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SO SoCal

PAVED PARADISE / Park Place

November 24, 1996|Mary McNamara

It was Saturday night and my friend and I decided to go to the movies. On the Third Street Promenade (do not look away, there's more). We drove. Expecting to park. To park somewhere in, say, Santa Monica. A half-hour and three parking structures later, we tried to quell our motion sickness (and up and up and round and round and down and down) by constructing visitor-control proposals for the City Council: guest passes issued to residents based on longevity and credit history; free Calvin Klein gift bags for car-poolers and bicyclists; computer chips embedded in visitors' palms that administer low-voltage shocks after a predetermined time limit has been exceeded.

While engaged in this soothing activity, I almost passed what appeared to be a genuine full-sized, unencumbered on-the-street parking space. I stopped. Then I hesitated.

A voice told me to take the space. A very loud, sharp voice emanating from the body in the seat next to me. So I did. But I was reticent, very reticent. What was wrong with this space that it was suddenly so available? Was my car in danger of being towed, booted or smushed by a bus? Was that lamp store across the sidewalk really a crack house? Was there an anvil from the Acme Co. hanging overhead?

"Maybe we should try another garage?" I quavered.

"Are you nuts?"

I hadn't known a full-grown man's voice could crack that high. I tried to explain. That my car was too vulnerable here. That it would be safer and not so lonely with its parking garage buddies. That basically something had to be terribly wrong with this spot or I wouldn't have gotten it.

Then I saw my madness mirrored in his eyes, and I stopped speaking.

I could try to blame this on my childhood. I grew up in a rural town where there was rarely a reason to park on the street. There was really only one, Main, and even that had head-in parking. We did all of our parking in gravel driveways, the A & P lot and, on some occasions, freshly sheared fields.

But after a few years of urban living, I learned to rate street parking right up there with winning the lottery and really good French kissing. In fact, when I first moved here, I insisted on it. I would troll the side streets off Melrose or Colorado or Montana, turning a deaf ear to the exasperated exhalations, threats and bribes from my passengers as I stalked, as it were, my own personal space.

In the end, though, I gave up. Soon I was tossing my keys with jaded nonchalance to underage valet boys or choosing my destinations by virtue of parking-lot dimensions. Street parking was overrated, I rationalized. Dangerous even.

Now, as I stood bathed in the light of that providential space, I saw the slippery slope I was on--what was next? Would I soon be confined to garages with attendants and commercial centers large enough to have their own freeway exits? Would I become one of those people who have said the words, "Oh, God, not there, there's no parking," one too many times and now find themselves alone with Jerry Springer and 17 cats, shunned by friends and colleagues alike?

I slammed the car door shut and walked away, resolved. I did not look back.

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