When my insomniac father was alive, he’d peer out the front window in the wee hours of the morning, monitoring activity on the court. On more than one occasion, some teenaged couple looking for a little snogging time was startled by him rapping on their window, asking if they needed any help. Pretty effective birth control, my dad.
You’ve always been able to do whatever you want to – legally – inside your own car; the problem has always been where that car is parked when you do it.
If you live outside the congestion of a city centre, you can pick and choose where you leave your ride, and usually not have to pay for the privilege. Venture into any part of this country where rents are high and land is scarce, and it becomes a different story.
My favourite lot in downtown Toronto (she said, sarcastically) features a lumpy corner of pavement hard up against a towering brick wall. Cars parked there look like an angry giant tipped over a board game, and if you slow as you cruise by, the attendant will happily wave you in to direct you to a “spot”. There is no spot. There is a space as wide as a mail slot, and if you manage to get in, the only way you’re going to get out is through your sunroof.
And yet, it’s always full because people are desperate. That beastly real estate turns into a thing of beauty at 8 a.m., Monday to Friday.
A 2006 Pennsylvania study noted that people consider their parking spot just that: their parking spot. People are territorial by nature, and apparently they are more possessive when someone is lurking. Fastest leave time? When nobody was waiting. Slowest? When someone idling nearby honked. They noted that men would depart sooner if a higher status car showed up. I think that is rather darling, like a deeply encoded law of the jungle.
I’ve been on both ends of this behaviour. I’ve felt guilty for not being able to find my keys fast enough, but once a waitee is pulling up close enough to kiss my bumper, I stop feeling so badly. Flip side, I’ve waited patiently for someone I figure is all set to go on their way, only to watch them light a cigarette, check their hair, fiddle with the radio, and read War and Peace.
Researchers weren’t surprised by this behaviour; they’d done an earlier, similar study on phone booths. The New York Times is happy to report that we have basically succeeded in combining these two studies into the Worst of Both Worlds.
Forget radios and lipstick. Now we have phones and computers. Driver rage in congested areas is being ratcheted up further by people returning to their parked car ... and turning it into their office. Texting, e-mailing, calling and Facebooking are the new delays. Some people simply reported that they’d paid for the space, and it was theirs.
This is obviously true, but it flies in the face of the time-honoured process of stumbling upon a parked car with a driver behind the wheel. You’d snap on your indicator and keep a nervous eye on your rear-view mirror to see how long you’d be able to wait them out; surely just a minute or two.
The very fact that people change their actions enough to measure puts the boots to the idea that they’re doing it innocently. Passive aggressiveness is to human behaviour what puns are to humour: sometimes you can bear it, other times it just makes you want to punch someone.
Parked texters note that with laws preventing texting while driving, it is far better to do your work while stationary. This is true, and making calls from the privacy of a car is a welcome relief from those who believe making a Very Obnoxious Call from their cell in a restaurant makes them look important.
But I sigh at the idea of one more thing to make drivers even angrier. If the car was empty, we’d sail on by. Some people stubbornly refuse to make eye contact, believing, like my dumb cat that if they can’t see us, we can’t see them. Probably be easier to just signal “two minutes” or something, no?
Better yet, maybe I’ll buy an old shredder truck. Now, that I can park anywhere, it seems.