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opinion | Elissa Ely

The battle for that parking space

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In order to see the movie we had driven a distance to see, the slow and meditative one about art and the thrashing out of lives and love, we needed to park. This meant circling with other spear-loaded vehicles in the parking lot.

It was a parking lot without meters; a central machine on the sidewalk printed out a ticket for the dashboard. You could buy space for 15 minutes or two hours. Time was being sold. Every driver was ready to stoop to vigilantism.

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We had already passed CVS, the theater entrance, the boutique, and the bagel store several times. This was war, undeclared but certain, fueled by the slights and bitternesses of the day as much as competitive spirit. We would never see each other again, so there was no reason to hide human nature. Under these circumstances, I have seen many vicious Boston fights break out in parking lots, sometimes not even in Boston.

The hour grew closer, the circling grew tighter. Now we were stalking strangers in a manner close to illegal, though no more illegal than the car ahead and the one tail-gaiting us.

A middle-age couple strolled out of a store. The car ahead of us backed up, the one behind us sped up. In no hurry, chatting, the couple strolled to the space directly beside us. They looked at our car briefly, and stood conferring by the driver’s door. Then the man unlocked and opened it, reached in for something, and shut it again.

Parking sadism, parking immorality. Nothing but greed: I knew what they were doing. They were going to keep their space and saunter somewhere else. I tasted a black humor and checked my watch.

But the man tapped on my window. I rolled it down —only a crack, so that rage couldn’t leak through — and he passed a slip of paper through it. “Here,” he said. “Here is some time for you.” There was an hour and 10 minutes left on his meter printout. He returned to his car and backed out of the space. We pulled into it, past the spears, and started running, so driven to see the previews we almost forgot to consider all he was offering.

Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.
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