Magazine

If Parking Garages Could Talk

By Monica Tanksley

For a number of years, parking garages have been depicted on TV and in films as the backdrop for heinous crimes. They are portrayed as dark, ominous places where panhandlers and criminals hang out in search of their next victims. 

Parking garages appear to be gloomy, pitch-black portals luring you into unavailable parking spaces via terrible signage. They, like MRI’s, make you feel claustrophobic and desperate for escape. You cue up in the garage entrance and exit lanes, and circle for what seems to be hours on end before you find a parking space or see that “light at the end of the dark dreary tunnel.”

And heaven forbid you embark on this parking adventure during weekday peak hours, such as morning rush hour, lunchtime or the shift change in the evening – then you’re really in for a long wait! Especially when trying to exit the eerie cave. 

As you circle the garage and rise floor after floor after floor trying to find a parking space, you wonder if the seemingly low ceilings are going to scrape the roof of your car as they appear to get lower and lower the higher you climb.  You find yourself ducking inside the car, gritting your teeth and squinting your eyes just waiting to hear the concrete overhead hit your vehicle’s metal roof, like fingernails going across a chalkboard. 

But, luckily, like magic tricks, it’s all an illusion.

You try to take in the sights on your way up (or down) and notice big pillars, concrete stairwells and elevator bays that don’t seem to be in proximity to anywhere you plan on going. The walls, seem drab with an occasional wayfinding sign stating you are on level red or orange, level 2, 4 or 6, or a sign that says, “Don’t forget where you parked your car!” Yeah, that’s a funny sign, placed in the middle of a 1,200-space concrete structure.

“Well, construction people, if you’d build a parking structure that wasn’t a six-floor double-helix with a crossover to odd- or even-numbered floors, maybe I would have half a chance of finding my car!” you mumble under your breath, continuing to ascend or descend to your final destination.

Every day, parking garages across the country are accused of having swallowed someone’s vehicle in their dimly lighted abyss.  How exactly does someone lose a 3,000 pound, brightly colored metal object?  It’s quite common to misplace your keys, the TV remote, your cellphone or even your shoes, but ...

It’s interesting how people wander aimlessly up and down rows and floors of parked vehicles, dragging kids, shopping bags, disgruntled siblings and spouses with them as they look for their misplaced, seemingly lost vehicle.

They look like geese trying to gather in the V-formation to head south for a long winter’s nap - V for vehicle, of course. 

“I know I parked it right here; maybe someone stole it,” they mumble as they hunt and peck for their car. “I swear my car moved itself to a different spot from where I left it,” they continue to mumble. 

As time goes on, all the parking levels begin to look the same and seemingly morph into the same shape after a couple of circles around the “track.”  Well, at least it’s great exercise looking for a lost vehicle. You can work this into your fat-burning routine for the day and have that cookie you were worried was going to go to your hips, because you have officially run a 5K race in search of your lost 4-wheel vehicle. 

You, all of a sudden, become a “treasure hunter,” looking for that shiny object in a metal sea of color.  It makes finding Carmen Santiago a breeze by comparison. Perhaps garages should come with treasure maps, a compass and prizes for all who find their cars within a certain amount of time.

Garages also should have a clause that if you have to enlist the aid of a parking services attendant to help you find your vehicle, you lose the game, and “Do not pass go and do not collect $200!” Hope you brought a lunch, because you could be lost for days in some of these ramp garages!

Oh, if parking garages could talk, what great and funny stories they could tell! Imagine what garages have seen and heard: the people they watch come and go day after day, night after night, year after year; the famous and the not-so-famous; the gossip they’ve heard; the tears they’ve seen shed over illnesses and lost loved ones; the happiness they’ve witnessed on faces of parents of newborn babies and miraculous recoveries; and all the laughter and jokes they’ve heard that still dance deep inside their very core. 

Garages are always eager to welcome, to help, to be of service and assistance, and to be the best they can be. They are like temporary homes for a number of hours, for thousands of people coming and going with colorful pasts, presents and futures.  

They are happy to allow us to park while visiting those sick in the hospital, significant historical events, attending athletic games, special events, civic meetings, training classes, plays, concerts and more.

Although every day their floors are soiled with discarded trash, old chewing gum, lost coins, cigarette butts, and other items that their visitors no longer want, garages remain loyal, like a pet, and keep their welcoming arms and doors open every day to be of service. 

Garages live all over the world and add culture to our city streetscapes. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  Some tall, some not so tall. There are circular garages; multilevel, staggered-floor garages; helix and double-helix; and even robotic garages. 

But whether modern, contemporary, an “old hat” or going “green,” garages are always there for us, come rain and shine.  They keep us warm in the winter, cool in the summer and dry on rainy days.  Every day, all over the world, garages keep our vehicles stored, safe and ready for our departure into the “wild blue yonder” without us ever really giving them a second thought.

“Good night, old buddy, see you tomorrow,” I say each night to the parking ramp garage that has been my “friend” for the past 10 years.  As I click off the lights in my garage office and start to lock up and leave, I look back and smile at the vast, almost empty garage as another day ends, and I head to my parked car. 

As I unlock it, I swear I can hear the garage respond to me in a soft wind of a whisper: “Good night, my friend. ’Til tomorrow, when we park again.”

Monica Tanksley is Special Events Manager for Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Rochester, NY. Contact her at mgayton-tanksley@Parking.Rochester.edu.

Article Abstract from December, 2013




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