People talk about how scary it is to drive in Atlanta, but what about parking? As an “older” parker, I plan every outing around where I can park, how much it will cost me, and if I can possibly live through the experience. In fact, I once quit a perfectly good job because of bad parking.
I moved to Atlanta in 2005 to work for the Georgia Department of Education. The people were great, the job okay, but the parking was a word worse than ghastly, something like supercalifragilisticexpialighastlydocious. For that first year in Atlanta, I worked on the sixteenth floor of the Sloppy Floyd Building. Speaking of Sloppy Floyd, wouldn't you think, if you were the type of person who would some day, perhaps, have a building named for you, you might have, at some point, re-thought that nickname? Anyway, Sloppy's building wasn't so bad, it was the parking garage attached to it that caused me to hyperventilate on any given morning as I entered that cavernous yawn of an underground opening with key-card portals and arrows pointing every way but my way. Not only could I never find the same space, I couldn't even locate the same level, not that I really wanted to. I kept thinking there might be a place to park where I wouldn't have to walk up a set of stairs, over a bridge, and then down another set of stairs, all the while dragging my government-issued computer, just to get into the building. I did have the additional option of two elevators (one up and one down), elevators so scary the nasty stairwells seemed a better choice. And to make it even more insulting, each month, $58.42 was deducted from my pay for the honor. There was one good thing about that parking lot. If I had to go somewhere after work, somewhere requiring a somewhat different outfit, I could totally change clothes in or near my car without being seen as it was just that dark.
By the time I left Sloppy Floyd for my current love, I had access to a convenient outdoor school parking lot where I can now leave my car for free as long as I don't get to work after 6:45 am. Later arrivals at my school still get free parking but in a much less convenient lot down past the playground. Really late arrivers are known to squeal into the front drive, run in to sign in before the tardy time of 7:31, and then run back out to move their cars to that far away lot, a process still better than the one old Sloppy provided.
When I bought my Midtown condo, I made sure it had a deeded parking space, an expensive addition to an already expensive piece of property, but absolutely worth it to keep my car from being stolen on a daily basis. Speaking of stolen, I did once have a car break in, even in my somewhat safe and secluded parking lot. I was happy the thief left my teacher identification card but was appropriately insulted that my Shania Twain CD was excluded from the taker's stash.
As I said, my deeded space is certainly worth the money, but it's still problematic. Our lot is tight with each privately-owned sliver of real estate serving as a perfectly-placed piece in an intricate jigsaw puzzle of a parking lot. Because I have to leave so early to stake out my work parking spot, I'm usually the first person shimmying out of my space in a sort of automotive equivalent to those dance moves televised way back when on American Bandstand: wiggle to the right, lean to the left, back up, go forward, turn and dip, all to the easy-to-dance-to tunes of NPR's World of Opera at 5:58 in the morning.
One of my favorite things to do, now that I'm old, is to go to the movies, but parking for what should be a safe and sedate outing can be as menacing as some of the previews my friend, Allison, and I are forced to look at before our romantic comedy starts. We especially like to watch our movie at the Tara Theater, which should be named The People Who Actually Lived at Tara Theater. The median age of the typical Tara viewer is somewhere around 96, which is the reason we like it so much. Early on, I noticed, at that particular theater, they keep aluminum walkers next to the popcorn machine, something I considered unusual at the time. Now I realize how useful a good steady walker could be when trekking the three miles back to my car after a Saturday matinee.
But parking within that three mile radius surrounding the Tara Theater is still better than trying to catch a movie at Phipp's Plaza in Buckhead, as one wrong turn out of the parking lot can send you careening up Georgia 400, The Hospitality Highway, where, for a mere fifty-cent toll, you can have most thrilling ride of your life.
Nowadays, even parking situations which shouldn't be problematic are. I'm more than happy to turn over my keys to the cute valet parking boy at one of my favorite restaurants, but, when I'm ready to leave, I panic because I have no clue what I did with them. Parking at the mall causes me pain and confusion when I can't remember which Macy's door I came in, and I wander around the parking lot like, well, like an old lady, asking if anyone has seen my car.
Then there's parallel parking: I'm just not able.
I have had one good parking experience in the seven years I've lived in Atlanta. A while back, after an especially exhilarating pot-throwing lesson in Decatur, I stopped by my personal Publix at Ansley Mall to find something for dinner. My shopping visit lasted longer than expected when I couldn't decide, while in the Deli Department, whether to get the honey-glazed or the Cajun wings, the mashed potatoes or the green bean casserole. After another fifteen minutes or so whisking up and down the aisles in my clay-spattered jeans, I finally returned to my car to find that, not only had I not locked it, I'd also left the keys in the ignition with the engine running. To my great surprise, no one had stolen my car, no one had taken my very attractive work shoes from my back seat, no one was even standing around the parking lot making fun of the fool who'd left her car running and unattended in an urban setting in the new millennium.
Since then, I haven't been able to decide if my good parking karma that day was because Midtown Atlanta really is safer than people say, or if it's because I drive a Corolla, or maybe it was that Shania Twain CD languishing in my passenger seat. Just to be safe, I left it there.