In The Parking Lot Movie, parking attendants contemplate the meaning of life from a tiny booth in Charlottesville, West Virginia.
Are you parking your car or is your car parking you?
This is just one of the infinite existential dilemmas pondered by the overeducated parking attendants at The Corner, a lot in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Parking Lot Movie, a droll documentary by Meghan Eckman, recounts their crises, most of which tend to be brought on by drivers of expensive automobiles unwilling to part with forty cents upon exiting the lot.
There may be many paths to enlightenment but few would think to search for it from within a cramped booth tucked behind a block of rowdy college bars. But for these sinewy Buddhas, most of whom are current and past anthropology or philosophy graduate students, and who seem to subsist solely on coffee and cigarettes, there is no more perfect venue for meditating on the condition of humanity and the meaning of life.
In the film, the Corner is the de facto center of the universe for a group of facial-haired, fixed-gear riding intellectuals happy (if such a state exists) to have found each other. None of them drive, of course, though drivers are their collective raison d'etre, their path to the truth. They even express themselves artistically here: each guy (no women, not too surprisingly) has spray-painted and stenciled a gallery's worth of individualized parking gates, each with slogans referencing everything from Baudrillard to Saturday Night Live. Every shift, a different gate is selected, most with coded messages that are utterly obscure and meaningless to anyone outside the circle. (Can a corner have a circle? Hmm.)
The absurdist attendants’ observations are often hilarious; they’re also often spot-on indictments of humanity. And in fairness to them, the movie shows an alarming lack of civility and respect on the part of the drivers, who seem to inhabit ever-larger late model SUVs with each passing season. These guys, their brains too filled with Foucault, wear their disdain on their sleeves and reserve their most acrid commentary for entitled sorority girls. They love working in an environment where The Customer is Always Wrong.
Like Vladimir and Estragon, these guys are waiting, but for what they’re not sure. I won’t give away the end but many do find what they’re looking for, more than one might imagine, given that some have spent their days in that confined parking booth for over a decade. (I'll give this much away: One former attendant ended up forming Yo La Tengo).
Released in 2010, the movie is now available on Netflix. It'll make you laugh and it will probably convince you to think about taking public transportation.
Photos by Jon-Philip Sheridan and Alexandra Miller.