Party on Parking Lot
During the years I’ve worked for Parking Today, I’ve amassed a lot of knowledge about parking – knowledge that would be useful at a parking symposium, but just makes me seem weird if I share it with my family or friends. I’ve also developed opinions about the parking industry that, while not set in stone, affect the way I park and perceive my own parking needs.
There’s no romanticizing parking. It’s a fact of life that is mostly inconvenient, often stressful, and at best, uneventful. But my work with this magazine has caused me to see the parking industry, and the procedures of parking, in terms of potential.
One thing I really love is seeing parking lots used in creative ways. Parking areas are huge, anonymous and culturally undefined places. They are defined by their physical boundaries, but are otherwise socially, politically, emotionally and economically amorphous. Nobody’s amygdala is firing up in a parking lot.
Millions of square miles of our country are covered by these nebular spaces where just about anything can happen. A lack of organization means anything does happen: People are shot, mugged, robbed, annoyed, irritated; they die, deliver babies, spit and litter indiscriminately, nap, raise fists, and pass time in many thoughtless ways.
But when organized, on any scale, a parking lot becomes just about anything anybody wants: a picnic, a party, a carnival, a contest, a nice day. Twice a week, my city hosts a farmer’s market in the parking lot of a large recreation area. Asphalt disappears and a panorama of white pop-up tents and colorful produce sprout in its place. A strange little man plays the steel drums, and the scents of kettle corn and abelskivers float in the air. I’d say it’s magical, but that sounds stupid, so I’ll just say I’m a total sucker for a farmer’s market.
My family once attended a chalk drawing competition in a mall parking lot. We were amazed by the artistry expressed in this medium. When I was a kid, I watched Fourth of July fireworks from a parking lot closed off to cars. You parked nearby and walked to the parking lot to find a place among thousands of people setting down blankets and lawn chairs in rows all facing the same direction.
Every May, my city celebrates our nation’s armed forces with a parade and a display of tanks and planes and transport vehicles in a huge parking lot at the mall. We walk through the lot and touch, climb in and marvel at all the military hardware.
What got me thinking about how much I like to see parking areas re-imagined was an article about people camping in a Chick-fil-A parking lot. Whenever a new one opens, the franchisee organizes a contest called First 100. It’s a 24-hour event where people camp out in the restaurant’s parking lot in order to stake their claim on a year’s worth of Chick-fil-A lunches. The first 100 to arrive who also manage to stick around for 24 hours win a free lunch once a week for 52 weeks. They bring camping gear and are assigned a place in the parking lot that they must inhabit for the duration of the promotion, minus bathroom breaks. The contest goes on whether it’s raining or snowing, and contestants can bring up to five guests to keep them company.
This is an activity I would undoubtedly never participate in, but that’s not to say I don’t approve. My kids love Chick-fil-A, and I agree to take them there occasionally, but it’s not my favorite. While I don’t mind camping, the crowds are not the draw. I really like being able to sleep, and I probably wouldn’t sacrifice a night in my bed for a year’s worth of fried chicken. The waffle fries are tempting, but sleeping in my own quiet bedroom would win out.
But for those who choose to participate, the First 100 contest is a great party with awesome prizes. At the most recent one of these events, held in Okemos, MI, 80 people braved rainy weather to win their free lunches. They passed the time helping package meals for a local food bank, played games, chowed on complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner, and hung out with restaurant staffers.
What I think is great about this contest is that the company is using a resource that they already own to engage community members. Instead of seeing the parking lot as merely a place for cars, they use it in a way that creates publicity, fun and customer loyalty.
I don’t think every parking lot is a good setting for a catered lunch or hula hoop marathon, but I can’t help hoping to see them used in ways that aren’t immediately apparent.