Published in the May 25, 2011 edition of the Ventura County Star
My favorite scene from “Fried Green Tomatoes” (1991) has Evelyn (Kathy Bates) circling the Winn Dixie parking lot for what seems like forever. Finally she eyes an elderly shopper preparing to leave. As she waits patiently for his ‘56 Caddie to pull out, a couple of big-haired girls in a lipstick-red Volkswagen sneak in from the opposite direction and poach her parking place.
When Evelyn points out the lapse in etiquette as politely as a menopausal Southern belle can, they blow her off with a “Face it lady, we are younger and faster.”
The technical term, I believe, for the emotional maelstrom that subsequently engulfs Evelyn is “parking lot rage,” which manifests with Bates repeatedly ramming the VW while screeching an enigmatic battle cry.
When asked, “What are you doing?,” Evelyn smirks, “Face it girls. I’m older and have more insurance.”
We all can relate to the frustration Evelyn feels, but what can be done?
Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, reported to the New York Times that drivers in his study, who were searching for parking in a 15-block district in Los Angeles, drove an estimated 950,000 miles a year---equivalent to four trips to the moon. That’s a whole lot of $4 gasoline.
Further, exhaust emitted while prowling for parking may not seem like much but I strongly suspect its toxic chemicals may significantly intensify the irritated state in which we find ourselves while in pursuit of the parking lot pot-o-gold.
Finally, while we may resent a paucity of parking, we resent paying for it even more.
I don’t suppose you celebrated at your house, but folks in Oklahoma City recently marked the 75th anniversary of the parking meter and its inventor, Carl C. McGee.
As a newspaper publisher, McGee observed that the shortage of downtown parking seemed to equal the number of selfish proprietors leaving personal vehicles in front of other shops in order to free up spaces for their own patrons. The city legislated time limits on parking, but enforcement proved costly and inefficient.
McGee came up with a manufacturable model in 1935 and the coin-operated parking meter was subsequently adopted by cities across the fruited plain.
According to Jeff Brieley of the Oklahoma History Center, even though the device made its appearance during the depths of the Depression, customers didn’t kick up much of a fuss over a nickel an hour---the equivalent today (with inflation) of $1.
Flash forward to the city of Ventura, and, based on newspaper accounts, letters to the editor and a Ventura County Tea Party leader, you might believe that the 318 parking meters recently installed downtown are threatening to shutter dozens of Main Street enterprises.
Yet the city website claims downtown Ventura boasts more than 2,500 free public parking spaces located just down the street from the most popular shops and restaurants. The point, in addition to raising revenue for the cash-strapped city, is the same as it was in 1935 Oklahoma City---to free up as much conveniently located parking as possible. If you are determined to walk only a few steps; you pay for the privilege.
Parking lot rage, on the other hand, is like the weather. We all talk about it but nobody---save those who routinely pray to the parking gods---ever do anything about it. But this is the 21st Century, dear readers, and, it should come as no surprise---there’s an app for that.
As of April, the system in San Francisco which relies on wireless sensors buried in streets and floors of city garages, can, within seconds, tell the owner of an iPhone which one of 7,000 metered parking spaces or 12,250 spots in city garages is open for business.
Bear in mind that San Francisco is a metropolis in which all parking is paid parking and the city simply can’t create new places to park. The Transportation Department and the Federal Highway Administration is backing the $20 million SFpark project.
Los Angeles has likewise partnered with a company called Streetline---which introduced similar projects on New York’s Roosevelt Island, in Fort Worth and at the University of Maryland---to set up an SFpark-like system in West Hollywood.
Perhaps if the Kathy Bates character had owned a smart phone, she wouldn’t have been forced to take out her fury on a vulnerable vehicle. Can’t you just see a future “Fried Green Tomatoes” remake? As Evelyn speeds toward the parking spot located by her iPhone, she finds herself rear-ended by a multi-tasking teenager in a Prius. The young lady may have been inching up the aisle, old school, but she was distracted---updating her Facebook status.
Face it people, technology, no matter how hip and happening, does have its limits.