LOS ANGELES—For those of you who may be unaware, I have a reserved parking space at the Farmers Market, alongside the fruit vendor and the newspaper-magazine-lottery ticket stand. There are really half a dozen spaces there, interspersed with the handicapped and the 20-minute spots, and from there it's a straight shot into the East Patio. It is not a fixed place in the conventional sense, with my name painted on it, but I assure you, there is always a space open for me on that convenient side of the market.
To make a long story longer, I was meeting some friends at the Market and had my elderly father in tow. Dad is good company, and he also comes with the added bonus of a handicapped sticker.
That interregnum between Christmas and New Year's had lulled into a weekday mode of thinking, while the Market was abuzz in full-on, week-end, fit-all-the-tourists-you-can-jam-in mode. The tourist buses were parked two abreast along the drive. The sign was out saying LOT FULL. However, a number of cars had exited and, and I followed the example of an assertive BMW and threaded around the sign.
Dad and I drove around that lot, and at one point even passed the car of the people I was meeting for lunch. They cell-phoned me to tell us that had seen us. Other shoppers came back to their cars, opened the trunk and gave that brief, desultory gesture, "It looks like I'm leaving, but no dice." A number of spaces cruelly raised our hopes, only to have them dashed as we approached and saw the snub outlines of a Mini-Cooper. The cruelest mirage of a space was provided by one moron who had hogged a whole parking space with a motorcycle!
Round and round we went, for what must have been 20 minutes, and then I saw it! Pulling into the lane that exits onto Fairfax. A silver car had its brake lights on. A little to the left, right in my area by the fruit market. A little to my right was a car—let's omit the make and model, lest automotive stereotypes raise their ugly head, needless to say, it was a pachyderm-sized car of German origin.
I eyed my space in front, seized by the conviction that IT WAS MINE, and emboldened by my dad's defeatist comment, "Maybe we had better give it up." It was mine, all mine, and I slowly started to angle in, inch by slow inch. In the meantime the car vacating the space was paralyzed until a car immediately to its rear pulled out and exited. We were at an impasse for I swear it was five minutes, waiting for the logjam to resolve as I inched in, blocking the black German SUV while leaving space for the target car to leave.
Meantime the woman in the SUV called out, "I had my signal on." (In the secret language of drivers, having your signal on means, "I've got dibs on the space.") I shrugged my shoulders, avoiding eye contact, pointed to the handicapped sticker, and yelled something apologetic, but I held my ground. This is where it could escalate and get nasty. Kids, don’t try this maneuver in the rougher parts of Beverly Hills.
I felt awful but ultimately right, considering my dad walks with a cane and needed to be close to the market, and beyond that, it was my reserved space. What this lady would never know was how two weeks earlier in this very lot, I had been in her shoes and deferred a few weeks before to a woman in a station wagon, when I saw an occupied baby chair in back. Mothers deserve a break, and perhaps sons, too, with elderly dads. Still, let's be honest: deep down I was breaking my code of gentility in the parking matters.
The logjam broke; I glided into the space I had so painstakingly staked out. Behind me I glimpsed the woman in the black SUV, accompanied by her mother, I presume. I had to walk over to them and express shame for my behavior. "I have never done anything like that," I said with a gesture to heaven. "Please, please forgive me. What can I possibly do to make this up?"
After a pause, one of the women said, "You and your dad have a good lunch."
They were wonderful people, some of the most wonderful I have met, despite my inexcusable actions. And now, I realize, being at one's rudest has the saving grace of bringing out the best in some people. Fellow jerks, take heart.
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