Magazine

Being ‘Country Strong’ with ‘True Grit’ While Paying for Parking?

By Astrid Ambroziak

Last weekend I ventured out to see some movies. After not going to the cinema for several months, seeing three movies in three days was a treat. “True Grit,” “Country Strong” and “Biutiful” all left a lasting impression on me. I loved spending time with my friends and then having lengthy discussions about the films we saw.
I enjoyed “Country Strong” and “Biutiful,” but one friend found both too long. I am aware that the studios “audience-test” their movies, but my friend’s comments made me think about other tests that ought to be performed.
And those would be tests of parking meters and pay stations. Some of them are quite complicated, to say the least. Do the manufacturers realize that?
These days, every major city in our country is looking to parking to cover their deficits. They want our money since it is our money that pays for parking. So why not make it easy for us to give it to them?
I am fortunate to live near The Grove shopping center, which has one of the nicest movie theaters in LA. “True Grit” was among the films showing there.
We drove to a nearby restaurant for brunch, where we parked on the street, at one of the newly installed parking meters. We found one with a two-hour limit. Using it was a piece of cake. Easy and smooth. The meter accepted coins, including dollar bills and credit cards. I ran my Visa through a clearly marked slit and, boom, paid $2 for two-hour parking.
I had a choice to lower the time and the fee with a simple pointer arrow. One didn’t need to posses any “true grit” to operate the meter. It was a smooth transaction, and I didn’t have to worry about searching my car for coins.
After the brunch we drove home, parked my car in my garage and walked to the theater. I wish all parking were as easy as the one near the restaurant. Usually this particular street is packed with cars. But because it was early morning on New Year’s Day, most likely people were still nursing their hangovers from the night before.
Second day, second movie. This time it was on a rainy Sunday at the ArcLight Hollywood to see “Country Strong.” Stadium seating. Numbered and reserved seats. A great little restaurant in the lobby of the theater, as well as another one in the same complex. Also, a wonderful gift shop with an awesome selection of art books.
ArcLight is always the first in LA to show more substantial, thinking-person type of pictures. Subsequently, the audience seems to be more sophisticated and refined. Also, with deeper pockets since the ticket prices here are among the most expensive in the city. Even for the matinee, it was $32 for two seats.
Another expense was the parking. ArcLight validates, and the validation boxes are ubiquitous. So, for a two hour-plus movie, instead of paying $7, we had to fork over only $2. Yet, paying those two dollars was a challenge, deep pockets or not.
The signs clearly said to pay at the walk-up stations because paying on exit wasn’t available. Nevertheless, on the main floor there were only two such pay stations. And only one of them took cash. Not bills but only coins. Both pay stations had long lines. I chose to pay at the cash-only station since the line seemed shorter.
However, I didn’t realize that dollar bills didn’t work at this pay station. I felt anxious blocking the flow of the line. With other people waiting behind me, I tried to figure out where to slide in dollar bills. Instructions were non-existent. It took a while for me to realize that it was a coins-only machine. After an extremely long five minutes, I finally gave up as did the other theater patrons. I chose to pay on exit, sign or no sign.
Here again, the instructions were not clear, but at least an attendant was at the booth. Nowhere did it say that cash was accepted. A credit card transaction was lengthy because it did require an old-fashioned signature. I felt I had to be truly “country strong” not to get overwhelmed by slowing down the flow of the exit traffic. Even at a Whole Foods grocery, I never have to sign for a purchase under $20. Here my autograph was a necessity.
On the third day, a clear Monday, my friend and I saw the Spanish-language film “Biutiful.” This time at the AMC theater at Westfield Century City shopping mall. I hadn’t been there for a couple years. The mall has been completely transformed. With myriad new upscale shops and restaurants. Similar theater setup to the one at ArcLight. Reserved stadium seating.
The pleasant difference was the price of the tickets – $11 apiece versus $16 a seat. AMC theaters also validate parking. The first two hours are free with validation. Validation boxes were as easy to find as the day before in Hollywood.
Since the film was almost three hours long, we had to pay the difference. In this case, an extra $2. It was easy to do so, what with myriad pay stations on every level of the parking garage conveniently placed around the corners from the entrances to the escalators.
Also the pay stations had great and easy instructions. They accepted paper bills, coins and credit cards. Although another couple of people behind me were waiting to pay, I didn’t feel intimidated or hurried because the transaction was self explanatory.
Yes, paying for parking at the Century City mall was smooth and just as the title of the film we saw, “Biutiful.”
Besides those three parking adventures, I also parked in one of the city garages in Santa Monica and at pay-by-space on-street parking on Larchmont in Hancock Park.
The former announced that its pay stations were located on the second floor of the structure, but I wasn’t able to find them. Since Santa Monica offers two-hour free parking, and I was within that limit, finding a pay station wasn’t necessary.
The pay-by-space system in Larchmont was pretty easy to use. The pay stations have simple directions. They accept coins, bills and credit cards. The spaces are marked by three-digit numbers that are easy to remember.
I realize that be it cities or private parking garages, they all want our money. They want us to be diligent about our paying for parking privileges. Just as the movie studios want us to pay and see their movies.
The latter conduct test screenings, and if the audience doesn’t respond well, the studios make the necessary corrections so more of us see those movies and they make their profits.
Why can’t parking companies conduct similar tests on their meters and various pay stations? Why don’t they ask us, the customers, which machines are the simplest, the easiest for us to use? We more easily give them our money. Especially when we can use credit cards or smart phones.
Paying for parking ought not to have us display our “true grit” nor have us become “country strong.” We should be able to part with our money in the easiest manner, without spending eons reading very complex (pay station) instructions. It all should be simply “biutiful.”
Astrid Ambroziak is a writer, philosopher and SUV driver living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at astrid@parkingtoday.com.

Article Abstract from February, 2011




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