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The Amateur Parker

Itís Elementary

February, 2015

Melissa Bean Sterzick

I come from a long line of people-watchers. Sometimes we watch people and see their ridiculousness or their fancy purse, sometimes we see their worries or the toilet paper stuck to their shoe. We are often critical, but can be compassionate when called for. It’s a time-consuming hobby, because, you know, people are everywhere, and they’re always doing strange things.

My children’s school is an extravaganza of people-watching. Because we are all just parents trying to get through the day, I usually refrain from judgment. There are a few scenarios, though, where I have to call it like it is: People can be crazy.

Our elementary school was designed with the assumption that most of the children would walk to school, so parking is minimal, and there is no drop-off lane. About 40 years ago, another elementary school nearby was demolished due to low enrollment, and now children from that neighborhood attend our school. They live a little too far away and are in the path of too many high-traffic streets for the children to walk, so their parents drive them. Many of the parents who live close enough to walk also drive their children to school, because who walks anywhere anymore?

Traffic around the school gets tight, and we have more than our fair share of drama over it. One parent, busy watching, judging and policing the activities of other parents, and another parent, busy thinking he was important enough to justify parking illegally in an empty handicapped space in front of the school, engaged in a scream fest that incorporated, without regard to the innocent ears of children all around, profanity and threats of physical violence.

Quotes from the exchange include: “I am the parking czar!” And “I’ve never hit a woman, but I’m thinking about it!”

The principal was called from her desk to break up the confrontation, and Ms. Parking Czar and Mr. Self-Important went their separate ways. Not long after, Mr. Self-Important obtained a handicapped parking placard and uses it to park in that very spot every day after school. Ms. Parking Czar didn’t push the issue.

Mr. Self-Important has competition for that space from the legitimately handicapped and from Ms. World’s-Worst-Daycare-Provider. I don’t think she’s handicapped, but she needs a good parking spot because she leaves three preschoolers in her van, while she picks up a handful of elementary kids, and that can be challenging when you have to talk on your cellphone the entire time.

Our school leadership has put in place several measures to improve traffic flow, some good and some bad. A valet station gives you the option to pull up to the curb where a parent volunteer opens your door, lets out your children and waves you on your merry way, unless you make the mistake of trying to turn left after the handoff, because then they yell at you very loud and you feel rotten.

Overall, it’s quite helpful. This year, the parking posse has gone after the reckless parents who cross outside of cross walks and drop off their children in red zones by posting signs and laying cones around the perimeter of the school. Anybody caught ignoring these signs gets a verbal smack-down from either the paid crossing guard or the PTA’s volunteer parking bouncer.

I’ll admit I have found the alarmist and homemade nature of the signs, as well as the aggressive approach by parking staff, to be highly annoying and felt a very strong urge to jaywalk and double- park in protest.

I’m not proud of it, but if you treat me like a juvenile delinquent, I want to act like one. In reality, I’m an adult, and I think I can be trusted to drive and park safely in a school zone.

Some push the limits, but it’s where they stop and not how fast they drive that raises objections. They should be corrected, but a direct and respectful approach seems more appropriate than the manic militarized-zone approach.

Someday, my kids will move on to junior high, and I will have fewer opportunities to watch the overwhelmed parent-animal in action. For now, I entertain myself observing their clothes, their trash-filled (or perfectly tidy) cars, and their children’s behavior.

Some are quiet, some are loud, some have tattoos, some have blue hair, some wear mom jeans, some wear Prada. Some never look up from their phones, some are friendly, some look nervous.

I observe them and wonder what motivates them – is it love, power, fear, survival, kindness or self-worth? I don’t have a motive for people-watching beyond curiosity. I just like to analyze and label things – that’s why I write this column.

But I try not to stare, because I don’t want to be the crazy lady they talk about at dinner later.

Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader,

occasional writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.


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