OUR SOUTH JERSEY beach town transforms from empty to overrun during the summer. This past July 4th weekend was one of the busiest many of us had ever experienced. On these occasions, parking spaces go from a mass-produced commodity to the rarest of diamonds.
We had company for the weekend, so we had to park four cars instead of the usual three. Before the weekend, we grabbed a desirable spot in front of our house and vowed never to move it. I carefully squeezed our remaining two cars into our two rear parking spots, leaving just enough room for a third car to park perpendicular, blocking the other two cars. All weekend, we kept an eye on the street, just in case a prime spot opened up. When one did, my wife grabbed one car and tried to snag it, only to be outdone by a passing SUV. We were crushed.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe how much time and energy we spent worrying about parking—and how much pride we felt over successfully managing the parking situation. But then I think about how I stocked up at the beginning of the pandemic, including buying cases of paper goods, hundreds of coffee K-Cups and freezers full of meat. Clearly, perceived scarcity creates economic stress—and decision-making often suffers when we feel stressed.
Was my reaction appropriate? Maybe organizing our weekend parking didn’t require a plan comparable to the Apollo program. It’s worth examining our behavior in such situations, especially those that are of so little consequence.
That brings me to a second question. Was our perception of the scarcity accurate? There were shortages of some important items at the beginning of pandemic and it is indeed tough to park in our beach town on summer weekends. But was it as bad as I perceived?