The Lure of the Lot
Melissa will be speaking on her favorite subject, amateur parking, at the Parking Industry Exhibition at the end of March in Chicago.
There is something very alluring about an empty parking lot. A lot that is full or even half full is just another unremarkable landscape, like a freeway or a doctor’s office waiting room. You’re only there because you have to be, not because there’s anything worthwhile to see or do. Occupied parking lots are just an unavoidable part of the journey – never the destination. But an empty parking lot is a different matter. Empty parking lots are like a blank canvas – anything you want them to be.
I have had some exciting, exhilarating, interesting and sweet moments in empty parking lots. I’m not talking hanky-panky, either, although I hear that happens. All innuendo aside, I have done things in empty parking lots life that I will never forget.
As children, I and my friends and siblings commandeered the nearby lot of a church, really in use only on Sundays (obviously), for games of hopscotch, jacks, daring and dangerous bicycle stunts, and general loitering. That’s where I learned to roller skate and where I learned I was not good at wheelies. And that’s where the neighborhood boys learned, during a risky, but ultimately fortuitous skateboard jumping contest, that Evil Knievel must have known something they didn’t.
The parking lot was surrounded on two sides by bushes (one a very prolific pomegranate), one side by the church itself and the fourth side by a small cemetery. We had the setting for our own Olympics, haunted hide and seek, and “look, no hands” bike parades every day. The freedom I felt at play there was something I have never experienced as an adult. No responsibility, no limitations – other than sunset – and an ability to be wholly absorbed by my imagination. It was great.
I graduated from high school in 1990 – I’m not old enough yet to feel I have to be secretive about that – and I know for a fact the high schoolers in my hometown still congregate in the same parking lot outside the local Pizza Hut after football games. It was emptier then in a strip mall next to a grocery store that actually closed but is now open 24 hours a day. We’d fill the Pizza Hut and then spill outside for flirting and fashion show.
That’s where I once became trapped in a friend’s old Mustang when my seatbelt broke while I was strapped in it. I managed to slide out (all 100 pounds of me), but there were a few moments there when the fire department was nearly called. It seems a rite of passage for any teenager to spend some time hanging around a place that’s dark, totally parent-free and inherently harmless. Of course, there was trouble to make, but I was usually home by that time.
My very religious private college offered little excitement on weekends, so we found our own, albeit wholesome, outlets. We scouted far and wide for a parking lot that was empty and unobserved, but lighted, after dark, and held raucous midnight kickball games. The crisp night air, the thrill of competition, the novelty of trespassing, and a few gravel-torn knees were our reward.
My other and favorite college parking lot memory was a late-night polka that still seems like some strange dream.
We were two silly freshmen on a first (and last) date. Neither one of us had a car so we walked, where, I can’t recall. Conversation lagged as we reached the edge of a campus parking lot, and my date (showing off the experience of one semester of ballroom dance) put his arm around my waist, grabbed my hand and we began to spin as fast as we could.
When we reached the other side of the lot, we stopped abruptly, breathless and gleeful. A few minutes later we arrived at our dorm and said goodnight. Who knows why we didn’t go out again? Maybe it was the polka dancing. There’s no living up to (or down) a polka like that.
I started reminiscing about my life in parking lot moments a few weekends ago when I took my 4-year-old out to ride her new bike. We drove to the nearest empty parking lot and turned her loose. As I watched her circle, I thought about how such an innocuous place could be the setting for such a precious memory.
From the trash, broken glass and mini liquor bottles strewn here and there, I guess people have made use of this lot for other, less reputable, less innocent purposes. But that’s for the owner to worry about. I was just there for the little girl on a tiny red beach cruiser with blue flames and training wheels who smiled like she’d learned a wonderful secret. It was great.
When Melissa Bean Sterzick isn’t “parking,” she is wife, mother and PT’s Amateur Parker. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.