Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Parking in LA

Last week I was in Los Angeles for a few days on vacation. My wife and I played the part of tourist, took a personalized trip around the city perusing the walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Hills and went by many stars’ homes. There was also a VIP tour of Universal Studios where we were treated to a gourmet lunch, front of line passes to all the rides and a personalized visit to a soundstage and backlots, all expertly shepherded by Donna, a truly amazing guide.

But, the most memorable thing about LA was the maze of parking options we were required to negotiate. I need to point out that we live in Houston where the city sprawls for miles and miles and every little shop has its own parking lot. Los Angeles, however, has primarily street parking, parking meters and confusion. I did not enter this fray unprepared; I did my research online and was ready to deal with this situation. One frequent LA traveler reported that after 5:30 pm paying the meters was not necessary. Of course I assumed that this included all the meters around this vast urban area. I quickly learned how mistaken I was.

On our first full day we had dinner at a wonderful Japanese restaurant called Ajasai, featuring the freshest sushi I’d ever had. We parked our rented car around the corner at a metered spot; the sign clearly stating that after 5:30 one did not need to pay the meter. There was a lot more on the sign, lettering that ran the down the pole almost to the curb, which I didn’t bother to read. I wish I had taken the time, but, I assumed it was all some legal disclaimer. The internet had said that meters didn’t apply after 5:30 pm and, if it’s on the internet it must be true, right?

Well, after our marvelous dinner we walked back to our car and were greeted by an empty spot. Only then did I notice the sign, just above the sidwalk that said “Tow Away after 6:00pm. Taxi Stand, except on Tuesdays.” Of course, this was in small letters at the bottom of a totem pole of messages and regulations. My wife’s first thought was that the car had been stolen, but, no, it had been towed. $150.00 later I had the car out of hock and back in my possession and for the remainder of our trip I took to reading the parking signs posted on each meter.

Least prevalent were the simple posts “Metered Parking from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm”. More common were “Metered Parking 8:00 am-5:00pm, No Parking Tuesdays and Thursdays; space reserved for Vampires after Dark, except for Full Moons when the space is reserved for Werewolves”. Several streets had a separate sign for each spot. One said: “Metered Parking Mon/Wed/Fri; No Parking Tues/Thurs, All day Parking allowed on weekends, except Holidays”. Two slots down the sign read “Metered Parking Tues/Thurs, Meter charges doubled on Holidays and Weekends, except from May 15-September 1”.

Another noteworthy sign read “Parking Only Allowed on Even Days, No Parking when Raining unless One of the Passengers or the Driver is a Standard Poodle, Please leave Proof of Poodlehood with the Meter”. We saw far more dogs in LA than children, although I really didn’t see many poodles; Shih-Tzu’s were most common. The city really seemed to be going to the dogs.

Some of the ritzier areas had special parking spots. The highest end stores had signs bearing images of Bugattis, Rolls Royces, Maybachs or Ferraris along with rules that stated, “No Parking Anytime, Unless Vehicle Appraisal Greater than or equal to $250,000”. We saw this sign all along Rodeo Drive.

The finer restaurants all had valet parking and the competition for available spaces was fierce. Cars could be seen slowly circling the block in search of the elusive parking space. When a space would miraculously appear a dozen cars would rapidly appear and spectators were treated to an impromptu demolition derby. Improv still lives.

I don’t know if we’ll go back to LA. Despite our adventures in parking we did have a wonderful time and there are certainly more unique California venues to explore. We certainly won’t be bored, even if most of our time is spent reading signs posted at the parking meters.