It’s the underbelly of American culture, a place where civil society disappears and the sinister takes over. It’s a place of cruelty, where people become monsters and human dignity vanishes. What is this place? It is a pay-parking lot. You may not think of it as a seedy place in our world, but the attendants at The Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, VA do. The Parking Lot Movie, a full-length documentary about The Corner Lot, allows us to see it too, and what we see are normal, everyday people, acting not simply like complete idiots, but heartless and insensitive idiots.
The guys who serve as attendants at The Corner Lot appear at first glance to be social misfits, but the truth is that many of them (if not all) are highly intelligent young men. Some are even doing graduate work in philosophy at the nearby University of Virginia. They are clever, witty, artistic, thoughtful, and concerned with the metaphysical and ethical. They despise the SUV, which isn’t simply a gas and space consuming machine, but an absurd testimony to culture’s narcissistic indulgence (so they tell us).
But despite all these little tidbits of info which we get from watching the documentary, the average customer coming through the Lot doesn’t care. To the average customer these guys, working to pay their bills, are useless and worthless. We frequently see customers try to skip out on their bill, uttering various slurs at the attendants, breaking their gates, parking illegally, and generally talking condescendingly to them. My favorite scenario recounted by one attendant has the father of a recent UV graduate giving a “pep talk” to the attendant: If you got a college degree like my son you wouldn’t have to work this job.
The whole movie raises lots of questions in my mind: at what point do our social courtesies disappear? What compels people to view others as inferior and worth less thought? I can understand the inebriated and intoxicated acting like idiots and being inconsiderate, but it is the average working business woman in her car who refuses to pay the bill that I don’t understand. It is the guy in the pick-up truck moving an orange cone so he can park illegally that I am confused by. It is the dad of a college graduate who finds time to offer unsolicited and presumptuous advice to a complete stranger that astounds me. But then another question comes to my mind: am I like this?