What is more addictive than heroin? ‘Free’ parking.
My immediate answer was cigarettes, since albeit I am a marathon runner, a yoga enthusiast, have completed a couple of triathlons and teach a core fitness class weekly, I crave nicotine daily.
To my dismay, Mr. Prager said: “What is more addictive than heroin is getting things for free.” His statement made me practically fall out of my chair. So true, I thought!
My initial reaction was that that is why I am single. I give away my heart for free to people. Then I thought I adore giving it for “free” because loving my fellow human beings is unconditional and, thus, it is free, just as I am free.
Upon further reflection, after I picked my sentimental self off the floor, I concluded that Mr. Prager was talking about parking.
Parking isn’t unconditional, but it is a transaction. Parking isn’t an entitlement, but it is an earned and honored privilege. Are relationships a transaction also?
(Yes, parking is always on my mind, because I am the chick who every morning looks for parking-related tidbits for Parking Today’s social media presence on the Internet.)
The bottom line is that the statement “more addictive than heroin” is that we expect our parking to be free, and we don’t ever question why we are “forced” to pay for it. Our entitlement is what ruins us.
The other day, a friend took me to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in LA. He found it absolutely justifiable to pay $500 for the tickets. I was delighted to spend $100 on food, cook it and prepare it. Nevertheless, both of us cringed that we had to pay $20 for parking at a nearby lot. We found a cheaper place to park, but it was farther away, which meant I had to trek those extra couple blocks in my 4-inch stilettos to save $3 on our parking price.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
He didn’t write: We have a right to park our horse and carriage for free. Quite the contrary, Jefferson emphasized, more than anything, “pursuit of happiness” as our “unalienable right” for free enterprise and our ability to pursue our economic dreams without the obstacles of unnecessary regulations and heavy taxes.
Subsequently, instead of looking at paid parking as a burden, perhaps we can look at it as an opportunity? It is an opportunity for free enterprise for each and every one of us.
Before I even heard Dennis Prager talking about our “addiction to free stuff,” I decided to take one month off parking. That meant no driving, because as every Polish person like me knows: You drive, you have to park.
I thought that because I don’t drive much as it is, this wouldn’t be much of a challenge. Nevertheless, what I discovered transformed me viscerally.
For one, I realized that my identity is my car. A perfect example is going to my local Trader Joe’s after my run to buy fruit and watermelon. I am dripping with sweat while wearing only my running shorts and sports bra. The cashier always asks, do you need parking validation? I respond, no thank you. Never mind my mentioning, I ran and do I look like I drove?
OK, so I’m lucky. My one month of no driving or parking worked well in LA’s Fairfax District. I am a freelancer and rely on the Internet and phone calls to make my living. But what about entertainment? Most of the attractions, events and concerts can be distances away.
Nevertheless, what happened in LA two summers ago during so-called Carmageddon? People couldn’t get on the 405 freeway, so they stayed in their neighborhoods. They left their cars parked in their garages. They walked to local restaurants and bars. They supported local businesses and actually were able to meet their neighbors. They were entertained perhaps more than ever. Over all, not many complained that the freeway was closed.
When driving is so easy and parking is expected to be free or low- cost, perhaps we don’t consider our other options? Sometimes those options are limited.
Say I live in the Twin Cities, MN. If I were to take a bike ride from St. Paul to Minneapolis, according to Jay Gabler’s Front Row Seat blog, this is what would transpire: “Getting from Wakefield Lake in north St. Paul to the Minikahda Club in south Minneapolis is not only a cultural and economic leap, but also a geographic one, taking (per Google Maps) 30 minutes by car, 100 minutes by bike, 132 minutes by bus, and 328 minutes on foot.”
Nevertheless, if I adjust my thinking, instead of going to the gym every day, I can give myself one day a week to skip gym and instead ride my bike to work, even if it takes 100 minutes. Still, 100 minutes is a long time.
Upon further reflection of Mr. Prager’s question (“what is more addictive than heroin?”), in lieu of my one-month experience of no driving or parking, I realized I disagree with his conclusion.
I think that what is “more addictive than heroin” isn’t the stuff that we get for free. What is most addictive are the easy things – things that we don’t have to strive for or work for, or that we do automatically without being “present.” That we do mindlessly.
When we drive, we often don’t think about the distance that we cover. We don’t think that although we are paying less for our parking in a lot a few blocks away, we might be paying for that space more with our time and our feet.
What is “more addictive” is what is easiest for us – be it sitting on the couch and eating potato chips, or running 6 miles a day.
To me, my daily runs are more addictive, because after years of running, they are easy. However, when I started 20 years ago, they were excruciating, and thus, I was bitter about them.
Maybe the same goes with parking: All we have to do is look at it differently and, as a customer, demand easier parking, instead of free parking. No, Mr. Prager, we Americans don’t want things for free. We simply want them to be more convenient.
Astrid Ambroziak is a part-time trainer, writer, philosopher and guru. She lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at