60 Seconds of Happiness: ‘Us and Them’ in Parking
By Astrid Ambroziak
Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently said, “For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.” That makes me wonder why the simplest things in life are the hardest to practice.
Nowhere is this challenge with simplicity more evident than in parking. And it is in parking situations that we so often give up our 60 seconds or more of happiness. It is in parking that our inner Buddhas succumb to the world of animalism, where those sunny California skies become colored with rage.
I am privileged to live in the best part of Los Angeles. It is the best because basically everything is walking distance away. The Grove, the sprawling mall with shops, restaurants, cinemas and the LA landmark old Farmer’s Market is a block away. Another block distant, we have Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and CVS. A block in another direction leads to a couple of banks, gas station, and more shops and restaurants.
Some of my neighbors refer to this area as the Soho of Los Angeles. We get that New York flavor, but in more laid-back palpability.
I love living here despite my rent doubling in the 20 years I have been here. For one, I can justify the high rent, because I don’t have to drive much and hence save
money on gas. And because I don’t drive much, I also save on parking.
The downside to living in this “build it and they will come” area is that they do come, indeed, as to the “Field of Dreams.” They come, and on daily basis, they do give up 60 seconds of happiness for every minute of anger. And they do it all usually in front of my window while fighting for free parking spaces.
Most people simply don’t want to pay for parking. Most people don’t see parking as a privilege but as a birthright. There are meters on nearby streets, but who wants to pay the bargain price of a buck per hour to park there?
The Grove and the 3rd Street Farmer’s market have a multilevel parking garage with the latest technology and the sprawling “buy something, get two hours free parking” lot. Yet, either most people want to stay longer for their visits, or for some reason they prefer parking on the residential streets where I live.
When I first moved here, in 1993, all the streets had unlimited parking, with the exception of street-sweeping days. I remember that after The Grove opened in 2002, the neighbors were collecting signatures to make our street permit only. They succeeded, and it has been permit only ever since. However, the street that my kitchen window overlooks remains an unlimited parking venue. And it is on that street that I am forced to witness the bad and the ugly of the human spirit unfolding over “this parking spot is mine.”
Who parks on this street, and why is there so much anger?
Most of the parkers, besides the visitors to The Grove, are either workers at nearby shops and restaurants, or fans of “The Price Is Right,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “American Idol” and other reality shows filmed one block away at the CBS Studios.
Yes, I forgot to mention that, for years, I could hear the roar of Bob Barker waking me up with the price of a refrigerator. The show’s new host, thankfully, isn’t an early bird. He has his game gig filmed in later hours.
Also, because the neighbors complained at the rowdiness of the queuing contestants, the lines were moved to the other side of the studio building. Subsequently, it is a blessing that I don’t hear a lady from Iowa hollering at her friend at 1 a.m. with “Move it, Berta, Bob Barker is waiting.”
Still, the daily “fight a good fight” for a parking spot goes on.
The cooks from the restaurants and the employees of Trader Joe’s queue up, especially on the street-sweeping days, when parking becomes available after 10 a.m.
I love my Trader Joe’s, and not just for its cornucopia of nuts. I love all the lovable “nuts” who work there, considering I am a nut myself. So I cheer for them to succeed in securing their parking spaces on my street. Yes, I see it as my street, which leads me to the main culprit of this parking rage, and that is “us vs. them.”
“Us vs. them,” in my opinion, is the main reason we give up 60 seconds of happiness for one minute of anger. I am right there with Emerson on all of us “transcending” our divisiveness and figuring out how to peacefully co-park in residential areas that, despite our entitlements, don’t belong just to us. I understand those of us who live here, pay high rents and have astronomical mortgages. I can see that my rent doubled in 20 years, not because I got new appliances or new carpets, but simply because this area has become hot. Yet, I and most of my neighbors like living here even more so because of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Cheesecake Factory, Pacific Theater and so on.
My ego becomes very active when I am asked at Trader Joe’s if I need parking validation; I have this privilege of being able to respond with my natural haughtiness: “No thank you, I walked.”
Most of us enjoy living on streets lined with beautiful yards, palm trees and flowers, with the convenience of a plethora of consumer options. But most of us, sadly, want to keep it all to ourselves, and we see the people who ask us if we need parking validations as enemies and trespassers. Yet, without “them,” this area wouldn’t be as fun, as convenient and as enjoyable as it is.
“Peace cannot be achieved through violence; it can be attained only through understanding,” Emerson said. That understanding is the key to preserving our 60 seconds of happiness, instead of giving them up so quickly in our divisiveness. It would be nice if there were some media campaign about civility in parking. It would be lovely if we could simply approach parking as a privilege, and not a birthright. It is our birthright to be happy. But it is our undoing of that birthright to be angry.
“Us vs. them” is the source of violence. Only second to our living-quarters time spent is the time we spend at our workplaces. The guys who keep us in groceries at Trader Joe’s “live” eight hours or more of their day in that store. “The Price Is Right” contestants spend their hard-earned bucks at the local restaurants and shops, so that we who live here can enjoy our ego trips with, “No thank you, I don’t need parking validation. I live in this area, so I walked.”
And all of the people who live, work or visit this neighborhood, deep down truly are wonderful beings. They are one of us. My Buddhist mentor says: “many of bodies and one in mind.” Here lies the recipe for not giving up our 60 seconds of happiness for one minute of anger.
Yes, the residential parking permits are useful. But what is more useful and productive and what creates value is seeing that we all coexist together in our parking and in our walks. So, as Gandhi said, if we want to see the change in the world – including eradicating our parking rage – we simply have “to be the change we want to see.”
Changing our attitudes takes only one second and doesn’t require permits.
Astrid Ambroziak is a writer, philosopher and SUV driver living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article Abstract from April, 2014