Teach Us, Technology
Besides the personal milestones, I’ve made the most of the locale and visited all the major sites of interest possible. I’ve seen a few celebrities, too, but I just stare quietly and tell my friends about it later, because it’s not cool to accost such people in restaurants or grocery stores or the airport, no matter how famous they are.
The hometown I grew up in was roomy enough, but everyone knew everyone else, so it felt crowded sometimes. This, my second hometown, is tightly knit in a different way: It’s jam-packed with people.
As I said, I’ve gotten used to it, and fortunately, it gives me lots of ideas for this “Amateur Parker” column. I think I’ve faced nearly every parking scenario possible in this dense little town of mine and in the inner reaches of La-La Land. And I had a breakthrough recently in parking at a nearby pay-and-display lot.
This is no ordinary lot. I’ve driven by it hundreds of times. It’s perched above the shore on a billion-dollars’ worth of land -- prime parking with a ramp straight to the beach just next to the snack shop.
And I had never parked there in all my 13 years in this town.
Instead, I’ve counted on openings in the residential areas around the beach or used the public parking meters or just walked. I didn’t use the pay parking lot for one important reason: I couldn’t tell how much it was going to cost.
There’s a booth at the entrance to this lot, but it’s always empty, so I couldn’t pull up and ask about the rates. A sign at the entrance to this lot says, “No pass-through privileges,” so I didn’t dare drive through to check out the rates at a P&D machine.
Pay-and-display machines dot the lot, but no “display” anywhere tells me how much it costs to park there. I didn’t want to risk it. I’m all for paying a fair price, but I’m not up for mystery when it comes to parking.
In truth, I was a little put off by the P&D machines, as well. I didn’t know if they took credit cards or if they’d even work – I’ve had a few bad experiences. Plenty of times I have had a purse full of credit cards, but no quarters, and I might have tried the lot if I knew I could use a card.
So, it was the day that a friend had invited me and my children to her family’s favorite spot at the beach that found me roaming for residential parking and finding none. And there loomed the lot.
In desperation, I thought I’d just drive in and check out the rates, thinking there had to be a way to get out if the price was exorbitant. I timidly drove up to the empty kiosk, slowly rolled over those mean metal teeth at entry, and pulled in to the lot. It was mostly empty at noon on an August day.
I parked and stepped up to the P&D machine and looked it over. Still, I had no idea what the parking rate was that day, and there was nothing on the machine offering this information.
I stuck in my card and waited, thinking I could still hit cancel if they were asking $20 per hour. Then, I realized we were late, and I was ready to pay anything to get on with our day. I pushed a few more buttons and finally saw the price: $3 per day.
I started to laugh and might have even whooped a little. We’d be at the beach for who knew how long – with the snack shop right there, my kids wouldn’t starve – and I might get parking for less than $1 per hour!
I was pleased and shocked, and finished my transaction, and we went to the beach. I spent all the money I had saved on parking by buying my kids hot dogs and shakes, but it was well worth it. And I don’t think I’m ever going to park anywhere else.
It had taken only 13 years.
I do see why it’s more cost efficient to put up some P&D machines and shut down your toll booth, but a “transition” needs to happen when you go from a human-run lot to a technology-based operation.
There’s a reason that particular parking lot is usually empty: Those P&D machines worked just fine, and the procedure was simple enough, but what was lacking was information. A notice is needed – written in ink or neon or on a programmable LED scrolling sign — at the entrance that says:
“Weekday rate: $3 per day; weekend rate: $10 per day; credit cards and cash accepted; pay and display your ticket.”
People are afraid of unfamiliar technology, because they don’t have enough information or experience. It’s great stuff, once we get used to it, but that first step can be daunting.
Please assume that we the parking public know nothing. Assume we have the capabilities of monkeys or toddlers or zombies, and advise us accordingly.