash back on an old woman I met 40 years ago in the ancient northern Israeli mountain town of Safad, home to Kabballah (Jewish mysticism). The woman was in her 90s and she was the keeper of one of the not-wider-than-a-doorway synagogues of the city. After she showed you the sanctuary, a gratuity would be expected. As the woman was showing me the special artifacts, a tourist came in and began snapping photos without permission, then scurried off without dropping a shekel in the donation box. The old woman ran out into the cobblestone street after him, extended her arthritic arm in his direction like a wand and harshly mumbled something in Hebrew that I could only imagine wasn't "have a nice day." She ended her curse with a "poi-poi" spit to her left. I felt her power so forcefully that I was certain the tourist would be in a car accident by day's end.

To which I can only say to the lady who hogged the Chinatown sidewalk: Perhaps you better drive carefully. Karma and all that.