Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Parking: American Neuroticism

Every culture, I suppose, has its neuroticisms. Korea, for example, is probably the most neurotic area in the world. I learned much of this through The Shaved Ape Chronicles, but also from other sources. In the South, they’re obsessed with video games. A few men have died after gaming binges through which they don’t eat or sleep or practice even a primitive caveman form of hygiene. Their government estimates that over 30% of their population is addicted to video games (I can’t remember if that’s 30% of all or just the males). Some form real-life gangs to exact violent revenge on people who mess with them in online games. In the North, they believe the most bizarre claims of their government, like when Kim Jong Il played his first ever game of golf and got a hole-in-one on over half of the holes. (I’m not really sure if that qualifies as neurotic, but it’s crazy nonetheless.)

I’m not too well-versed in the insanity of other countries, aside from religious or political nuttitude that ends up killing people in places like Arabia, Ireland, East Europe, and other places.

In America, we have parking spots. But not just any parking spots. Oh, no. In America, only the best gets our attention. The best parking spots make us go crazy. The closest spot is like freakin’ nirvana, but with more beer and pizza (and without the mediocre grunge music).

My first inklings of this insanity came to me in my old job as a cart attendant at Target. I spent a lot of time in the parking lot at that job, and observed what I thought to be odd behavior. (Khorbin did the same job at the same store.)
Some people would park in the loading/unloading zone and leave the engine running, even if they were going to take a half hour or more. Regardless of what this does to your engine and your gas prices (they were around $1.50 at that time), it’s risking your car to thieves. Sure, Norfolk, Nebraska is a town of 23,000+, but it could still happen.
Some people would sit in their car and wait for someone with a close parking spot to pull out so they could take it. They would do this even if it took the other people several minutes to put their bags in the trunk and buckle the kids into their car seats.
This seemed bizarre to me even at that time. I had discovered that trying to find a good parking spot takes more time than it’s worth, especially when you have to wait for someone else to pull out (inevitably making their job more difficult in the process when you get close enough to exclude any usurpers). In addition, Winston was my pimpin’ ride and when you park far away you’re less likely to get dents. People with Corvettes know that, too, as I observed. And have you ever tried to park a 1988 Lincoln Towncar in a perpendicular spot when there’s a car on either side?

(Despite my utter disdain for the entire hip-hop/rap subculture, I must admit the coolness.)

It was clear to me that finding a close parking spot does not save time. So I assumed that it must be about walking distance, that Americans at large don’t like exercise. (HA! Puns make me chuckle.)

But then, in my senior year of undergrad, something happened to shatter any illusions of sanity in American parking practices. Here’s a pretty picture that I’m sure will win me some kind of award:

As you can see, the most coveted spot in the universe was open: the spot closest to the door. Now, maybe I could understand someone being excited to come back from buying cheap crap at Wal-Mart to find that parking spot open. But that’s not what happened. No fewer than five sophomores ran out of the dorm to their cars. At least three of them got into their cars, and two engines started. The one in the spot directly north of the open spot pulled out first and obtained the Holy Grail of parking spots. His car was no more than 15 feet closer to the building than it was before. He shut his engine off, got out, threw his fists in the air and yelled “Yes!” I smacked myself on the head in disbelief. His friends taunted him, saying that they would take the spot as soon as he went somewhere. He replied that he would avoid moving his car at all costs.

Assuming that this young man lived on the first floor of the building, rather than the second or third, and he was in the room closest to the door, he had to run a minimum of 50 feet and take 2 or 3 minutes out of his life to get a parking spot that was perhaps 15 feet closer to the door of his dorm building. Utter madness! Seeing this spectacle was nearly enough to alter my brain’s physical size and chemical makeup, giving me a nasty case of schizophrenia for which I have no genetic susceptibility, but alas, I fought these strange forces at work by sheer will.

This is not an isolated incident.

Now I live in Lincoln, home of the famous Huskers football team. Even though they’ve fallen on hard times, they’ve sold out every game for more than the past 30 years, and parking anywhere within a mile and a half of the stadium is a premium.

Now here’s the madness: people will go to the close parking spots the night before and pay the $5 or more parking fee. They then walk to wherever they’re staying overnight, whether it be home, a friend’s place, or a hotel room. Before the game starts, they walk back from that place to the stadium. And, after the game, they get the benefit of being close to the stadium and having to wait much longer for traffic. (Everyone loves to sit in traffic!) Yes, some people get picked up in another car and then dropped off at the game. But in either case, does it make any sense to park there? If you’re going to walk, just walk to the game and back to wherever you were staying. If you’re going to get dropped off, can’t they drop you off before the game and pick you up after the game?

I just get this terrible feeling, like a million voices crying out and then being silenced.

The only explanation for this behavior is that the parking spot has ceased to be a means to an end and has become the end in itself. That. Is. Neurotic.

It kind of makes me want to move to Germany, where absolutely no one is crazy or weird.


  1. Hmm, No one is weird in Germany? I think this whole thing w/parking lots might have to do w/the feelings that people have about their cars and the isolation of being in the vehicle that is a substitute for home. Case in point; Have you ever noticed how many people have really crappy houses & fancey cars. It's not parking that people are neurotic about it's their cars.

  2. As to the Germany comment, it was meant sarcastically.

    True, people are crazy about their cars. But their parking practices are in direct opposition to that, because they park in tight spots where there's more traffic, leading to a higher probability of door dings and scratches.

  3. Loving the star wars reference. Heh, that does sound insane- I don't know as many drivers in the UK, so can't say if such madness holds here.

  4. You sound like my husband who thinks I am silly for wanting him to take a few minutes to drive around the parking lot until a spot becomes free that is not in the next county. The next county is close enough for him.

    This was a very funny post.