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The Quest for Parking: a Space Odyssey

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August 24, 1999|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For my husband, the decision to move to Glendale was sealed when we drove down Brand Boulevard and he saw: "Angled parking! Good Lord, they have angled parking."

My husband's speech does not, as a matter of course, include exclamation points or italics, so I knew something was up. Making a 90-degree turn, he slid the car into one of the aforementioned spots and was out of the car before I could say, "Uh, honey, I thought we were going to Home Depot."

To which he answered with a quizzical expression, as if I had failed to recognize the color blue, "But look at the great parking we got."

Never mind that it was nowhere near our actual destination. It was bona fide, storefront street parking, and for a man who had lived in Venice for 20 years, who had ridden herd with scofflaw beachgoers on a daily basis, that was the point. The rush. The high. An end in itself.

We could figure out someplace to actually go later.

There is nothing quite like great parking. The impossibly empty length of curb right in front of the museum or the store or the post office. The just-vacated empty spot right at the entrance to the garage. The Volvo wagon pulling away the moment you were about to throw in the towel and valet it.

The thrill of it all, pulling in, claiming your space, elation burbling in the back of your throat, as others are forced to drive on, hunched and grimacing with envy. No matter how grim or mundane the errand, really good parking illuminates the day like a fireworks finale, like a Christmas tree first lit.

Really good parking proves the existence of a benevolent participatory God, and your own superiority in the universe. Yes, luck was involved, but didn't you know instinctively to make that right turn, and wasn't it your laser-like perception that allowed you to hear the telltale thunk of the closing of the driver's-side door, to see the flicker of the reverse light?

Really good parking is part of a spiritual payback plan to benefit you. For years, you have scrupulously avoided the evils of handicapped-space stealing and illicit row extension. In lots, you have always parked exactly between the lines.

These are but a few of the things one does to accumulate good parking karma. For many, there are certain lucky streets, a muttered prayer or incantation, a preferred passenger or good-luck token. Saints and higher powers are invoked--St. Jude is an obvious choice, although I tend to call on the Blessed Mother, in the hope that she will best understand why I just don't have time for this.

Most of us have, secreted around the city, little-known, never-fail spaces--behind the copy shop, across from that dumpster, in front of the house with the red door. And dark is the day when these holy places are invaded by infidels, when in your special space is a black BMW, whose owner could have so obviously afforded to valet it anyway.

Even in the suburbs, where devolution has caused many of our species to lose their ability to parallel park, the craving for premium spots remains. Otherwise perfectly reasonable people will circle the block endlessly scanning for Doris Day parking--that space exactly in front of their destination into which they will glide effortlessly, singing a bit perhaps--oblivious to the rows of spaces, miles of spaces that lay within walking distance.

But this is merely a pathetic attempt to mimic the thrill of the hunt, which is found only in the meter-littered, red-curb-lined urban veld. Stealth, speed and intestinal fortitude--all are necessary in the endless pursuit. Hours of heat and headache and gear-grinding, brake-riding frustration.

Which makes those moments of unlooked-for grace even more miraculous. And self-satisfying.

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