With a day’s worth of time to waste before our bus left Bangkok under the blanket of night, we were left to wander about, ignoring the insistent invit...
Two Days Before Christmas, A Parking Lot
January 3, 2014
The day after driving home to Grass Valley, a six-hour trip up the esophagus of California, I found myself compelled into my adopted hometown during the early afternoon. I had never, in fact, lived in this town nor this region, but my parents had moved up following retirement and the town had been earnest enough in it’s charm that I accepted it like a third stepparent, which personified would probably resemble an earthy ex-rocker still harboring a light drug problem.
Upon counting the gifts I had already received from my fellows of wage it was made abundantly clear that I had been Scroogey with my funds. I was no longer exempt from buying Christmas presents. As a twenty-six year old man with a steady income, I had an obligation to participate in the annual stimulus package of joy. So, with a shameful begrudge, I slid my keys off my parents’ refinished kitchen counter and trudged to my clean car with brand new tires, replaced, while I slept, by my doting dad.
My Christmas spirit began to wane during my third lap around the town Main Street. Sludge traffic can be a potent anti-joy, as it were, and the infinite lack of street parking was beginning to feel like staring directly into the eye of Sauron, which, I’m told, is less encouraged than staring directly into the sun. From time to time, I would see a parking lot and venture within, only to be frightened away by resident spot seekers and their inching attitudes. As infectious as it is, Christmas spirit has an intimidating competitiveness to it, never as evident as when waiting in line for a parking spot in the waning hours of our holy purchase deadline. It tends to feel as if we’re all waging for the same gift in each other’s minds.
Back out in the queue on the street, I decided to broaden my orbit around Main Street, grazing up into the residential areas of town. My luck persisted and upon glancing at the clock, I understood my search for parking had passed forty-five minutes. I hit the gas very quickly, and angrily pulled up to a stop sign, then crawled sheepishly out and down a hill.
Riding back into the commerce sector, I lucked upon something quite promising: not a spot, not even a Walker – someone returning to their car – but to my left suddenly sat an empty, full parking lot. This was a territory where I alone could claim the first available spot; I felt like the mormons arriving to manifest desintiny in Utah praries. Yanking my turn signal down, I pushed through oncoming traffic and into the promising land.
It took approximately two minutes of circling for a young family to appear. The parents resembled a classic sitcom pairing, the wife lithely attractive and the husband shlubly pleasant, along with a daughter who resembled the mother and a baby that resembled the father—although, in all fairness, it's very hard to tell with babies, especially from a distance. Confident that I would finally find my spot, I leaned back in the driver’s seat and wedged my body taught against the foot brake, a hold position used on horses and cars alike, dating back to Moses and the Old Testament.
The family returned to their Infinity SUV, new and sky blue, and they began opening doors. And then, they stood around. The daughter circled the vehicle while their mother appeared to rearrange luggage in the trunk. She would take clothes from one bag, re-fold it, and place them back in the same bag. The father, meanwhile, changed his clothes, unable to decide on the appropriate layers. The baby stared at me from its stroller. I stared back at the unattractive little thing, resolute that I wasn’t breaking any laws by stalking. It was a parking issue after all.
Untold minutes went by before an old woman crossed my gaze, drawing my attention. A wrinkled snow bunny in prescription sunglasses, she waddled her way to a car, just one off from the family, and climbed inside. My car’s aim now claimed two potential spots, awarding me some insurance for my time. Rest assured, my parking journey was certainly it’s close.
Another ten minutes went by, and nothing had changed. Nothing made sense. The father picked at a stain on a shirt he held up. The mother folded something I could have sworn had been folded before. The baby continued to stare and the girl lapped the SUV once again. Stillness only rang from the 90s Cadillac that belonged to the elderly snow bunny.
A man with glasses—a creeper if ever there was—appeared at my window, startling me and causing my car to lurch a foot. I lowered my window politely for him. “Can you move your car forward? She’s trying to leave.” I turned to my right to find a woman with her reverse lights on, waiting on me. The creeper’s car sat some yards behind mine, prepped for entry. Wordless, I obliged. Not a wave of Christmas cheer from either of them. The parking lot had become bustling amidst my daze, seemingly passing me by. I crept closer to my two spots with rising desperation. I didn’t understand how two birds in a bush were worth less than one bird in some other bush, at some other location, perhaps right next to me. The hypotheticals hurt my head. I was beginning to worry the old snow bunny had died.
Then, when all hope seemed lost, the family began closing their car doors. The children were strapped inside the backseat and the mother zipped up their luggage. I wondered then if they were actually homeless, having spent what little money they had on a nice SUV. I felt sad at the prospect, since it was Christmas, and suffering is especially not fun this time of year.
The father finally settled on an outfit, which happened to be shirtless, and climbed into the driver’s seat. He strapped the belt across his naked belly and put it in reverse. A large dirty truck carrying a large dirty redneck crept up next to me all of a sudden, and I couldn’t help but slump. It didn’t seem fair, initially believing that this frightening individual could just appear and take what was so clearly mine. Alas, I knew it to be forthcoming.
Much to my chagrin, the feasible meth head instead demurred and waved me through as the family vacated, smiling as they did back in Bethlehem, without proper dental care. The Christmas spirit was palpable once more as I turned off my car and climbed out into the mountain air. I made sure to see to the o past the old snow bunny on my way to the shops. She chatted softly on the phone to someone or no one. Joy to the world, I thought, and continued on.