‘Cool Hand Luke’
By Isaiah Mouw and Leighton Trent
Parking vs. Pop Culture will be a series of articles dedicated to significant parking references found in pop culture. The winner, either parking or pop culture, will be determined by whether the parking ended as a positive or negative experience in the particular pop culture reference.
This issue’s parking reference is taken from the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke.” If you’ve ever managed or been involved with an on-street parking operation, then we can almost guarantee that you have heard an angry customer threaten to pull a “‘Cool Hand Luke’ on your parking meters.”
And if you’ve managed an on-street parking operation long enough, then you have probably even had a “Cool Hand Luke” wannabe walk away with some of your parking meter heads. “Cool Hand Luke” tells the story of Luke Jackson, portrayed by the Paul Newman, who is sentenced to two years in prison for cutting the heads off parking meters one drunken night.
The prison that Luke is sent to is not your ordinary prison, but a chain gang that works day in and day out on the fields and roads. In his first couple of days in prison, Luke butts heads with the prison captain. Luke’s strange mix of apathy and stubborn-headedness frustrates the captain to no end. Meanwhile, Luke earns great respect from his fellow prisoners with his poker smarts and his methods for getting the gang’s work done early and giving them the afternoon off.
Luke escapes from the prison twice but both times is found and punished severely. On his third try, after much punishment and seeming subsequent good behavior, he escapes with a fellow inmate. They appear to have a good chance at a clean getaway but come to be surrounded inside a church, and so, deciding to surrender, Luke is shot as soon as one of the prison guards has a clear shot.
The prison captain and guards may have seen Luke as nothing more than a questioning of authority that had to be stamped out. But to the other inmates, he came to represent the fight against “the man” they felt they had against them at the moment.
Sure, Luke Jackson was drunk that night of the meter incident, but we wonder why he chose to vandalize parking meters. He had no intention of stealing the meter revenue, and there were plenty of street posts, street signs, vehicles and buildings. But Luke chose a Duncan Model 50 parking meter. Was he trying to make a statement toward the intrusion of government bureaucracy into our personal freedoms? Was he trying to “stick it to the man” that he came to represent among the fellow prisoners?
Or better yet, what we like to think, was he given a parking ticket earlier that day? Was the cool-handed Luke not so cool when he received a ticket for an expired meter while running to the grocery store to pick up some eggs that morning? Did he plan sadistic revenge by purchasing a pipe cutter to decapitate the helpless parking meters?
Of course, the only reason Luke gives is: “Small town, not much to do in the evening.” Regardless of the reason, the American Film Institute’s 100 Heroes and Villains lists “Luke Jackson” as one of the greatest heroes in American cinema.
The 30th greatest hero in American cinema was sent to prison and eventually killed due to an issue that originally involved only parking meters. The meter has drawn cursing and hatred from motorists for the last 75 years, but to be somewhat responsible for the death of one of the greatest heroes in American cinema? Pop culture wins this round, hands down.
Isaiah Mouw, who works for Republic Parking System, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Leighton Trent, who attended a Los Angeles Film Studies Center, can be reached at email@example.com.
Article Abstract from September, 2010