Why Women Fear the Parking Structure
It’s a simple truth: If you are a woman and you are alone and you are in a parking garage, you are afraid. Some will admit it, others will not. I am one of those who admit it. We’re not cowards. It’s just that we’ve all seen one hundred too many movies (not to mention television shows and commercials) where the hero or heroine is chased, threatened, stalked, shot at, blown up or otherwise harassed in a parking garage.
Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington run for their lives in a parking garage in “The Pelican Brief.” As “The Terminator,” now-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hunted down Linda Blair in a parking garage. And on TV, Jerry Seinfeld and his pals lose their car and spend an entire day trapped in a parking garage exchanging sarcastic quips, desperately seeking a restroom and, finally, giving in to complete defeat and depression. And don’t forget Woodward and Bernstein’s “Deep Throat,” skulking around a parking garage delivering White House secrets to the then-Washington Post reporters.
But we can’t place the blame entirely on Hollywood’s shoulders. There are other reasons females grip their keychain mace tightly as they walk through a parking garage. The entertainment industry has merely tapped into a vast resource of creepy locations that never fail to provide a spooky backdrop for any devious and dangerous plotline. Has anyone ever heard a happy ending to a story that begins in a parking structure?
I will incur the disgust of every feminist alive (including myself), and be guilty of a raging generalization, by saying so, but men just don’t seem so affected by “parking structure fear.” In my mind, it all boils down to upper-body strength and single-mindedness. Males do one thing at a time: Park, lock in coordinates, gather belongings, move toward destination (a little like the aforementioned Terminator). And if anyone or anything gets in their way, they have built-in protection. They also are not so frequently hindered in their defense or flight by large shopping bags and small children.
Another admission: Sometimes it’s not just fear that drives me away from the parking structure into the parking lot. There’s also the time crunch. I can either park in the sunshine, within eyesight of my next shopping moment, or I can snake into the maze, back and forth, up and down ramps and then begin the quest for the elusive elevator. Given the choice, I stay outside, avoiding confusion and delay, and further nurturing my aversion to garages.
No criticism intended for the builders and operators of these superstructures, but parking garages are a bit daunting in general, and no individual, of either sex, should be ashamed of a little garage-o-phobia. Gray concrete walls and booming echoes, smelly stairwells and gigantic, imposing pillars, dark corners and dried gum everywhere you look. Not to mention the flickering, mind-numbing fluorescent lighting that casts eerie shadows and makes even the loveliest woman look haggard.
If the setting weren’t so frightening (and unflattering), the geography would still do us in completely. As an intelligent woman with decent map skills and a Type A attention to detail, I am still reduced to uncertainty in a parking structure. Every floor looks the same, and though I make a tremendous effort to identify my location before I leave my car, there is always the concern: What if I forget? What if, in the chaos of loading children and luggage and talking on my cellphone I do not make note of the floor and space and walk away from my car never to find it again? What if I become trapped in the stairwell with its 80-pound doors and rapidly depleting oxygen? What if that well-dressed man carrying a briefcase who’s probably some kind of executive turns out to be a ruthless killer? What if I stay two minutes too long and end up paying the day rate?
Speaking of payment, that’s often one of the worst parts of the whole experience. I never know where to put my ticket. Does it go in my purse in the hopes of future validation or am I required to leave it on the dash? Sometimes I leave it on the console or pop it in the glove compartment (also known as the safest and most easily forgotten place). But without fail, as I drive up to the agent at the booth, I am scrambling, frantically searching my vehicle and belongings for a piece of paper about the size of the ATM card I also misplace regularly.
Obviously, the industry could address some of women’s fears: better lighting, soothing paint colors, piped-in music (something upbeat and encouraging like the Beach Boys or soothing like Enya), huge numbers and arrows pointing the way like Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road. And we could all take karate lessons and stop talking on our cellphones so much.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is a writer, proofreader, mom and amateur parker in the Los Angeles area. She can be reached at