free-parking

Parking… to bring (a vehicle that one is driving) to a halt and leave it temporarily, typically in a car park or by the side of the road: he parked his car outside her house (Oxford Dictionary)

Simple, eh? Take car, turn steering wheel, select gear, ease on accelerator and brake, stopping the car between the lines or at an appropriate distance from cars in front and rear, and sufficiently close to the curb.

Easy-peasey.

So many options…parking lots, roadside parking, reversing into a spot, parking illegally, double parking, and the dreaded PARALLEL parking.

Parallel Parking

Why is there so much emotional capital invested in the simple act of parking a vehicle?  Really, I don’t think you can be indifferent about parking. You either love it or hate it.

Having lived in England for three years driving a mid-sized North American left-hand drive vehicle, I got pretty good at squeezing the SX2.0 in to some pretty small spots. Add to that the joy of renting vehicles all across Europe and I must admit that I love “the parking”. I love the challenge.

The quest for a parking spot is one of the Great Hunts in life. And like any serious quest, its hidden bounty is even protected by a Parking WardenGuardian. In this game, it is the Bylaw officer or Traffic Warden who is the Gate Keeper. Walking the streets in their omnipotent patrols, sensing the expiring parking ticket or attuned to the ticking meter, they circle like birds of prey, waiting for the opportunity to open their book of doom. They are reviled, taunted, abused – and when defeated, all rejoice in the Vanquish.  Wardens must be rewarded on a quota, they dish out their fines and judgement with unsympathetic abandon. It is un-human! Hopefully they receive good self-esteem training – they probably need it after all the abuse I have seen them take.

Aside from the fine, the Wardens tap into a volatile part of our souls. Why do we exhibit such passion and angst and joy when it comes to parking? A good spot can make your day. A bad parking experience can ruin one.

Maybe it is because parking appeals to a basic instinct. It is like the need for a parking spot sets off this little klaxon in the brain, the kind that warns of a prison break. It is like someone gave the competitive spirit a Red Bull and Vodka. There must be some sort of “hunter/gatherer” thing that comes with parking. For me, I feelthe primitive urge to “hunt for the perfect spot”  as soon as I see my final destination.

Why does the pituitary flood the gates with adrenalin when I need to stop the car?  What’s the problem with a few extra steps to get to wherever I am going?  I tell you what is wrong with it– it is accepting the “merely adequate”, the “just okay”. It is mediocrity…

I love The Chase. I love it always. Except at Christmas.

Christmas parking sucks. The parking frenzy with all its emotion – mostly negative – surrounding the December outing is absurd.

Now, because it is January, and all the Christmas shipping done and the Boxing Day ludicrousness is over, I am calm enough to think about the December parking horrors as they are nothing but a distant memory, like the Ghost of Christmas Past.  I have healed from the “no quarter” battlefield that is the War of the Xmas Parking Spots.

Peace on Earth? Goodwill to all Mankind?  Not when it comes to the Christmas parking places. At Christmas it is every driver for themselves – yelling and cursing and “flipping the bird” and honking…as ubiquitous as Fa-la-la-la-la and Boughs of Holly.

But Christmasn is just a few weeks.  I have noted that rgardless of the season, there are some parking constants…

The HuntThe Parking Spot Hunt is a game of cat and mouse with several key spots. Whether at the Shopping Center, the main shopping street, a box store, a strip mall, an outlet centre, the workplace party, the restaurant, the Christmas tree place, the rink, the theatre, the bank –  it begins with selecting a section of the lot and then narrowing it down to a specific “lucky” row. If the instincts were right, a spot will be waiting – as Sid Vicious would say, “Pretty and vacant” – for your car to slide into like a hand in a glove.

And if the spot eludes you, the chase continues in ever widening circles to find the next best spot.

The truly fanatic “parksman” will brush aside the passengers’ counsel and sightings of potential spots, with a positive feeling that there must be one closer. There is always a mental anguish when committing to spot.  One cannot commit too early… there might be a better one available!

The parking spot hunt has many phases, guises and sensations…there is “the Chase”, “the Stalk”, “the Deception”, “the Disappointment” or joyfully, “the Quickening”. If you are very unlucky, you will suffer an anxious “mix and match”, like the “Chase and Wait” or the “Chase and Deception” or the extremely unlucky “Wait followed by Deception, followed by Disappointment”.

The basic components always include spotting, or stalking a departing patron and the commanding the entry in the soon-to-be vacant as the occupier departs – the Chase.  The frustration comes in waves as the “parkee” leads the “parker” on a wild goose chase, dodging from aisle to aisle as the “parkee” frantically tries to figure out which car is theirs.

The first test to the will is “the Psyche”.  It starts with finding the seemingly perfect spot. You turn your wheel to slip into the spot like a ship berthing at its home port, and then your brain screams, “Abort! Abort! Abort!”. The vacant spot is not so. It is “half-filled” with a motrocycle, a FIAT 500 or damn SMART Car, or a stray shopping cart blocking the spot. You were bamboozled. Goshblarnit!

Next comes the Wait, those tantrum-inducing moments as the “parkee” dillies and dallies in/around their vehicle – taking eons to unload the cart, taking the cart back to the corral, unlocking the  vehicle, sitting, adjusting the seatbelt then the rear-view mirror then  the radio, moving to applying makeup or combing the hair…blah blah blah. Aaargh! Hurry up already, I HAVE THINGS TO BUY! Baby needs a new pair of shoes.

It doesn’t get worse than that. Oh wait it does.  The dreaded Deception.…that is the culmination of the Chase, the Wait, and the complete Disappointment as the person who entered the car did it only to retrieve a wallet or a phone, or to deposit the first wave of shopping.  All you get from the experience is the unsatisfactory shake of the head or dismissive wave of the hand – but the gesture only comes after  committing to the now evaporated parking spot.  As you sit there, feeling that “fight or flight” rush, your turn signal becomes a beacon of your disappointment, your ire, and your disbelief – probably aggravated by the unheard giggles of those drivers from behind. The ones that you let by you, because you had your cross hairs on the Prize.

Loser.

So many emotions all swirled together. Parking is not simply the temporary halt of your vehicle as you pick up that Best Buy gift certificate or that standby bottle of perfume. Though it seems to get worse at Christmas, the whole parking experience can be a  simple snapshot of the worst parts of the human condition.

No Parking for DBs

Unsure of what I mean…let me describe my take on the turds that are competing for those valuable spot – in my order of ascending “douchebagginess”:

  • park far awayThe Far Parker.  This is more of a complaint as a passenger, as you ride with the person who parks in the furthest reaches of the parking lot. You know the ones – they park further away than the mall makes its employees park.  Out by the massive winter snow pile, or the yucky brown pile full of road sand and pebbles.  Usually drivers of BMWs or very shiny SUVs, free of car seats and that gummy goo that kids manage to leave in the seat cracks and windows.
  • The Close Parker. Not quite the opposite of the far parker, the Close Parker is technically correct, as the halt between the lines. But they park so close to one side of the spot that it is impossible to open the door closest to them. If you are unlucky, they will have arrived after you, and have blocked your driver side door. Your only way to exit is to enter the passenger side, straddle across your stick shift and try to limbo into your driver’s seat.
  • The Door Banger, aka the cousin of the close parker. The door banger is self-explanatory as they leave traces of their car’s DNA all over your car…complete with nice dents.
  • The Two-Space Taker.  The two-space taker has no idea where to put his car, where the lines are, or more probably just Two Spacerdoesn’t care. Their car may straddle the line, may actually stop on the line, or worse, they park diagonally across the two spots to protect their car. They try to get the security of the Far Parker achieves with none of the legwork.  Douchebags.
  • The Spot Stealer.  This is almost the douche-baggiest driver in the parking lot. As you follow proper parking lot etiquette, waiting patiently, the Stealer forgoes the wait and jumps in to your parking spot – totally devoid of any class, manners, upbringing or civility.
  • And the douche-baggiest…The Disabled Spot Violator. The blue markings and wheelchair symbol are just a guide. The Violator is just going to be a minute, or just does not give a hoot about whether the old or the infirm or the broken or the infirm are allowed access to the spot society has granted to them. Whenever you see them you just hoping to see the Traffic Warden…where are they when you need them.

Violator

I am glad that the Christmas rush is over. The crowds have dispersed and the population does not have the crazed retail fervour, that Post-Apocalyptic Yuletide Zombie look. Parking spots abound. The frenzy has ended.

But The Chase is never over.  Somewhere out there on my next jaunt, awaits the White Rhino ofall  parking spots. My quest continues.  I can’t wait to find it before anyone else does.

Later,

ASF

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