A Middle-Aged Woman Laughs at (and Searches for) the Elusive Parking Space
By: Mary Fran Bontempo

I’m not a good traveler.

Like many folks, I don’t like to fly. But while mild anxiety may be the norm for most, the mere idea of stepping foot on a plane sends me into a mini panic weeks before the scheduled flight. Mentally, I’m giving away my possessions and entrusting guardianship of the dog every time.

It’s not only flying. The thought of being in the middle of the ocean on a cruise ship makes me break out into a sweat. I attribute this to a viewing of the original Titanic movie when I was a young child, further underscored by watching people bounce off the up-ended boat in the Leonardo DiCaprio version. Even Leo couldn’t tempt me to walk up a cruise ship gang plank.

Yet the fear of being on the move goes even deeper. Whenever I’m driving, regardless of whether it’s to a location new to me or a familiar haunt, I’m subject to shivers.

And it’s all about the parking space.

Given all the documented tales of road rage and maniacal drivers, you’d think the actual driving part would be what gets me. I’ll admit, navigating a four lane highway with a ten-wheeler bearing down at speeds of seventy miles per hour (Yeah, try going the speed limit on I-95) is nerve wracking. But I can handle the driving. It’s where I’m going to plant the car that sends me over the edge.

Part of this, no doubt, has to do with growing up in Philly, not only the City of Brotherly Love, but the city of lawn chairs and trash cans placed in the street by people saving parking spots in front of row homes. Move a street perched lawn chair and take your life into your hands.

Better yet, try and park in South Philadelphia, land of its own rules for just about everything. It’s a quirky, fun part of the city unless you happen to be driving and searching for a parking spot. Actually, that’s no big deal. Just double park the car, regardless of whom you may be blocking in, and go do your business. Anybody who wants to get out is just gonna hafta wait. Ya know wud I mean?

Now the city has added parking kiosks which have been fraught with problems, to take place of the old parking meters, further exacerbating Philadelphia’s horrific parking scenario. There’s no end to the mess, and if you don’t believe me, it’s all documented on A & E’s series Parking Wars, which details the travails of those working for the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and those subject to its sometimes questionable practices, a.k.a. the rest of us. (By the way, the Philly geniuses who okayed that program might want to re-think the spin. It shows Philly in all of its madness, which might be accurate, but isn’t going to go far in attracting any new business/tourist dollars.)

All of this vehicular parking trauma has impacted my cellular memory in such a way that the first thing I think of before even turning the key in my car’s ignition is, “Where am I going to dump this thing when I finally get where I’m going?” My paranoia has me Googling maps for parking destinations along with directions every time.

But then I got to thinking. This neurosis is about more than a simple parking space. This is a metaphor—for my life.

Almost daily, I race through the day, juggling all sorts of responsibilities, jobs, errands, etc. and doing my best to get everything accomplished in the 24 hours allotted. In other words, I’m no different than any other woman on the planet. (Yes, guys, it could apply to you, too, but this here is a girls’ moment.)

And all I’m really looking for? A metaphysical parking space for the whole lot of it. Somewhere I can put everything down, park it for a while and catch my breath. Funny thing is though, there always seem to be lawn chairs or trash cans in the way, making it near impossible to get off the road, even for a moment.

But every once in a while, a spot appears, in the form of a few minutes when I can take a break, read a few pages of a book, have a cup of tea, etc., and I get to put my day in park, taking a much needed respite from traveling through life. I breathe a sigh of relief, happy to just sit in the moment, before getting ready to start the car and move on, looking for the next parking space to deposit my vehicle and my baggage.

I’m sure there’s a better way to manage all of my travel/life anxiety, but I’ve yet to find it. Until I do, I’ll keep researching options for my car and parking my racing mind wherever I find an open spot. With any luck, I won’t have to move any lawn chairs.

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