Issues of parking concern to driving urbanites

When in a city, there’s a precise anatomy to rendering one’s car stationary, fixed, motionless, in a stall, not moving, quiet or silent in a garage. It’s a rather basic 12-step process and it starts on the road, just before approaching the desired destination.  If said destination is a familiar one, then you can trust your brain to be revving up, getting ready to present even alternative solutions. If on unfamiliar ground, however, alertness is ever so important. There are countless variations, of course, but the following are some of the oft-repeated steps in the choreography of parking one’s car in a garage:

  1. Where’s the garage? The entrance? There it is!  Turn your blinker on.
  2. Slow down. You know the driver behind you will honk. So what? They can wait.
  3. Proceed and drive into garage.
  4. Hey! Don’t bump up against the curb. On either side!  
  5. Push, tap, press, and generally bear down on the  button (repeatedly if need be) so it’ll produce a ticket.
  6. Retrieve ticket from dispenser.
  7. Watch impatiently as gate lifts up ever so slowly. Don’t they know you’re being charged by the minute here?
  8. Start looking for an empty stall. Pay attention to pedestrians. They might be leaving. That means a free space!
  9. Can’t find an empty spot? Look for valet/attendant.
  10. Park the car (leave the keys for valet) and get out.
  11. Walk to elevator. Stop! Did you take the ticket with you?
  12. Don’t forget to note where you parked. Commit floor/stall number(s) to memory.  Glance back at your car. Imprint its geographic location. It’ll look different than you originally thought.
Validating machine and manual validation.

Besides this dodecalogue of parking, there’s the one general rule, never to be forgotten, which applies at all times: Validate, validate, validate. Memorize the location of the validating equipment in each establishment. These need to be studied closely enough to decipher that your ticket is indeed getting validated and that the machine isn’t just clicking away idly and misleadingly. It’ll be too difficult and frustrating to go back for this process once you’re in the car and heading out. And if validation is simply not a possibility, then be prepared to approach a machine, ticket and credit card or bills in hand, to make your payment and then hurry back to the car and make your exit in the allotted time.

“Why choose a garage?” you may ask. Part of the draw of a city, at least to me, is its density.  A tightness of buildings, services, and people, and their general proximity to each other. This, however, renders real-estate far too precious for the kind of suburban yawning-wide spaces to be used for parking.  The solution, most often, is a subterranean one, also because there’s absolutely no aesthetic value in lines and lines of automobiles standing still. I can already hear some car enthusiasts disagreeing, mentioning a particular brand of car, etc. etc. But seriously, just imagine hordes of utilitarian vehicles waiting to take their owners back to some other place. Trust me, there’s no art opportunity lurking here, nor poetry.  I tried.  Took photos even. As you can see for yourself, it’s an industrial, glaringly lit affair that reeks of institution, rodent habitat and profit making. Even the fonts chosen for the numerous instructions have nothing appealing about them.
Sometimes you just have to pay.

Besides space considerations or their lack, the other difficulty of street parking, even metered street parking is that it’s understandably a rarer creature. Much rarer still when such a spot is vacant and waiting for your imminent arrival.  Nabbing one has even been known to give rise to the familiar fist-pulled-down-in-the-air arm movement usually accompanied by the emphatic and triumphant “Yes!” sound. As importantly, metered parking is not, repeat not, validated.  Once you feed the meter you’re on your own, at the mercy of your own watch. Otherwise, watch out! The meter-maid will dutifully decorate your captive parked car with a heftier ticket than the coins needed to maintain your temporary and legal residence there, sometimes within the first minute of your “delinquency.”

Did you know that the word park dates all the way back to the 1680s when it meant an enclosure for military vehicles?  Mull over that next time you want to take your kids to play in the park. Maybe that’s where the toy soldiers and tanks belong. I wonder when they were replaced by swings and cushy, rubbery protective blacktops.  According to, the general non-military meaning of parking as putting a vehicle in a certain place was first recorded only in 1844.
This way to exit.

Somehow I’ve been very reluctant to write this post. The parking post. It feels counter-intuitive to write about stopping movement or being stationary in a blog whose title itself has the word moving in it. Even if it entails only a car. But I’ve already alluded to it twice (before it even existed), thus almost putting myself in a bind.  The other day a local friend even asked me “what’s the deal with parking and you?” Easy for him to say – he doesn’t own nor drive a car anymore… Oh, isn’t that liberating? Not to own a car in LA? To use public transportation, a bus or the metro, to even read en route to and from work.  Just imagine the pure luxury of it.

Consider too that if you have a few errands to run besides your normal trajectory of the day, parking information can start claiming a good-sized portion of your short-term memory. If you have to apply the 12-step process repeatedly, then you have to maintain numerical and geographic information which is bound to become irrelevant almost immediately, but without which you wouldn’t be able to find your car.  Then there’s the expense to consider: Dollar fifty here, fifty cents there, another dollar at a third spot. Repeat that sequence enough times over a year and you’re looking at a substantial amount.  This is significant enough for a whole service industry employing valets, cashiers, attendants and in-garage car-washers to survive and make a profit.  There must be niche markets for cottage industries like car-key hanging cupboard manufacturers. Otherwise, where would valets keep note of stall, car and owner? Not to mention the large-scale fans that are needed for these subterranean workers to breathe. Have you noticed how it gets exceedingly hot and stinky in a parking garage? There’s no natural ventilation and the ceilings are low. They’re not designed for humans to dwell in, after all. And as each car leaves in turn, it adds a little more to the exhaust fumes that these gigantic fans then swirl around. Yes, it would be much worse if they weren’t there, but it’s hard not to smell tire, motor oil, and gasoline fumes even in the little time one spends going from car to elevator and vice-versa. The people who work there are the ones who should be piping up about their issues of parking concerns.

There’s a similar sign on the other side of the street too.
On a merely personal level, parking is just a nuisance, that’s all. Although one that since moving to LA has had a cumulative effect on me. It starts weekly every Monday and sort of escalates from there. Just to give you some background information, note that our apartment comes with a dedicated parking garage for one car. This may also be a good time to remind you that my husband and I drove to LA in two cars.  The second car has a special permit allowing it to be parked on the street beyond the two-hour restriction that applies to everyone else.  Except on Mondays, when one side of the street gets swept, and then on Tuesdays, when the other side has its turn of street sweeping. We should be forever grateful the street has only two sides… Now picture the residents of the street maneuvering for spots to park their cars on those days of the week.  This situation gets exacerbated further because the workers of the tire shop at the end of the street also park their cars here, which normally isn’t that big a deal, as they replace the residents who themselves leave for work. However, imagine arriving from the grocery store or the gym and try to ignore the stretch of pavement completely denuded and empty on one side of the street, while eying the other side where the parked cars are tighter than the inter-grown roots of old trees. It’s obvious that the residents have done a lot of work honing their parallel parking skills; some cars are so close to another as to disallow even air passage.  Now go on, it’s your turn.  Find a spot!  In hopes that timing is everything and that someone may leave, go on and circle the block a few times, all the while imagining the weight of the groceries or the gym bag that is sure to grow heavier the farther you park. It’s only Mondays and Tuesdays, granted, but those days seem to recur at a higher frequency than they should.  And it could be that given my excellent vista point out the window of the second floor, I may be paying a tad more attention than necessary to which cars get parked where…
White picket fence and all…
While still on the subject, allow me a final indulgence about this first-world problem treatment imbued with overtones of petulance and gripe.  There are a couple of linguistic angles of parking that are interesting: Surely you’ve all heard the one about how we drive on parkways, yet park in driveways. Can’t quite understand how a driveway ended up having the meaning of private property?  It could’ve been in juxtaposition to a park’s 17th century military connotation.  Or is that something people do only on the East Coast? Which, may I remind you, is the same part of the country where you may find the NYC signs proclaiming zones of No standing anytime.  How perplexing it must be for a tourist to read those words and decide on an appropriate plan of action. Some may even go so far as seek public benches the city ought to provide for people to sit on to avoid any standing, anytime. The bewilderment factor alone must be considerably disorienting. And this time, there is absolutely no military connection I can think of, nor wish to make. But the parking post, thankfully, is now completely done.

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