I’m rarely crankier, ruder or more impatient than I am when I’m driving and parking. I’m often cranky and impatient – though I try not to be rude, ever – but something happens to me at the wheel of my car. What I do is swear under my breath, call people boneheads, and grumble when I have to wait for any length of time.
These are not behaviors I exhibit in other settings. It’s true, just ask my family. On second thought, because I don’t want perfect strangers calling my house asking about my manners and can’t guarantee my husband and children will agree with my description of my general attitude and conduct, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
We are into the busy season. It’s a whirlwind that begins, for me, the minute Halloween ends. We have five family birthdays in November, plus Thanksgiving; and two family birthdays in December, along with Christmas. It’s a marathon of fun – and work. It’s ironic the way the holiday season – a time of year devoted to the creation and expression of “good cheer” – brings out the grumpy in so many of us. The older I get, the more tired I am of buying gifts and roasting turkeys, though there are many parts of the season that I enjoy thoroughly.
If I dread anything, it’s the crowds: the crowds at the mall, the crowds on the road, and the crowds in the parking lots. It’s up to me to organize my time and simplify my expectations so the most wonderful time of the year doesn’t turn into a special kind of hell, but I think there are a few things the parking industry could do to spread good cheer.
1- Free parking. My city offers free parking at meters for the entire month of December. It makes my day every time I run errands to find a spot so quickly and easily. I don’t have to look for quarters or estimate how long I’m going to take at the grocery store, post office and Starbucks. Even if the city gave away free parking for only two weeks of December, or a week, or two days, I would still be happy to see those white plastic bags draped over the meters – those blinders that save me a whole 50 cents and a whole lot of annoyance.
2- More valet. Even if I don’t use it, valet gets a lot of other people out of my way and that’s good for all of us – saves me teaching my kids more lovely insults that go with “bonehead” like “nimrod,” “dimwit” and “eejit.” Maybe only large malls and shopping centers can afford to offer this service, but it eases congestion and gives everyone the option to circle or just get on with it and pay the $5 already. Sanity is worth a lot more than $5.
3- Beef up the signage. Real communication seems like a Christmas miracle sometimes. Two-word texts, vague one-liners on Facebook, and people who do not answer their phones or emails all make mutual understanding a fond and distant memory. I like to talk, I have questions to ask – so sue me. A few extra signs around the lot can direct people to areas of lighter use, valet, the garage, or other temporary holiday-use parking.
4- Decorate. If you have the funds, it’s a nice touch. Snowflakes are a festive and non-denominational theme that show you respect patrons of all faiths (or non-faiths). Celebrate the season without picking sides. And if you’re so inclined, go all out: Put bells on the valet staff and hand out cookies.
5- Prepare your staff for the worst. People are stressed out this time of year. You’ve got harried mothers like myself; men like my husband who don’t shop until Christmas eve and end up paying a premium for things that aren’t on anybody’s list; hard-working folk who work all week to make not enough money to buy all the things they think their kids need to be happy; and, generally, a host of individuals who feel the pressure of the holiday vortex. Lots of people are going to act out, break down and throw tantrums. And it seems they are all more likely to do it in the parking lot than anywhere else.
I often ask myself why I go to so much trouble, why do I let the holidays make me frantic. The cynic in me blames the materialism that has become inherent to the season. And it’s true, our society consumes so much more than it needs. Everyone must have a gift and it must be the perfect gift. Meals must be memorable; children must scream with joy; fun must be had at all cost. Indulgence is the name of the game.
The corner of my brain dedicated to good cheer sees this whole race to Jan. 1 as a time when we focus our laser beams on creating happiness and tradition. We want everyone to feel joyful and loved. We want it for our mom, dad, brother, sister, spouse, children, grandma, grandpa, cousin, colleague, neighbor and friend.
We want it so bad we freak out a little. It gets a bit crazy, but it’s not all bad.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader, occasional writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.