California Forum

Kabuki dance with parking boxes

I love Sacramento.

But I don’t love everything about Sacramento, like the 20 electric blue trees on 13th and J across from the Convention Center that a “global public performance artist” painted as a tourist attraction. I wrote about those a while back. The Sacramento Tree Foundation raised $25,000 for that visual pollution with a promise that the bark would shed and the paint would disappear. Almost 18 months later, the blue trees sit like old ladies with cheap makeup caked into the cracks of their aging skin. An eyesore. Enough about blue trees and on to parking boxes.

That’s what I call them. They are those metal boxes at open parking lots on corners like 16th and J and the Amtrak station. It’s supposed to work like this: You park in an open space, walk to the box, enter your parking space number, pay and then the box spits out a ticket for your windshield. Clean and easy. Administrative. Nothing personal.

The problem is, like most relationships, it is rarely so simple. In my experience, the parking boxes need to be worked with before they perform. Like some people, these seemingly innocent, inanimate objects are fickle creatures, especially when they are cold. Most mornings at about 8 a.m. when I approach for a parking ticket, my box sits lifeless, the machine in a sleeplike state, unresponsive. I stand at my box and physically need to work it – pushing, rubbing, blowing hot air on the silver button until it warms up, wakes up and turns on.

I’m not the only one who has this unusual physical relationship with the parking box. There’s a small community of us who huddle on especially cold mornings, wondering who will be the lucky one – or talented enough one? – to “turn on” the parking box. Last week a woman watching my frustration with the sleeping beast gave me her tip: “You need to shake it a little and tilt it back and forth to wake it up.”

Really? Most of us are stressed enough about managing relationships at home, in the office, in the Costco line or on the soccer field. Do we really now need to be preoccupied with how to manage our relationship with a demanding hunk of steel in a parking lot? After all, we are the one paying it between $10 and $20 per day for an outside space in the cold. Why on top of that do we need to perform some Kabuki dance on a street corner to get the privilege of a spat-out ticket?

Why in the world would the city buy parking boxes that are placed in the cold outdoors when they need to be warm to work? I love Sacramento, but the parking boxes, like the blue trees, don’t serve us well.