Learning a lot about parking

METERS & MORE: There is nothing we don't know about parking now. Or, at least, there's nothing we wouldn't know about parking if we'd spent another day or two at the International Parking Conference & Exposition, which pulled into town Sunday and will continue through Wednesday at the Long Beach Convention Center. As it is, we know way more about parking now than we did when we pulled into the company lot this morning … a lot we used to take for granted. No more.
Everyone convenes at some point, apparently, and this was the time for about 3,000 people in the business of parking and more than 200 exhibitors catering to their needs, which are way more numerous than we had previously considered.

We didn't know that parking structures needed artwork if they wanted to be snazzy, we never even thought about snazziness in any way in relation to what we now know to be the Parking Experience. We talked briefly with Frederic Marq, of ACS Production Inc., who has made and is making more banners banners isn't the word for it; it's "tensile architecture' for the Carnival Cruise terminal's parking structure in Long Beach. They're beautiful works, ones that you might not even notice on your rush to board your ship to get all mai taied up. The vertical panels, says Marq, are done with digital photofinish imprints large enough to cover the sides of the five-level structure with panoramas of the Queen Mary as well as scenery from Mexico and other places the cruise ships sail.

We also chatted with a representative from ARB Parking Structures, the company largely responsible for building the Carnival Cruise lot, as well as local lots for Memorial Medical Center, the city of Downey and, soon, a new structure at Long Beach Airport.

Before Monday, we weren't even glancingly aware of the fact that there are people among us whose job it is to make a parking lot anything more than what you generally consider a parking lot to be (asphalt, some stripes, a smattering of virtually impossible-to-locate exits, a snarling and power-mad Man in a Booth ).

The Parking Spot , out of Chicago, desires to make parking more, if not fun, at least different. The company runs two lots at LAX and hopes to maybe start one at Long Beach Airport. (A sales rep asked us, "Isn't that the one they call the 'hidden gem'?'). Park at the Parking Spot and you get a free newspaper at check-in, free bottled water at check-out, door-to-door shuttle service both ways and luggage assistance.

And you should know what parking people are talking about while you're doing whatever it is you do for a living. Conferences at the four-day parking expo included "Pay on Foot: The Dulles Experience,' "Wireless Parking Management System,' "Park & Pay By Cell Phone: Dialing the Death of Meters?' and "Pedestrian Safety at Hospital Campuses.'

There are companies that pave paradise, and there are companies that make swinging gate arms, that make parking meters that look like they're made of fine marble, that make parking meters that accept credit cards.

There are parking planners, parking consultants, parking engineers. The University of Virginia offers a Certified Administrator of Public Parking (CAPP) program.

We found exhibits from companies that make parking passes, parking decals, parking tickets, parking signs, valet tickets, spitter- machine tickets.

We left with a new appreciation for the parking industry.

We also left with a mountain of pelf: M&Ms, a half-dozen pens, little car-shaped stress relievers, three balls that light up when you bounce them, a couple of tape measures, a thing that clips your sunglasses to your car visor, a ruler, two bottles of water, some animal crackers, eight key chains (some with flashlights attached), a handful of Jolly Ranchers, mints, magnets and a few gadgets we haven't figured out yet. This all comes, of course, from companies trying to lure us to their booths for a spiel.

And, finally, we left on foot. Eight bucks for parking? The parking industry's killing us.

(What's Up appears in the Press- Telegram Monday through Friday. You can reach Tim Grobaty at (562) 499-1256 , or e-mail: grobaty@earthlink.net)
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