Sunday, April 21, 2013

Park Avenue

Street parking in Austin is the bane of my existence. 

The taxi is probably still
moving. Brave Katie.
Maybe it comes from spending three years in New York City, where the cabs never park so much as letting you and your bags tumble out, but I don't enjoy parking in urban environments. Austin has the added charm of having insufficient infrastructure for its recent population boom. It's a multi-step process that makes divorcing Kim Kardashian look like something fun to do on a Sunday afternoon. 

First, there's the general hassle of trying to FIND a parking spot - on top of the pedestrians/cyclists/cars-running-lights, you now have to watch for empty spots along the side of the road. This also involves a fair amount of gambling— do you park early and walk farther, content that you have a spot? Do you overshoot the destination and backtrack? Do you circle the block 18 times, only to end up marginally closer to your end destination than when you left the office? 

Once you've found that mystical, grail-like empty parking spot, you've got to make sure that your car can fit inside the microscopic gap left between the "No Parking" sign and the jerk in front of you. Obviously, it's not going to fit. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not arrive on time. Repeat step 1.  
Even Olde England had
restrictive parking rules.

You also have to somehow read the signs and their 8 pt font describing how you can't park there because it's the third Tuesday of the month, and this is the only spot left in a ten-block radius, and YOU'RE NOT GETTING IT, by golly! Repeat steps 1-2. If you find a legal, empty parking spot, good luck parallel parking while rush hour traffic gridlocks behind you.

Now that you're approximately 18 months older, embarrassingly late, and parked at a rakishly askew angle thanks to a cyclist whizzing by and a jerk in a forest green pickup riding your tail, it's time to pay. Some Austin meters take credit cards, which is great and makes you feel like you live in the 21st century. Some do not. Regardless, you will either be out of all coins except pennies, or the machine won't read your card, or something. So after finding another source of payment (probably pawning off your firstborn to some random troll), we come to a horrid dilemma. How long should you reserve this spot? 

Alternative: GARAGE/LOT
Shouldn't park between two Hummers
- for other reasons.
If all this fails, you can always pay to park in a garage or commercial lot. It's not enough that you paid for your car, and continue to buy gas and insurance. You've got to now forego approximately 1.5 Chipotle burritos so that you can QUIT using your car. And don't think that you're going to have to ignore the steps above - you're now trying to find a garage in the same zip code as your destination. It'd be a bonus if you could find a space inside that isn't sandwiched between two Hummers that are oozing out of the made-for-a-Ducati spaces. Also, please avoiding parking in the spots reserved for the sheriff/CEO/Santa/librarians/weekday guests/weekend guests/clients/friends/enemies. 

The "how much to feed the meter" question was my unfortunate choice the other night, after passing through Steps 1-4 with surprising speed. I was going to dinner with some classmates, and figured we
Mugs lie.
wouldn't be there much longer than two hours. But I'm a square (and nothing frosts my flakes quite like
a parking ticket), and so I put in extra money. 

Stupid me. I should have remembered that when eating with a large group of people, inevitably the wait staff thinks that you should all be on the same ticket, and then you have to parse out everyone's individual orders, only to come up far over or under the actual total. The waitress will disappear, and you'll spend an extra 30 minutes waiting to get your card back. My "extra" meter money wasn't enough.

As we parsed out individual orders of California rolls, my meter was coming dangerously close to 9:44. So I had a huge dilemma - did I wager that the statistical probability of the Austin PD checking parking meters on that street at that time was probably pretty low, or did I blow another dollar on parking to guarantee not having to pay a ticket later?

This is a basic insurance dilemma—and bears some similarities to a classic prisoner's dilemma. In short, it's much more likely that nothing bad will happen, and you don't need to pay anything for additional
The parking meter mascot. Your
failure is his delight. 
"insurance." (A parking meter is more properly a very short-term lease, but could also be seen as short-term insurance against a parking ticket.) If you're wrong, you pay much more in fines than adding money to the meter would have cost. So for a little peace and security, you pay money you probably didn't need to pay. This is how insurance companies (and the city of Austin) make their money. 

I went out to the meter, fed it, and made it back to the restaurant long before our cards came back. Of course, no one was checking the meters that night. But hey — now I can live to pay another meter on another day.  

I overpaid for parking in: 
Teal skinnies, black cami, sheer white blouse with black collar trim, silver rhinestone boomerang earrings, silver sphere ring, and black patent pumps. 

*A lacuna traditionally refers to a gap in music, or a gap in a language (like when you translate Yiddish into English, and you find that there's really no equivalent word for "chutzpah"). I'm stretching it here to apply to gaps mercifully left by by other cars in the line of parallel-parked autos so that we can enjoy an uninterrupted alliterative list. If you don't like it, don't use it.