Yoda in a Parking Lot
‘In the beginning was the Word ...’
By Astrid Ambroziak
“And you, young lady, are our 18-millionth customer today,” said the parking attendant, while taking my $20 bill and giving me back $10 in change.
“I am?” I asked gleefully.
“You surely are,” the
“Well, then, I am very lucky, and it is so only because I have Jesus in my heart.”
The attendant looked at me with a surprise and remarked, “That’s why you are so full of light.” That conversation lasted about 10 minutes.
I would be the last vehicle admitted to his garage on that day, so I wasn’t holding up traffic. Nevertheless, it was a busy day at the USC campus in LA. It was the weekend of the 2013 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
With the bombing at the Boston Marathon just a few days earlier, security was out in full force. Subsequently, just getting onto the campus was challenging.
I was meeting my little friend, Emily, and her mother. I didn’t want to be late. To make sure I wouldn’t be, the parking attendant – Jim, by name – not only pointed the way to the garage. He basically escorted me to the structure.
It all started with one word and one smile. My parking experience set the tone for the beauty and delight of that Saturday. My Saturday in the park with Emily.
That parking experience and meeting Jim made me think about portals, the first step and that first word that begins everything.
For me, “parking” more often than not is that first word. It often is that first step and that doorway to any situation of the day.
I might have an exciting “pitch” meeting at a movie studio. I might be attending church or going to dinner with my friends. I might be running errands, doing my banking and picking up my dry cleaning. Or after a long day, I might rush to a local Trader Joe’s to pick up groceries for that night’s dinner.
In all these situations, if I drive, the entryway is always parking.
The tone of my meeting can be easily dictated by the nature of my experience with parking my truck. My dinner, regardless how delicious, can be easily ruined by a grumpy parking attendant or a broken meter.
That half an hour I spend cruising for an on-street parking spot can make the potential “date prince” turn back into a frog. It would have to take finding a pair of Manolo Blahniks at a 70%-off sale to even lightly diminish any anxiety caused by my challenges with parking.
Lately, a concept that’s getting attention is “somatization,”
suffering from various physical and psychological ailments without any organic causes.
Our mental health as a nation is deteriorating. We worry about guns and weapons rightfully so, yet we are not keen on addressing our discontent, stress and frustrations. We have to be civil and cordial, so we suppress a lot of our feelings and emotions.
We LOL a ton in our technology based communi-cation. Hopefully, we do have some interpersonal communications left, and in those, we do laugh out loud, often expressing it via our faces and our bellies, instead of an acronym. Yes, laughter is a great abs toner.
Nevertheless, regardless of all the iPhones and tablets at play, we are still rather primitive stick-and-carrot creatures. Our brains are Velcro to those painful sticks, while they are Teflon to these sweet carrots. If we survive the stick, we can always get another carrot.
Subsequently, we control our angst and our anger. Except at some point, our soma explodes. More often than not, it detonates when we park our vehicles or deal with parking.
We expect the parking signs to be clear, which is understandable especially when we are the paying customers. But I spend many minutes trying to decipher a basic two-hour parking sign or an hour parking meter.
I often stand in front of a parking pay machine in a complete paralysis of helplessness. The idea of paying for a meter by phone is as foreign to me as engagement in a voodoo ritual.
We have all searched for that perfect, most nearby parking spot in our grocery store lot, even as we spend hundreds of dollars on our monthly gym memberships or our running shoes.
The bottom line is that we want to park as close as possible, and we want to park either for free or at minimum cost.
I can easily justify spending $700 on a pair of shoes, but I am indignant when I have to pay $5 in parking fees to get those shoes.
I can nourish my soul by listening to Gustavo Dudamel conducting the LA Philharmonic at $200 a seat, but I don’t understand why the parking attendant at Walt Disney Concert Hall charges me $20.
I don’t comprehend it all, because I don’t understand parking and see it as my birthright. I ought to take advice from Dale Carnegie to see the whys and wherefores of parking and the people who provide this indispensable service. “By becoming interested in the cause,” he said, “we are less likely to dislike the effect.”
I am guilty, like most of us, of ignoring that first word, parking, that starts it all. I choose to be oblivious to that entryway. I forget that the portals to almost every daily situation open up through parking. Most of all, I forget that in this day of somatization, anger, violence and entitlement, it all starts with me.
It all starts with my word. If I want the world to smile at me, I must begin smiling at the world. I can choose to walk an extra block or two, while being grateful for the privilege of being able to move my body. I can practice patience and at least take health-benefiting deep breaths while deciphering a parking sign.
It all starts with that first word and that first gesture. It all starts with me. It is said that if I change how I look at the world, the world changes. In this case, one little word at the USC garage changed how I look at parking.
Parking isn’t an entitlement. Parking is a privilege.
I hope that all parking professionals are as nice as Jim and cordial to every person with whom they cross paths. Nevertheless, I can’t concern myself with how they approach the customer.
All I know is that if I respect another person who provides me a service, and if I am lucky enough to be the 18-millionth customer, I just might meet Jesus, Krishna, Buddha or Yoda in a parking lot.
Astrid Ambroziak is a writer, philosopher and SUV driver
living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at
Article Abstract from June, 2013