‘Seinfeld’: The Parking Garage
Parking vs. Pop Culture is 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 parking ended as a positive or negative experience in the particular pop culture reference. This issue’s parking reference is taken from the “Seinfeld” TV show episode The Parking Garage, which originally aired on Oct. 30, 1991, on NBC.
Most of us have seen that hilarious “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer struggle to locate their vehicle in a large shopping mall parking garage. Many of us have had such an experience.
“Seinfeld” – nine seasons, 61 awards, 121 nominations. Top ranks among its TV contemporaries. Characters seared onto our cultural consciousness and catch phrases grafted into our vernacular … “yada, yada, yada.”
“Seinfeld” raises its arms as the undisputed heavyweight champion of television sitcoms of the last 20 years. No pithy topic could stand against the wit and humor of its cast of everyday people with everyday problems – even if those problems were found wanting when compared with more national and global matters.
Still, when we can’t find our car in a multilevel parking garage, is our mind filled with concerns for the national debt, terrorism or bipartisanship? No, we want to find our car. Everything else is secondary and tertiary.
And so, Seinfeld and his band of two brothers and one sister strike a resonate chord with our experiences and leave an indelible mark on our memories – because who hasn’t wandered about a parking garage looking for their car, all while talking to themselves, reassuring themselves that they parked the car right … here! No, here!
Kramer promises the gang that his photographic memory will recall their parking spot. But he forgets its number, and a hilarious debacle ensues, aggravated by each character’s personal crises:
Jerry’s (Jerry Seinfeld), a full bladder; Elaine’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a plastic bag of live goldfish; Kramer’s (Michael Richards), a newly bought window air-conditioning unit; George’s (Jason Alexander), being late for his parents’ anniversary party.
At the end of an arduous day, they find Kramer’s car, only to have their resolve stripped down further – the car won’t start.
“The Dimensions of Parking,” from the National Parking Association and the Urban Land Institute, dedicates an entire chapter to the concept of “wayfinding,” which refers to the process of reaching a destination.
“Patrons making their way through a parking garage create cognitive maps, and draw on the information in those maps in order to make and execute decisions about where to go and what to do next.”
Clearly, the designers of the parking garage that inspired Larry David to write this episode must have forgotten to read that chapter.
Due to a creative and innovative system of wayfinding at a Children’s Hospital Boston garage, co-author Mouw says his 1-year-old son was able to remind him what floor they had parked on. “Deer, deer, deer,” his son shouted as they approached the parking garage elevators. Each level is named after an animal and littered with images of that animal precisely to help customers remember what floor they parked on.
Other such examples of innovative wayfinding include the Chestnut Parking Structure in downtown Philadelphia, where each level is named after one of Ben Franklin’s “Seven Virtues”; and the a major garage in downtown Chicago, which uses musical themes and has each level named after one of the city’s professional sports teams.
Not every parking structure needs to include Franklin’s “Virtues” or names of sports teams or musical themes, but effective signage, visual anchors and color coding different levels of the garage can go a long way.
The Parking Garage episode of “Seinfeld” turned a negative experience that happens to nearly everyone into a piece of pure comedy. It turned a usually frustrating situation into a “This reminds us of the ‘Seinfeld’ show ...,” with a little laugh, which is why parking wins to take the lead 2 to 1.
Isaiah Mouw, a CAPP candidate who works for Republic Parking System, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark Botts, who attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, is a graduate student in Regent University’s MFA program. He can be reached at email@example.com.