Park Wars 

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Park Wars

Salt Lake City gave us a nice gift this year, with free parking downtown during the holiday shopping season. The parking meters were covered with festive green bags tied with red ribbons, with the bags bearing the words “Free Parking” and “Two Hour Limit”—a gift accompanied by an admonition, in other words. I pictured the city saying in a merry voice, “Free parking!” And then, narrowing its eyes and lowering its voice ominously, “Two-hour limit ...”

Parking in a big city is a hot commodity year-round, and Salt Lake City is no exception. Only the lucky businesses have parking lots; everyone else has to let their customers fight it out on the street. I have noticed, though, that some of the establishments that most ardently defend their parking lot real estate are the ones that don’t actually need it—a sort of Little Man’s Syndrome for businesses.

For example, I live near a hotel called Renaissance Suites, which I guess means they offer jousting. The hotel is adjacent to the Marriott Residence Inn, and the two hotels share about 60 parking spaces, including a row of 20 that are never occupied. These spaces could conveniently be used by tenants of the apartment complex that lies next to them, except that Renaissance Suites vehemently guards the spaces, ensuring they remain available for use only by their guests—guests who never materialize, apparently, since no one is parked in those spots.

If you do park there, you are in for a life of sorrow, my friend. Renaissance Suites contracts a towing company to put a boot on any vehicle parked without a permit. That they are using boots is evidence enough the hotel doesn’t actually need those spaces. If it did need them, it would have the cars towed out of the way, rather than putting boots on them, which merely forces the cars to occupy the spots even longer. Booting is a vindictive, punitive practice, one of the most evil inventions of the 20th century (up there with emoticons and karaoke).

Several blocks away, there is a place called Salt Lake Coffee Break, a hipster little establishment where the bohemian kids go to sip beverages, browse illegible underground publications and post notices for a drummer in their rock band. Coffee Break has a scant 10 parking spaces out back, plus another four that become available after 4 p.m., when the financiers in the adjacent office go home.

On the other side of Coffee Break, however, is Arby’s, with a total of 54 parking spaces. Now, you and I both know that few Arby’s have more than eight people inside at any one time. Arby’s does not need 54 parking spaces. But if you go to Salt Lake Coffee Break and park in Arby’s lot, you will be towed. Coffee Break has even put up signs, presumably at its own expense, warning its customers that the fast-food chain is serious about its “don’t park here unless you’re going to Arby’s” stance. Consequently, on any given day you can find about 40 empty spots behind Arby’s, with another lot beyond that—which allows Coffee Break patrons—jammed full.

My theory is that these businesses are self-conscious about their lack of patrons and don’t wish to concede the point. The towing companies are like a mobster’s hired goons, paid to ensure no one disrespects the boss by implying he doesn’t need so many parking spaces. What can we do, fellow citizens? Well, we can go complain to City Hall, but we’ll have to do it in under two hours.

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