Parking is Not Always a Day at the Beach


Parking is Not Always a Day at the Beach

Parking is rarely simple. Industry leaders out there would argue with me, but I’d still insist – parking is rarely simple. Lots and garages and valet. Fines, fees and tiny tickets. Shopping carts and slow pedestrians.
It’s always something. That said, I park every day and the world continues to turn, my wheels continue to spin, and all is accomplished with minimal anguish.
Until we go to the beach.
Beach towns are notoriously hard to park in. The closer you get to the water, the denser the population, and all those beach bums paying sky-high rent have to put their BMWs and ratty Volkswagens somewhere. Then come the tourists and the locals looking for a day of sunshine, sea air and eventual sunburn.
A group of family friends meets at the beach weekly each summer. The kids swim tirelessly, chase aggressive seagulls and eat sandy PB&J. The moms sit on beach chairs and attempt adult conversation in between administering sun block, counting heads and handing out sandy PB&J. It’s a beautiful day.
I didn’t go as often as I would like this past summer because my toddler naps in the afternoon and eats seaweed every time I take her to the beach. I think that’s gross. But we headed out one afternoon to join the group.
Parking is rarely simple. With the Pacific in sight, I can park for free on a residential street, pay a two-hour-limit meter at the top of the dunes or enter a small pay-and-display lot just above the snack shack. Each of these options offers a proximity to my destination that is in proportion to the cost.
Normally, I take free parking; but at the beach, if I could, I’d pay $50 an hour to drive my car right out into the tide and park there, because getting down the ramp and across the sand with two children, a beach chair, umbrella, cooler, sand toys, towels and the doll who really, really wanted to come with us, is tricky.
I chose pay-and-display. Into the lot and over the shark-teeth barrier we went and parked exactly between the stairs to the beach and a pay-and-display stand. The plan is to pay and display before unloading the children and all their gear. But this machine is broken and the next one is about 25 yards away. So we drive over.
One thing I do not take to the beach is my purse, and my swimsuit does not have pockets. So I have a plastic baggie full of quarters and nothing else. This machine does not take quarters. I drop them in and they jingle, and then fall out into the coin return – over and over.
Another parker comes by and swipes his credit card – it works. I drive over to the next machine. It takes my quarters, but won’t take another parker’s dollar bills. After further observation (information gathered from other beach-going moms), I noted one machine took only quarters, another accepted only credit cards. None would take dollar bills. Parking cost $4, and there was no attendant in the booth at the entrance.
We drove back to our desired beach-access ramp, unloaded ourselves and our kitchen sink, and met up with our friends for hours of swimming and sandcastle-making, the sandy PB&Js, including a little seaweed starter for the 1-year-old, and plenty of shop talk for me. A great day.
We had no difficulty leaving the lot, if you don’t count the burning pavement, sand-covered, exhausted children and car keys hidden at the bottom of a very large beach bag, as difficulties. We watched other parkers arrive and do the dance of the working pay stand. I was seriously tempted to give one of them my ticket and spare them the scavenger hunt.
I didn’t say parking was expensive, or inconvenient or confusing. I only said it was complicated. We spent around 15 minutes in the lot looking for a place to pay. We didn’t want to pay in the first place, so motivation was not high.
Who can say what was going on in this lot? The wet ocean air can break down even the toughest materials.
Heavy use, wind, salt and sand could all be contributing to the disrepair of these machines. I’ve heard about chaos theory and I have two children, so I know how everything slowly (or speedily) slides toward disarray.
Whether it’s man or machine, quirks are a major factor. And that’s why parking is rarely simple.

Melissa Bean Sterzick, PT’s Amateur Parker and Senior Proofreader, lives in Southern California. She can be reached at

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Melissa Bean Sterzick
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