Summer Parking is for the Beans


Summer Parking is for the Beans

The hot season has faded into fall in many parts of the country, but school starts after Labor Day around here, so early September is still technically summer. We had a strange summer this year, because the beach community where we live was bogged down under the marine layer for an entire month longer than usual. It wasn’t just cloudy – it was cold.
The depressing weather inspired me to spend several weeks visiting my parents, who recently moved back to my hometown, with my children. My parents are great company, terrific grandparents, and their new house has a pool. So we were happy to get away to the desert.
During these recent visits, I have been reminded of a lesson learned long ago about leaving miscellaneous items in your car when it’s parked. Two half-drunk juice boxes fermented into a nice dry red in less than 24 hours, and my car smelled pretty ripe. Also, my lotion melted to a watery consistency and will not set up again. Parking in a hot environment takes quick thinking and organization. I won’t forget again.
Something I have not forgotten are vivid memories of sweltering in the back of my family’s van. This was back in the day before rear passenger air-conditioning vents had been invented. There was an actual swamp cooler installed on the roof of the van, but it didn’t cool us off – just got us wet.
As a child, I was not terribly affected by the heat myself, probably because I had absolutely no responsibility during the summer months and lived like a nomad from one sleepover to the next. But I learned to recognize the overheated/exhausted look on my mother’s face that often preceded someone getting in serious trouble, usually one of my brothers, for some minor misbehavior.
Those 115-degree days were brutally hot, and we had a favorite joke about the van being full of “baked Beans” (see my maiden name). We thought that was hilarious, almost as hilarious as the joke about the van having lots of Beans and being full of “gas.” None of that was as funny as when the van actually backfired. You get the idea.
Many years ago, I lived in Texas. My boyfriend and I graduated from college in Utah, got married and immediately moved to the Lone Star State – not a set of adjustments I would recommend making in such a combination, if anyone wants to know. But Texas is a great place, and also the first place I found myself severely affected by the heat and therefore compelled to strategize incessantly about where to park my car to avoid having my brains cooked or backside seared.
Back then, there was a newly constructed strip mall near our home with a parking lot out front dotted by tiny saplings. These trees probably provided 3 square feet of actual shade, but I would search and circle as long as it took to park under one. I also was more than willing to walk long distances from my car to my intended destination, even in the death-defying heat, if that meant I could leave my car in a shady spot and return to find it only 150 degrees instead of 180.
There were days when the tree spots were all taken, and I’d look for a large truck or RV to park next to, carefully calculating the movement of the sun for the optimum angle of shade. Blistering heat calls for desperate parking measures.
I’d have to say Texas was hotter than the California desert where I spent my childhood, and that’s all because of that mysterious dry heat/wet heat discrepancy. In summary, dry is easier to take.
During my Texas years, I worked in Dallas, and the job came with free parking – some covered and some not. Many mornings I was motivated to dress quickly and drive dangerously to secure a parking spot under cover, because even an hour’s commute is not enough time to cool off a car that has been sitting in the July sun in Texas for nine hours.
In July, the sun’s fireballs actually reach Texas, and that’s what caused my car’s paint to peel off in little curls. There were even car dealers in Texas with covered awnings over their inventory. I thought it was just because of the softball-sized hail, but it could have been a smart tactic to sell more cars to sweaty buyers. Give them a cold soda and let them test drive this shiny new and abnormally cool car and they couldn’t resist.
There’s nothing like getting into a parked car that’s so hot your seatbelt burns a welt on your thigh. The air outside the car can be bearable, but inside your super-heated lump of metal, you actually lose your breath for a second while your lungs freak out and try to tell your brain there must be a fire or some other terrible danger lurking in this volcanic place.
Open the windows: nothing. Turn on the AC: nothing. All you can do is sweat it out. I can’t say I have enjoyed this aspect of my summer spent visiting my hometown, but the other flashbacks have been lovely, and the heat makes the pool feel even better.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is PT’s amateur parker and proofreader.
She can be reached at

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Melissa Bean Sterzick
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