LA Moments: Parking Lot Inspirationals
I took these pictures this morning, just as two early-twenties sweet young thangs finished up a Walk of Shame into a nearby public parking lot. How do I know they were doing a Walk of Shame? Well, for one thing, they were both wearing the de rigueur Los Angeles club-hopping outfit ca. St. Patrick’s Day 2009, which is to say: HIGH FASHION jeans paired with a boob-baring blouse in kelly green (by Cynthia Vincent, Arden B., or Forever 21, depending upon the specifics of their demographic). The other key clue was that one of them said, regarding their parking ticket, that it was too bad that they could not get it validated “for yesterday.” Please note that it was 10:00 a.m., the morning after St. Patrick’s Day. And I rest my case.
But I was young once and besides, it is not my responsibility to police their behaviors. So I continued to do what I had originally set out to do, which was to document the latest in a series of signs that have been placed on the ticket machine at the parking lot adjacent to my gym. Rather than inspiring me, these signs that are rotated every month or so, have always struck me as funny. And this is not only because one of them (O! that I had taken a picture that day!) attributed a quote to “Palto,” and that it actually took me several minutes to figure out who they were talking about, after scanning my brain for references of an Italian philosopher concerned with caves and non-romantic love, and ultimately coming up dry.
I guess it would have to be the context that makes it so humorous to me, and to imagine how this practice of putting theoretically inspirational quotes at the entrances to parking garages ever got started. Who came up with the idea, and how did they pitch it? What was the ultimate goal? A parking lot, particularly in Los Angeles, is not a business where there is a great deal of consumer choice: you pretty much have to take what they give you. In fact, I remember one time driving around LA with someone from Northern California, and when we went into the Beverly Center and had to pay for parking, she was scandalized that we would have to pay for the privilege to spend our money.
I remember thinking about it for a few seconds, having never done so before because–as I say–what choice does one have, in Los Angeles? The city streets keep moving, whatever you do. You park where you can. And yeah, you pay. Sometimes, you get lucky with a validation for the first hour or two. But more often than not, you have a parking fee and and hand over your keys to a valet. That’s just the way it goes. Did the owners of these garages hope that, by providing the occasionally misspelled inspirational quotation to their patrons, people would choose their parking lot over others? I cannot imagine so. They’re pretty much the only game in town.
Still, this was an LA Moment, if ever there was one. I’m sure every city has their moments, wherein the culture and identity of that city is perfectly distilled into one single event or observation in such a way as to prompt you to say, “Only in ________.” For example, I’m sure people are always saying, “Only in Chicago,” or “Only in Tulsa,” when whatever happens that is uniquely Chicago or uniquely Tulsa. I don’t know what those things are, but I know that the difference between whatever they are is that LA Moments are more than these moments. Self-consciously more. Ostentatiously more. More with a capital M.
More is a big part of LA: more glamorous, more wealth, more pretense, more spray-tan, more shocking, more populated, more foreclosures. I have to imagine that this parking lot inspirational idea was born out of an effort to figure out how to cram more self-conscious, self-indulgent, self-improvement into the day. Because would anybody ever ask, “Palto? REALLY?” Or, would they wonder, “Who the fuck is this Rolf Smith character?” Would they take the time to learn, as I did, that he’s just a poor man’s Tony Robbins? Would they laugh at the fact that poor Rolf Smith’s quote that urges us–artfully so–to write shit down before we forget it, is placed in the same frame as a port-a-potty? And what about “So don’t think you can’t think you can?” Wait. What? What does that even mean? Is Charles Inge’s first language English? Also, who is he? I have sixty degrees in English and I’ve never heard of him!
The reasoning behind this kind of thing gets to the heart of the culture of Los Angeles. They did this to depict a style over anything else, a style where the appearance of things is really the only thing that counts. It is the way things are done that people notice, even if the substance of the action is supposed to indicate some larger significance. It is the same impulse that prompts Demi Moore to retweet P. Diddy’s moronic message about “keeping positive” about today being a good day.
Why does she do this? To be on Twitter. To be accessible, even if only in appearance, to the common man, to appear to promote “positivity” to the common man while flaunting the fact that her celebrity status and relationships (to PDiddy and others) are in direct contravention of that ephemeral accessibility. To pretend like we are all in this together, even while underscoring with her two hundred thousand followers and 30 follows, that we are not, will never be. This is celebrity, it is Los Angeles: all style, with whatever small amount of substance obscured by lack of critical thinking. That is LA, in a nutshell. It is the heart and soul of Los Angeles, and it permeates everything, even parking lots. So why do I stay? You misunderstand me. My relationship to Los Angeles has always been a kind of awe-struck crush mixed with dumbfounded bemusement. There are cities I love and cities I hate, but no other city has its paradoxical effect on me. Through its absurdities and exclusions I have somehow constructed myself. And just when I think I’m out, it pulls me back in.