People love the word free. Tax free, fat free, freedom; you put the word free in there, and we are predisposed to love it.
I’ve seen 98-pound waifs enthusiastically grabbing God-awful ugly t-shirts three sizes too large, emblazed with the name of a company they never heard of, all because they were free. I’ve seen people haul off moth-eaten stained furniture from the side of the road because its previous owners used the magic word. And I’ve eaten terrible grocery store food I wouldn’t pay a nickel for, literally digging into a dish I had no idea what it contained, all because the sample was clearly free.
Free is to humans as a bell was to Pavlov’s dog; use the word and we salivate. It was with a heavy heart, then, that I recently read in that “[i]n Bishop’s Corner, the dilapidated parking deck that stands behind Marshall’s will be removed this month in anticipation of major improvements to that shopping center.” You say dilapidated, I say charming. Not charming in the appearance sense – it is clearly an eyesore. I mean charming in the fact that it was a relic of a bygone era, advertising an extremely rare commodity in town: free parking.
I’ll miss West Hartford’s dilapidated lot when they tear it down this month. Similar to the ugly t-shirts, roadside furniture, and mystery foodstuff, free parking sucked me in like a moth to a flame. It didn’t matter that there was absolutely no reason to park there. Tired of the greedy quarter-eaters that surround the trendier parts of town, I gave up on paid parking. The Bishop's Corner parking deck, in all its ramshackle glory, was my new spot in town.
Hanging out in a parking deck was so uncool that it soon became cool. Within days it attracted my fellow Gen Xers who appreciated the generous ironic value. A few weeks in, my parking deck soirees gained a following among the artistic crowd. They mentioned something about the hangouts being a subtle statement on the blight of suburban sprawl. Lastly, the parties gained favor with the ever-growing band of recessionistas/extreme couponers looking to find cheap entertainment in the area. Together we worked out creative ideas to make the most of our surroundings.
Unbeknownst to me, there are a lot of people who like to debate the proper layout of lights, turns, number of lanes, and availability of car exits. So we had are very own Traffic Pattern Parties! As the event planner, I would stock up on subs and decorate the deck with balloons from . It was kind of like a Super Bowl party without the football. Oh, and in a decrepit parking deck.
We would discuss things like the potential danger of people turning left or right out of – directly across from , where people were also taking a left or right. Snarky party goers called this our automotive Russian roulette. People get very touchy about their traffic pattern ideas, but I loved all the enthusiasm. Sure, discussions would often be heated. Sometimes we would just agree to disagree.
While that sounds chaotic and stressful, it led us to develop a game that became the highlight of our parties. Fender Bender Bingo: Where Crash Equals Cash™. It was two parts gambling, one part schadenfreude. Unfortunately, given the deck's fate, it will soon be time to move on to other games and other locations. I can’t help but reminisce for my soon-to-be old stomping grounds.
Goodbye my run-down paved paradise, you will be missed.