Park Place

Richard Connor, 3:04 am ET

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?

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11 months ago

We were in Florida on the 4th for a national meet. I’d rented a small car but got upsized to an SUV (car rental companies can do that.) Apparently everyone not in South Jersey was in Daytona Beach for the holiday, as the parking lot at our beachfront motel was completely full. The clerk kindly suggested that if we turned this way and that, we might find a space in a wee corner. Sure enough it was there. It took the three kids, and a couple of bystanders, to help me navigate and squeeze that SUV into the spot. I spent the rest of the week trying to time my entrances and exits to the lot to guest checkouts and availability of spots. A few times the kids had to walk a half mile to practices and events in mixed weather because I couldn’t give up my spot and risk nothing later in the day.

Some motel guests were incensed and wanted the front desk to take various actions, none within the clerks’ capabilities and reason (dematerialize a few cars, maybe?) After watching one guest blow up I decided to “grin and bear it” and try to make the most of the week. We’d been in locked-down California for 15 months and spending a week safely outdoors with limited masking indoors, was worth the trouble (Everyone Covid-tested on our return, all negative.) Plus, the national meet had been cancelled in 2020 and we were grateful to have a meet this year, knowing how likely the nation and world are not yet out of the pandemic, between local/regional surges in the US rather than a true end.

“Thrill of victory” for every SUV-sized space I found, and the “agony of defeat” when I had to pay the daily rate twice one day for the municipal car park a half mile away which had no in/out privileges. I imagine the City of Daytona Beach makes its budget numbers on summer parking fees!

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